Camping by the River Ganges with Chhavi

‘Whenever I am asked, “How was your vacation?” I have a fixed reply, “Holidays are always good.” But camping by the Ganges with Chhavi was better than good! We were staying at the MHE Beach Camp. As the kid is still small she was underage for rafting. So, the number one attraction on the Ganges was ruled out for us. And yet, we had so much fun.

10. Waking Up by the River

camping--shivpuri

Waking Up by the Ganges

The last thing I would hear before closing my eyes was the sound of river. As soon as I would open my eyes, it would be there again, the beautiful sound! There is something very seductive about waking up next to a river! Chhavi would demand to open the tent flaps as soon as she would open her eyes, she anyway does that way too early in the morning. And there it would be, the big, magnificent Ganges, right next to out tents. We visited the camp from Sunday to Tuesday and it was particularly quiet during the weekdays. This was my kind of vacation, far away from the maddening crowd.

9. Swinging in a Hammock

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Swinging in a Hammock

The days in the northern plains are getting hotter. After breakfast we would straight run to the river and splash around it. After lunch we would laze around the camp. On our day 3 they had put a hammock near the dining area. Chhavi would initially roll out of it while trying to swing. After getting a hang of it and swinging for a long time she finally vacated it. I saw my chance and I occupied it quickly. She didn’t like it one bit. She asked me to get off, which I refused. Then she came and tried to throw me out of it. When she could not she started jumping on me! After a while she got busy elsewhere. And I had a peaceful time in the hammock with my book! There is no better way to spend an afternoon by the river than swinging in a hammock.

8. Food or When Chhavi Would Eat it on her Own

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Good Food

MHE Beach Camp serves some lip smacking food. They use less oil which was much appreciated. They would vary the menu as well. However, for me the biggest blessing was that Chhavi would eat on her own. After playing in the sun, sand and water she would be really hungry. What a blessing it was to have the child eat on her own instead of me being after her life, which is our usual scene!

7. Starry Nights

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A Million More Stars!

I just loved the starry nights at Shivpuri. As usual there were a million more stars in the sky than the city. The good bit with Chhavi is that she goes to bed early on her own. I was free to pursue night photography. But there was another aspect to the night that I would not have noticed on my own. As there was no electricity Chhavi would not like it at the night at all. She would go what I called ‘min min’ (would translate to cribbing) as soon as it became dark. She found it scary. She protested so much that by the third night we had to shift to the city.

6. Chai ke Glass

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Chai Ka Glass

Chai makes me happy, it makes me immensely happy. I like places which realize this and give me my fill. The nice folks at the MHE Beach Camp would put a flask full of tea for me. It was such a source of happiness for me. Instead of the tea cups provided, I would drink it in the glass! That makes it taste even better.

5. In the Far Far Away Land

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In the Far Far Away Land

I like isolation, there I said it. I am not much for crowded places. MHE Beach Camp is on the other side of the river. Once we crossed to that side on a raft, there I was, away from it all. Even though I could see a bridge with traffic on it and other camps, the location was ideal to relax and unwind.

4. Playing by the River

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Playing by the River

The water of the Ganges in cold, surprisingly cold even at end of March. MHE Beach Camp is very strict about wearing life jackets if the guests wish to go anywhere near the river. I appreciated it a lot. There is a nice beach with a shallow portion of the river. It was our favorite spot in the entire camp! I would wade bit by bit in the river and take a dip after ages. The burning sun would feel so nice after the cold dip. Chhavi found the water not so nice, so she would sit by the river making tunnels in the sand.

3. Chhavi’s Friends

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Chhavi’s Friends Titu and Mukesh

Mukesh and Titu, the rafting instructors pampered Chhavi a lot. they would pay with her, teach her volleyball, and when she would not enter the river take her there and drench her! She was particularly fond of Mukesh as he spent a lot of time with us. If a guest goes down to the river an instructor sort of materializes out of thin air on the beach. While we were there, looks like it was Mukesh’s turn to be that instructor. He had immense patience to play with a small child and keep her entertained too. I handed the camera to him while we were kayaking. He has a way with the camera too!

2. Kayaking

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Chhavi Tries Kayaking

Titu and Mukesh gave us two kayaks to play around in the shallow pond that the river forms by the bank! And before you declare us complete nuts for letting such a small child go into the river in a kayak, both the kayaks were tied by ropes which Titu held on to firmly. Mukesh was around in his raft to keep us in the shallow as well. Both Chhavi and I had a gala time trying our hands at kayaking. Later Chhavi was complaining to me that they kept her tightly on the rope while they left me comparatively free to roam around! How observant the kids are! I asked Titu about turning the kayak around and he said I would have to back paddle to do so. I got some hang of it after trying many times. I thoroughly enjoyed kayaking around in shallow water with some amount of control over the kayak!

1. Playing in the Sand

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Mama was Asking Not to Play in Sand!

The kid was so happy to see the sand all around her. She went completely berserk. She would crawl in the sand on all fours. She would roll around in the sand getting it in her hair as well. She would dig into it with her hands till it got inside her nails! On the first day I tried to stop her in the evening after I changed her clothes. She made such a protesting face that I melted. For three days she had a free run in sand, and she loved every minute of it. I knew this is what she enjoyed most on the trip but just to reconfirm, I told her, “Chhavi I am going to write about the trip now so tell me what did you like most?” True to her form she didn’t reply to me first. But after some time she shouted, “Sand” and got back to mucking around with colors lying on the floor.

PS. I went to the MHE Beach Camp as part of their Blogger-in-Residence Program. Do check it out.

Sky Watch Friday- Evening Sky

I quite enjoy doing the sky watch posts. I was thinking about what to post yesterday and I realized there was no sky pictures left that were worth posting from my previous trips. At times like these I rummage my old folders quite thoroughly and I usually find something.

But today I picked up my cup of tea and went to the terrace to see if the evening sky would throw some drama for me. I walked just with my cell phone. But One look at the sky and I went back to get my camera.

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The Drama in the Evening Sky

There was a lot of drama in the evening sky. I had a cup of tea in my hand, Chhavi was out with Seshadri playing somewhere and I have one week of vacation to look forward to! It was a really happy combination! So, instead of clicking a lot of pictures I clicked a few and then savored my tea and the idea that I have one week off from work and that Chhavi and I are traveling alone!

Beautiful Evening Sky

Beautiful Evening Sky

But then the sky compelled me leave my musings and pick up the camera again. The sky today evening was beautiful in my part of the world.

So, from Sunday, Chhavi and I start a small trip again to Shivpuri region near Rishikesh. I have to remember to click many sky pictures so that I do not run out of them till my next trip, whenever that happens. It is also one of those rare trips when i have a day off before I start the trip. I plan to sleep in late tomorrow morning. May you have a bright weekend.

PS. This post is part of Sky Watch Friday, an awesome community of sky lovers.

Ramada Plaza Menam Riverside, Bangkok

Staying by the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok is a beautiful thing to do. I have had that opportunity when I stayed with Ramada Plaza Menam Riverside. Most of the expensive and iconic hotels are on by the side of the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok.

Ramada Plaza Menam Riverside is a five star property. I had a lavish room with an equally nice bathroom at my disposal for my stay. I wonder what was going through my head that I clicked a picture of the view from my room but not of the room itself!

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View from My Room

Asiatic, the famous night market, is right across the hotel but our days were so packed that we could never hop across it!

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No Durians Allowed

I had read about this legendary fruit, Durian, and the smell it causes which leads to it getting banned in hotels. But at Ramada for the first time I actually saw a board saying No Durian allowed! I have now tasted this fleshy and sweet fruit. When fresh it doesn’t smell bad at all. But I was told if I kept it for a while,  I would realize why the notices are put!

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The Swimming Pool, Ramada Plaza Menam Riverside, Bangkok

I could see the swimming pool from my room at the hotel, I crossed it when I went to the dining area right across the river but I never found time to use the pool. And that brings me to the next topic, food.

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Food at Ramada Plaza, Menam Riverside

I had a buffet lunch and breakfast at Ramada. Both the meals were good. There were plenty of options for vegetarians to choose from. They had an excellent dessert buffet at lunch, I was actually spoiled for choice!

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View of the City from the Club Floor

I had a chance to interact with the hotel manager and I so like his concern for accessibility throughout his hotel. He actually took us to a room which was completely wheelchair accessible. We also went to the club floor which was an exclusive area for the club room guests of the hotel. The view of the Bangkok City from the club floor was simply gorgeous.

To me it felt that Ramada Plaza Menam Riverside was an older property but I quite liked it, it had character. I would say if you are looking for a place which would not break your bank and yet be by the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok you should certainly consider Ramada Plaza.

PS. My stay at Ramada Plaza Menam Riverside was sponsored by TAT New Delhi.

Do You Count the Number of Countries You Have Visited?

I wish I was above the number game but I do count the countries that I have visited till date! The number is low, just sixteen excluding India. I say it is low because I actually want to visit well, everywhere!

I was strangely fascinated by foreign lands from an early age. When The Great Gambler was released and I got to see ‘doo lafzon ki hai‘ song, since then I wanted to visit Venice. And yet if anyone would have asked me, “what do you want to become when you grow up” at that age being a traveler was nowhere on the agenda! The first time I went abroad was in 1999 for an academic conference to Singapore.

Of the 16 countries that I have visited there are some clear favorites. I often thought of doing a post on my five best destinations. Today I opened the list (yes I have an excel file, there I said it) and tried to pick up my five favorites but then I gave up after a while. For someone like me, who has every place on her list, picking up favorites was not working. So, I decided to do a series of posts on each destination, instead of picking up favorites. I am doing it in batches of five in chronological order! So beware, i have warned you!

1. Singapore

Singapore

That’s Me in 1999

When I went to Singapore it was the first time I took a flight as well. I still remember the feeling of the plane zooming through the runway before takeoff. I had never experienced anything like that, it gave me such a rush. However I try now, I never get that feeling again before a takeoff.

I remember taking a metro in Singapore, the platform was crowded like anything. Having experienced only India I was very nervous about the crowd. I was with a family friend and she looked quite unconcerned. When i boarded the train, to my utter amazement everyone tiptoed around me with courtsey. I wonder if we’ll ever reach at that stage of civilization in India?

As my purpose was to attend an academic conference, I did not see much in the city apart from malls and Suntech City. But Singapore will always remain special as it was the first country I ever visited.

2. Greece

I visited Greece in 2001 once again to attend an academic conference. I only went to Athens and roamed around a little. This was the first trip abroad where I was completely on my own!  If you click on the link above you can read the story in more detail, here is a short excerpt though-

“500 meter ahead, another gentleman asked, “Are you alright?” Now his question got me really anxious, I wondered if I had torn my dress or what? I asked back, “Why do you ask?” He says, “You are frowning.” And before I could realize what was happening, he held my shoulders, and kissed both my cheeks (now I am from India, where apart from my family and a few very close friends, no one would dare to do such a thing). I stood stunned looking and feeling like a complete fool. He brought me back from my stupor and asked, “Can I buy you a drink?” I recollected my wits and said no. It took me some time to reassure him that I really was fine. I walked in a dazed state for a while,”

Oh to be young and foolish and to weigh 12 kds less! One of my biggest regrets is that too few pictures survive from these trips!

3. Holland

I visited Amsterdam and Groningen in Holland in 2002. I was appearing for a post doc interview in Groningen! I had half a day free in Amsterdam while going back to India. It was in Holland I realized that in summer the sun was not setting even at 9.00 pm, there was twilight till 11.00 pm! And then I managed to stumble upon the red light district in Amsterdam without any intentions of ever going there! I mustered all my courage and managed to walk through it in the end, after seeing what a tourist attraction it was. If parents with prams could take a stroll, so could I!

4. Italy

I went to Modena, Italy in 2003 to attend an academic conference! So you see my early travels were more for work! Thank god that I started blogging too! And guess what, Venice is quite close to Modena so I actually visited Venice, my childhood dream destination. I still remember the train pulling into the main station, Venezia Mestre, and all I could see was water around me. Everyone in the coach simply stood up by their windows! I only spent a few hours in Venice but I did go there!

5. UK

Oxford, UK

Oxford, UK

Then came a long gap of 4 years when I struggled with some jobs that I didn’t like one bit. But in 2007 things changed and I went to Oxford for work again! Since then I have been to UK 4 more times, making it 5 in all. UK is my most visited country till date but Thailand is in close competition with total of trips being 4 and I am still counting. So, I have been abroad more than 16 times but visiting the same country again and again unfortunately doesn’t increase the number of countries visited. Since I had started blogging in 2005, I have written a lot about UK on my blog. I have visited London, Lancaster, Windermere and Grasmere, Blackpool and Edinburgh till date. I have thoroughly enjoyed all my trips to UK. I love the fact that it is a walking friendly country. I love Oxford a little more than every other place that I have visited.

So, do you count the number of countries you have visited? If you do, will you share that number with me? I will be back with the next five countries I have visited in a post later. I will also try to dig out the print pictures from the first four trips and post them sometime.

Slow Down

They say one of the best advices in photography is to ‘slow down’. I somehow feel it is an advice that I would do well to heed in life as well. It is one of those days when everything feels just like a mad rush. But then I will restrict myself to photography thoughts only.

I understand the merit of the advice. That is why I like walking so much. That way if I like something, I often have an option to stop and click it. On the other hand it makes me incredibly slow. On a trek I take 8 hours to reach from one village to another whereas if I took a flight within the same time I would reach London!

Slow Down and Sit on the Swing!

Slow Down and Sit on the Swing! #Lumia1020

When expert photographers say slow down they mean really slow down. I remember seeing a picture for which the photographer said it took him one month to get the sky right. I remember reading a comment by Steve Winter that it took him 23 days on elephant back to capture this shot. Now that kind of slow a lot of us cannot afford, I certainly cannot afford.

So for me slow had to be defined in my own context. If I get to travel for 5 nights that is a big trip for me! I might cover two destinations within those five days! But still I believe there is a chance for going slow for everyone.

I am usually in a terrible hurry when I click pictures, I don’t know why. I always feel I am in someone or other’s way and I should take my shot quickly and get out of the way. Phew I said it. This when I would have been invited to attend that event! So for me the first step towards slowing down would be get rid of the feeling that I am in the way! 

For me slowing down would also mean chimping, as that too takes some time and more importantly ‘thought’ on what I see on the screen.

Slow Down and see the Light Play on Waves!

Slow Down and See the Light Play on Waves! #canon550D

For me slowing down would mean researching my destination a little more. That would mean I would know what type of pictures to be on a look out for. But as of now evening packing happens so last minute! Researching has just not been on my list anywhere.

But I think for me the biggest change would be to get rid of that feeling of being in someone’s way! That way I would stand peacefully and take those extra seconds to click my pictures. That is how small a start I wish to make.

Amari Hua Hin, Thailand

When I went to Hua Hin (Thailand) I stayed at Amari Hua Hin. Even though it has been a while since the trip, I still remember the place fondly. We had already been in Bangkok for a few nights and I somehow managed to tire out myself completely.

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Amari Hua Hin

So when I saw the facade of the hotel, I was actually longing for some peace and rest in the seaside town of Hua Hin.

The Check-in

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The Front Desk, Amari, Hua Hin

For us the check-in was a breeze as we were given a group check-in. We gave our passports, sat in the lobby, sipped on the welcome drink and got our room keys and passport! Now isn’t that cool?

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The Lobby at Amari Hua Hin

The lobby looked something like this! It had fancy looking showpiece hanging from the roof which looked like coral but I could not capture it in this picture!

The Room

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My Room at Amari, Hua Hin

This was my lovely room at Amari. I liked the muted colors, you can see it was spacious and comfortable. There was ample tea supply in the room. There was free wifi as well. They had beautiful photographs of the iconic Hua Hin Railway Station within the room.

The Bathroom

The bathroom had a shower area only, there was no bath tub. But overall it was clean and comfortable.

The Food

I had a dinner and all my breakfasts at Amari. The food was quite good. I particularly remember breakfasts as a jolly time when many of the bloggers would come together and had a laugh along with the breakfast!

The Swimming Pool

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The Swimming Pool, Amari, Hua Hin

This was the view of the swimming pool from my room. I spent one evening splashing around in the pool, it was great fun. Later I was told by colleagues that on that evening there was a double rainbow on the beach!

The Beach

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The Beach near Amari Hua Hin

Amari is not right by the beach but they have a restaurant by the beach. They run regular golf carts to the beach, but it is a nice pleasant walk, I would not need a cart really. The beach at Hua Hin was peaceful.

Overall, I found the staff courteous throughout my stay. I had a nice stay at Amari, Hua Hin in Thailand.

PS. I stayed at Amari Hua Hin in July 2014. My stay was sponsored by TAT New Delhi.

PPS. I have started collecting all my hotel reviews on one page and I know I need to add so many more.

Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace, Phetchaburi, Thailand

I could feel that I was in a palace complex just by looking at the souvenir shops and the cable car lobby. On my, let me count, the third trip to Thailand (and which was not the last) I visited the Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace in Phetchaburi. The palace was the last stop on this trip.

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Souvenir Shop at Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace

As I walked past the souvenir shops, we went through long corridors at the end of which we could find clean washrooms. Finding clean washrooms has never been a problem in Thailand for me.

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Cable Car Lobby, Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace, Phetchaburi

The cable car lobby certainly befitted a palatial complex. I can’t remember when I had seen such a beauty while waiting for a cable car!

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The Cable Car

The cable car was huge, I am sure it can easily seat 15 to 20 people. The tip is to take the first row in the front so that you can click the view of the Phetchaburi city as you go up. If you miss out on the front row while going up, after looking at the view from back seats, you will surely jostle for the front seats, as I did on my trip back!

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The View of the Phetchaburi City from the Cable Car

This was the view of the city from the cable car! I still remember that the day was very hot even though it looks pleasant with a mild cloud over. The ticket to the cable car and the palace cost 200 Baht.

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Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace, Phetchaburi

This is the far away glimpse of the Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace Complex. The palace was built by King Rama IV and it was completed in 1859. It is on a hilltop at 92 meters of elevation.

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Sign Boards at the Palace Complex

As we were later catching our flight to India, we were in a hurry to cover this attraction. We could only devote time to the national museum.

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The Stairs to the Museum

As we climbed the steps, we saw a few monkeys. The complex had a notice board giving a stern warning to the visitors to stay away from the monkeys.

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Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace- The Museum

The main complex of the palace is now a museum but photography is not allowed within the premises. The architecture of the palace is a mix of European, Chinese and Thai influences.

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View of Phetchaburi City from the Palace

The palace complex also offers a very beautiful view of the city. The spaces were so beautiful that I would be often left behind photographing something or the other.

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The Observatory at the Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace

While everyone else was getting down, I ran across to click this grand looking observatory. I had no time to linger around or I would have been truly left behind this time!

If you are near Hua Hin you could make a stop at Phetchaburi which is at a distance of 70 km and visit the Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace.

Spring is in the Air!

By the sheer numbers of flowers that I see around me I can safely declare that spring is in the air. But this time it is a strange spring. Monsoon has got mixed with it somehow. I have never seen so much rains in March in recent times. At one point many flowers bowed down because of the rain but they are smiling again.

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Gazania

Gazanias are a delight to photograph, they are not fussy, from any angle they turn out well. They are such a feast to the eyes too.

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Palm Fruits

And these are fancy date palm fruits, once I managed to click a parrot in their midst as well! While I was outdoors in the afternoon it was threatening to rain! But the treat didn’t materialize! I hope it will not pour on Monday though.

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Two Gazanias!

I went a little overboard with gazanias. They are so pretty, it is difficult to resist their charm. I have actually clicked many more, but then, I will restrict myself to three!

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Scarlet Sage Flowers

I actually do not know the name of the flowers but I find them using the Flowers of India website. It is an exercise in patience as I have to browse page by page and identify the specific flower I am looking for. And then I forget the name the next time again! I hope I will remember the name scarlet sage.

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Many Gazanias!

See I had so many gazanias to choose from. Let me know which one out of the three you liked most.

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White African Daisy

On Flowers of India website these flowers are showcased on page 24 or so. I had to browse 24 pages to get the name- White African Daisy! The pity is that I will forget it again.

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Spotted Owlet

I will throw in the spotted owlet along with the flowers as I found them on a tree near the flowers. There were two of them and from their behavior I suspect they have a nest out there. So I didn’t try to get very close, I have mercilessly cropped the picture to get this effect.

So do you have a favorite among these?

Sky Watch Friday- Backyard Sky

I am so addicted to doing the Sky Watch Friday posts that if I do not have sky pictures I try to create pictures of the backyard sky. There is one balcony in my home from where I can see the evening sky. It was a weekend and I had some time to spare. There was a nice glow in the evening sky but on it own it was too flat to be of any interest.

Backyard Sky

Backyard Sky

Then I stumbled upon this old lamp that Chhavi had taken to the balcony. Now if she could play with it, so could I. Started by clicking the lamp against the sky and the effect was pleasing. But then I wanted to play more and I lit the lamp. To do so, I had to make a wick from an old cloth and I poured some coconut hair oil over it so it would burn easily.

There is No Smoke Without Fire!

There is No Smoke Without Fire!

Then when the flame went out, out came the smoke. I was now interested in clicking the swirling smoke instead of the burning lamp. So, down I went again to bring more old cloth and the hair oil bottle, so that I could play some more! All this while Chhavi was busy with her friends and I was left in peace to do all these experiments.

A Smokey Evening!

A Smokey Evening!

It was not that easy for me to click the smoke. After many trials and errors I realized I got the best pictures immediately after the flame went out as there was a lot of smoke then. As it thinned out, I could not capture it as well! I was using my SLR with a 50mm prime lens to capture the backyard sky. I so wanted to click more pictures the next evening but I never got time!

PS. This post is part of Sky Watch Friday, a great community of sky watchers across the globe!

Uncancel by Make My Trip

We who love to travel, would never cancel a trip. But sometimes life just intervenes. I remember I had to cancel my trip to Bhutan because of a minor surgery of my husband. How I wish Uncancel by Make My Trip was around at that point of time! I got to know about it recently from a company communication!

Bhutan

I did Go to Bhutan Later!

I didn’t hesitate even slightly to cancel that Bhutan trip. I had planned the trip myself so I first went ahead to cancel the airline ticket. The airline was very professional about it. But after quite sometime I realized that the money was not credited back to my credit card. I called them again and they said it was held in credit with the airline and would be adjusted on a later purchase! However, if I wanted it would be credited back to my card! Of course I wanted it to be credited back to my card. Once I told them so, they did it fast as well, but what if someone told you that you could simply #uncancel your ticket? This is what Make My Trip says-

At MakeMyTrip, we understand that no one WANTS to cancel a pre-planned trip, but more often than not, due to unforeseen events, people HAVE to cancel their trips.

That’s why MakeMyTrip presents UNCANCEL. By opting for Uncancel, customers need not cancel their travel plans, when faced with a last-minute spoiler! They can simply push their travel dates to a later date. However, the beauty is this… You travel later, but you pay nothing more than what you paid initially. In essence, Uncancel protects you from travel price hikes.

I also have a dear didi (my sister’s classmate) who had to cancel a really expensive trip recently due to some change in her daughter’s exam date. She actually lost a lot of money in the process, now I only wish if there was an uncancel for her!

Of course none of us wish to cancel a trip but for those times when we have no option I think uncancel would be a great idea. But this is one idea I do not wish to personally experience anytime soon!