Skywatch Friday- Sunset Dinner in Thailand

When I first heard of it, I was perplexed. Sunset for me is really early in the evening. Nine at night is more like real evening to me. I usually eat food around nine. When I visited Krabi, the sunset was at 6.30 pm. It is tea time for me. On working days I usually reach home a little before six. On non-working days I am usually found scratching my head at this hour, wondering where did the day fly and why is the weekend moving so fast!

So, when my guide suggested to have a sunset dinner in Thailand (at Koh Lanta, Krabi), I was quite mystified. I present the sunset dinner story for today’s Skywatch Friday.

Same Same But Different

Same Same but Different

Same Same but Different

Same Same but Different was the name of the local restaurant we went to. It was close to my hotel and by the beach. Being a vegetarian, I am usually scared that I will hardly find anything on the menu. But such was not the case. I sat down for one of the earliest dinners of my life and I ordered vegetable noodles with tender coconut water for drink.

The Sunset

Sunset at Koh Lanta, Thailand

Sunset at Koh Lanta, Thailand

While I was waiting for food to arrive, I went to take a stroll on the beach, so as to click a few pictures. It was another evening of a muted sunset. While I was busy clicking pictures, my food arrived. I was quite torn between eating and clicking more pictures but in the end, food won. It was also because of the stern eye the waiter gave, as if saying, “dare you ignore our food!”

Koh Lanta, Thailand

Koh Lanta, Thailand

With great reluctance I tore myself away from the beach. It helped that the evening was muted or else I would surely have ignored the food.

The Verdict

The food was really good, the tender coconut was the sweetest I ever had. Somehow the tender coconuts in Thailand are really good, I hardly ever find such sweet and fresh ones back home. The noodles were also tasty and fresh. It was unpretentious food, the portion was big, and I had a great time.

The best part was that my day had ended at 7.30 pm and I had so much time to relax. I could read a book, watch television or simply laze around. I read a book in the end. To begin with I was quite reluctant to have dinner so early, but it turned out to be one of the most relaxed evenings in my entire vacation.

I visited Koh Lanta on invitation from TAT New Delhi.

A Flower Filled Gulmarg

I intended to show the Gulmarg flowers as soon as I got back from the trip, which was in September 2014. But at that time Jammu and Kashmir were badly affected by floods. It made no sense to write about rain drenched flowers when the state was facing one of its worst crisis. But those days are gone, I think I can safely write the post now.

Wild Flowers in Gulmarg

Wild Flowers in Gulmarg

Gulmarg was full of wild flowers in September. I had seen it all white in March 2013, so it was a really different look of Gulmarg that greeted me in March.

Zinnia Flowers, Gulmarg

Zinnia Flowers, Gulmarg

I have been to Gulmarg twice, both trips were with The Khyber Resort and Spa. But we visited another hotel too, on both the occasions, the Hotel Highland Park. All the flowers other than the top one in this post, are from their gardens. The zinnias were right at the entrance. Even though it was a wet and cold day and food and drinks were waiting for me inside, I spent quite some time outdoors with the flowers! I just love flowers.

Yellow Flowers

Yellow Flowers

The garden was full of blooms, all clamoring for my attention! It was the rain and cold that was playing spoil sport.

Purple Flowers

Purple Flowers

The pathway leads to the cottage where the song for the Hindi movie Bobby was shot. The Hotel Highland Park says ‘hum tum ek kamre mein band ho’ was filmed in one of the cottages of the hotel! Even now that cottage commands a higher price!

Hotel Highland Park, Gulmarg

Flowers Galore!

It was such a bliss to stroll around in the grounds of the hotel! I am told that the hotel is very popular with skiers in the winters. When I visited it in March 2013, the path to the hotel was completely filled with snow. I remember walking with baby steps in my sports shoes so that I would not slip! It presented such a different, flower filled picture in September in 2014.

Simple Photography Tips II

I am not sure how many camera independent tips for better photography I am really aware of but it is fun raking my brains. So here is the second post in the series. No matter what camera you use, you can try these simple photography tips.

Leading Lines

Heysham, Lancaster, UK

Heysham, Lancaster, UK #Canon350D

Don’t ask me why a picture becomes pleasing when it has leading lines, it just does. Some say it is because it guides the eye along those lines and takes you through the scene more effectively. Search for leading lines and see the gorgeous pictures the internet throws up. Once again this is a tip that can be used independent of the camera you are using. Also we unconsciously keep combining the tips all the time. By all means I will look for leading lines along with good light. Took this picture way back in 2011 on a work trip to UK.

Colors

Narayan Sarovar, Kutch, Gujarat

Narayan Sarovar, Kutch, Gujarat #Canon550D

 

If I find a lot of colors I know that is the picture to take. It is not easy to always find colorful scenarios but don’t overlook them when you find them. I saw hoard of tourists walking past this door without giving it a second glance and yet it had such beautiful colors! I would have used it as a backdrop for group photographs but then I was traveling solo on that occasion. I did ask someone to click my picture against the backdrop though. And colors look good irrespective of the camera they were clicked with!

Flash Off

Flowers at Night Market

Flowers at Night Market #XperiaZ3

Try putting your camera in the flash off mode. Even in most simple cameras and cell phones we can switch off the flash or use the mode where the flash does not fire. Why? Try clicking a picture where the flash fired automatically. Then take the same picture with flash off mode. You will see the difference. When the built-in flash is fired it makes the photo quite harsh and blown out. I took this picture at the night market in Bangkok and yet the light was sufficient to take it without flash with my cell phone.

That is it in this post. Let us see what else I can think of next week. Why don’t you share your favorite tips with me in the comments?

If You had to Pick Only One Picture II

It is time to continue with the travel rounup 2014 and pick up just one picture from my next five trips. The next five trips were to Ranthambore, Pratap Palace near Ajmer, Jordan, Thailand, and Kashmir.

Ranthambore, Rajasthan (With Aircel’s Save Our Tigers)

A Tiger at Ranthambore

A Tiger at Ranthambore

In so many trips to various national parks, this was my second tiger sighting! I went to Ranthambore with the Aircel’s Save Our Tiger’s initiative. I have to admit my tiger pictures from pench are much better but then seeing a tiger in the wild is always special, however fleeting the glimpse might be.

Ajmer, Rajasthan (with Pratap Palace Hotel)

Ajmer, Rajasthan

Ajmer, Rajasthan #Lumia1020

I was staying at the Pratap Palace on this trip. The hotel in mid way between Ajmer and Pushkar. I went there just for one night! I was not sure if it was a good idea, but it actually turned out to be quite fine. I guess traveling by the train made all the difference, I get very tired on road trips.

The picture was taken outside the Ajmer Sharif dargah. I have now been there three times. I do not feel comfortable in crowded places and yet the dargah is a must visit place. It is also a fantastic place to capture images outside on the road. Within the dargah you cannot take in a camera but you can carry your cell phone.

Jordan (with Jordan Tourism Board)

Dead Sea Jordan

The Quintessential Dead Sea Pose! #Lumia1020

It was a close contest between posting the Pope’s photo or this one from the Dead Sea. In the end I decided to go with the Dead Sea because I recently posted the Pope’s picture. Jordan was a really special trip because of Pope’s event but Dead Sea was also a lot of fun! The most pleasant surprise in Jordan was there excellent vegetarian spread with pitta bread, humus and delicious salads.

Thailand (with TAT New Delhi)

Khao Yai National Park

Khao Yai National Park #Lumia1020

Khao Yai is about two and a half hours drive from Bangkok. It is the oldest national park in Thailand. I didn’t had much luck with wildlife sightings but it was a beautiful scenic place to visit. We went in for a night safari as well but it rained a lot that night. Of course, I went shopping in Bangkok on this trip. I got many nice pictures on this trip. I think I posed this one because of the greenery.

Kashmir (with Kashmir Tourism Board)

Paragliding in Srinagar

Paragliding in Srinagar #Canon550D

This was my second trip to Kashmir and first stay in Srinagar. I did not get to do the paragliding which was a pity but then clicking pictures is the next best thing that I like to do. This trip gave me many beautiful pictures and choosing just one was a difficult task. But then this one appeals to my sense of adventure.

I will post part 3 in the next week!

Sky Watch Friday- Beautiful Srinagar

For this Friday’s sky watch I had to once again rummage through my old folders. I went to Srinagar twice this year, one in June and once in September. And I was almost caught in the floods in September. But I share the June pictures for today’s Skywatch Friday from the beautiful Srinagar. In all I have been to Kashmir three times now. But I still feel I have seen too little of the region.

Dal Lake, Srinagar

Dal Lake, Srinagar #Lumia1020

How I wish I could say that took this picture while around the lake. The truth is I was stuck in a traffic jam by the lake when I clicked this picture. I clicked it sitting in the vehicle itself, on my cell phone!

When I actually walked around the lake, it was during the day when the sun was harsh and pictures quite flat. When the light was good I was stuck in a traffic jam! How do you react when you find yourself unable to take pictures properly when the light is good? I sulk quite badly and it happens to me so many times.

A couple at Pari Mahal, Srinagar

Pari Mahal, Srinagar #Canon550D

The view of Srinagar from Pari Mahal is awesome. Pari Mahal is actually a garden rather than a mahal (palace). In a way I envy the couple, sitting with each-other with such a fabulous view in front of them! They so seem to be into the scene and enjoying each-other’s company. No worrying about manual mode and camera settings for them!

If you are fond of clicking pictures, do you ever feel that you are almost always chasing pictures instead of enjoying the scene? Do you ever put down the camera to enjoy the moment? If yes, how do you manage to do that? You have to tell me the secret.

Simple Photography Tips

I felt audacious while typing the tile- simple photography tips! I mean I am myself such a random photographer. I do take some pictures that I like but I take loads that I do not like at all. I know how to use a SLR. I understand aperture, ISO and shutter speed to a reasonable extent, I can use a tripod. But there are so many scenarios that leave me completely baffled. I never learned photoshop/lightroom, I do my editing using Picasa which is really simple.

However, I also feel if we pay attention, we all can take better pictures, irrespective of the camera we use. This is particularly dedicated to my blogger friends who take their own pictures. The tips are camera neutral. They should work irrespective of the camera you use.

1. Look at the Light

Gorgeous Light

Gorgeous Light Capture by Sony Xperia Z3 Cell phone

We can take better photos when the light is not harsh. You would have heard of the golden hours, an hour or so after sunrise and before sunset. I try to take advantage of it. It is not possible for most of us with day jobs and other constraints to shoot only during the golden hour but if possible I do try to be out at those magical hours.  Clouds can make for interesting lighting too. Mid day harsh sun makes it tricky to shoot outdoors. However, if I find myself at a wonderful spot at noon I will shoot regardless. It is just that I am extra happy when I get to shoot at golden hours. And this will work for any camera.

2. Composition

Placing the tree away from the center

Placing the tree away from the center #Canon 350D

We end up placing our ‘subject’ smack in the middle many times. It is said that this usually doesn’t make for a visually appealing picture. The consensus is what is called the ‘rule of the thirds’. That is if we divided out frame into three equal parts it is visually more pleasing if the subject is placed off center, towards the right or the left than smack in the middle. Of course there would be occasions when we place the subject smack in the middle too but it helps to be aware of the concept first. Once again, this is a simple thing, which works irrespective of the camera we are using.

3. Focus

When I Messed Up the Focus!

When I Messed Up the Focus! #Canon550D

If our subject is not in focus it just ruins the picture. We need to make sure that the focus is locked on the main object we wish to showcase in the picture. Every camera has a way of telling if the subject is in focus or not. On a point and shoot usually the small dots glow green when the focus is correct. On many cell phones we can tap on the area we wish to keep in focus. Most of the cameras have a way of telling if the focus is locked or not. Just figure out and see the difference it makes to your pictures. I have messed it so many times in spite of knowing it in theory! Which leads to the final point, that photography needs practice.

There I go, I finally wrote a simple photography tips post! How do you find this? For most of you I am sure this is rather familiar ground. Do share your simple tips and tricks for better photography too.

If you had to pick only one picture …

December is here and unlike the other years, I am in a full on reminiscences  mode. So I asked myself- which picture would I pick if I had to pick only one picture from each of my trips! Now there was a problem with this concept. If I picked even just one picture from each of my trips, there would be 20 pictures in all! I decided to go easy and do it in batches of 5. So here I go, these were the first 5 trips in 2014.

Kutch, Gujarat (Personal Solo Trip)

Mandvi Beach

Mandvi Beach, Kutch Gujarat #Canon550D

It was very difficult to pick just one picture from the trip to Kutch because I have 963 pictures in all. I visited the Great Rann of Kutch on this trip with its white salt fields. Yet I went with this picture of the Mandavi Beach because in a way this is how I wish my vacations to be, golden sunlight on the beach with me lazing around! Only I always end up chasing pictures instead of lazing around.

Sariska (Personal Trip)

Sariska, Rajasthan

Sariska, Rajasthan #Canon550D

Sariska was one of the trips where I didn’t get many pictures worth showcasing. However, I did got the closest ever I could, to a peacock. It was easy picking up this picture as there were no serious rivals in this folder. The trip was special because I traveled with Chhavi.

Narkanda (Personal Solo Trip)

Narkanda, Himachal Pradesh

Narkanda, Himachal Pradesh #Canon550D

I went to Narkanda at the end of February all alone. It was one snow filled affair. With every passing day though, I wonder if it is wise to travel solo in India? And when I say solo, I mean traveling alone on my own, not when I am invited. On invited trips I have never ever felt unsafe. Let us see how I tackle solo traveling in 2015.

This was another trip where I feel I had only a few decent pictures, so it was not really difficult to pick this one.

Finland (with Nokia)

Levi, Lapland in Finland

Levi, Lapland #Lumia1020

Levi in the Lapland region of Finland was a snow filled wonder beyond compare. The house you see was the Levi Spirit Villa where I stayed. I consider it to be the most luxurious accommodation I have ever stayed in, till date. It had its own Jacuzzi, Sauna and Home Theater among other things! It was not easy to pick just one picture from this trip as I had a crazy snowmobile experience as well but in the end I picked this one for the sheer luxury.

Udaipur (with Justa Resorts)

Udaipur

Sunset at Udaipur #Canon550D

If you ever find yourself at Udaipur, do go to the Monsoon Palace at sunset. I was lucky that the sky put some extra drama but even without that, the view of the city is just gorgeous. Once again this was a trip that gave me many happy pictures but I absolutely adore the sunset ones and specially the one above.

So, which one did you like best?

Results of the Travel Memory Contest with Le Méridien Mahabaleshwar Resort & Spa

It is time to announce the winner of the  Condé Nast Traveller India‘s  2 night free stay for 2 at Le Méridien Mahabaleshwar Resort & Spa, Mumbai and a copy of the latest issue of Condé Nast Traveller India. You can see the contest post here

And the Winner is ...

And the Winner is …

And the winner is Neha with her entry

Neha

hi, we’re a couple in as much love with mountains as with each other. It was our Himalayan destination Sikkim this time.
In past we’ve traveled across mountains, biked manali to leh, been to North east also many times until this time we found a treasure! A beautiful place called Pelling which is about 2.5 hrs from Gangtok. This place had some mystical rustic caves and an even better forest trek cum national park at the highest of the peaks. The treasure really was a hotel called ‘The Elgin Mount Pandim’ right at the peak of Mount Pandim. The hotel which actually is a vintage palace of the kings is breathtakingly beautiful with each artifact from the bygone era. The windows in the rooms open to the majestic Kanchenjunga, and the first sunlight passing through the peak to your personal garden is too beautiful to miss. This was a secret from the north east. Another such place is a hotel called 360 Leti based near Almorah, again in the middle of himalayas. Its hard not to visit the place if you see the website yourself. hence not mentioning anything. Just experience it here http://www.shaktihimalaya.com/destinations/shakti-360-leti/
#travel secret neha.celly@gmail.com

Many congratulations to Neha. A member of Condé Nast Traveller India team will get in touch with you. Do remember that the winning entry was picked by the CNI team alone. I had no role in judging the contest. Thank you all for taking part and sharing so many wonderful tips. I hope you will have a fabulous stay with Le Méridien Mahabaleshwar Resort & Spa Neha.

Sky Watch Friday- Island Hopping in Krabi, Thailand

I love being outdoors and if it is in the mountains or by the sea all the more better. So, when I went island hopping in Krabi, Thailand it was a lot of fun for me! I got such a lot of sunburn on this trip! Krabi is in south of Thailand by the Andaman Sea, which is truly beautiful.

There are many island hopping options from Krabi. Hong Island is offered as one trip, then there is a ‘four island trip’ and another to Phi Phi Island. I did the Hong Island and the four island trips. So, for this Skywatch Friday, I present the images from the beautiful islands of Krabi.

Hong Island

Hong Island, Krabi

Hong Island, Krabi

It was a lovely evening with gorgeous blue skies when I went to the Hong Island from Krabi. I had a private speed boat all to myself for this trip courtesy Sofitel Krabi. The water was nice and warm, just the right temperature. I did a bit of snorkeling and kayaking too. There was sparkling wine for me on this trip, so I had one good pampering session.

Tup Island

Tup Island, Krabi

Tup Island, Krabi

The next day I went on the four island tour. All the islands carry Tsunami warnings, as they were affected in the past. Tup Island was our first stop. It is popular with tourists as well as locals. We could walk all the way to the island in the middle. I was told that one could actually walk to another island (not in this picture) if the tide was low. But when I was there it was high tide.

We went snorkeling a little ahead from Tup Island. It was the first time I went to snorkel in the deep sea. In all my previous experiences I did snorkeling off the shore. After a while I forgot that I was in the deep sea and had great time. I had a life jacket too, hence it was easier to concentrate on fish.

Poda Island Kriabi

Poda Island

Poda was the third island we visited on the trip, and to me the most beautiful of the lot. We also had packed lunch here. They had a vegetarian packet, which was mighty nice of them. And if you are wondering that I gobbled up the second island on this trip, you are right. It was called the ‘Chicken Island’ because one of the mountains looked like a leg piece of a chicken dish! It was because of the high tide we could not get down at the Chicken Island.

Boats at the Poda Island, Krabi

 Poda Island, Krabi

Boats on the Poda Island, Krabi

I walked a bit and reached this serene spot on the Poda Island. The water once again was delicious. At one point, a school of fish went by me, visible to the eye. It was such fun.

Railay Beach, Krabi

Railay Beach, Krabi

Railay Beach, Krabi

Railay was the last island we visited. It is quite popular with rock climbers. It is a pity that I did not any decent pictures of the climbers. You can walk a lot inside as well from where the boat drops you. This was the only island which has five star property on it. I guess there are no other hotels on the Railay Beach. There is a Buddhist Shrine in a cave on the island right on the main beach.

The other islands are part of national parks and no one stay overnight. maybe that is why they are so pristine.

December Travel Musings

I was feeling very grumpy the other day. I don’t know what triggered it. I usually don’t sulk. And yet I sat looking at bright sunshine and sulking badly. After a while my thoughts went to the travels this year and with a start I realized I have seen 5 new countries (obviously new for me) and been on 8 trips abroad to 6 countries in all.

And yet I was sulking! Yes sometimes I do not make sense even to myself. So, here I go and take you along with me to places (not all, only overseas trips in this post) I went in 2014. After all, December managed to sneak in somehow and it is time for musings and remembering.

1. Finland (with Nokia)

Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki was a stop over and Levi, Lapland our destination. I have been to Europe before but never to this cold a place. The highest temperature I was 3 degree centigrade in Helsinki, in Levi it was always in minus. And it was so much fun. I had a little more beer and wine than ever before, I discovered the Finnish sauna and I took an icy dip in the freezing weather. And I got a cool phone, Lumia 1020 to keep! And yet I was sulking just a day before!

2. Maldives (Personal Trip)

Beach Maldives

Maldives

If I had a lot of money, I would take a vacation in Maldives every year! I liked it so much. Of all the beaches I have seen till now, I found Maldives the most stunning. I never imagined that the water could be this blue, or have so many hues! I am absolutely smitten by the place. At some point or other I want to go back to this unbelievable place preferably with my daughter and niece.

3. Jordan (with Jordan Tourism Board)

Pope Francis in Jordan

Pope Francis in Jordan

Did you see the person and did you see the copyright notice? I really got to click Pope Franics this year in Amman, Jordan and yet I was sulking just yesterday. Jordan was such a delightful trip, one for the special event of Pope Francis’s visit and of course I got to see the gorgeous country too! Dead Sea was an absolute hit!

4. Bhutan (with Make My Trip)

Tiger's Nest, Paro, Bhutan

Tiger’s Nest, Paro, Bhutan

I know I will head back to Bhutan to trek; sooner or later is the question. The tiny neighbor has a special place in my heart, I truly loved it. When you land in Bhutan, you feel you have stepped back in time at least by 50 years. And if you are looking for serenity, you will find it in Bhutan.

5. Hong Kong (with my brats on a personal trip)

Hong Kong with Kids

Hong Kong with Kids

This is the most talked about trip at home. The kids never get tired talking about it. What did they like most on the trip? If you thought Disneyland you are wrong, it was the hotel swimming pool they liked most! Kids, only they could come up something like this! Where do they wish to go next? Chhavi has no preferences but Vasu wants to go to Paris (because of the movie Queen) or to Florida and this time you guessed it right, because of the Disneyland. Well, if they study a lot, I might take them somewhere nearby next year too, to a visa on arrival country.

6. Thailand (with TAT New Delhi)

Flower Market, Bangkok

Flower Market, Bangkok

It is difficult to believe that I went to Thailand 3 times this year with Tourism Authority of Thailand, New Delhi. In all I have been to this adorable country 4 times. But it was not a new destination in 2014 as I went there last year too. I absolutely adore the country. And I have so many beautiful pictures from the place that I put it in a video!

And by the time I am at the end of this post, I can’t believe I was sulking so badly that I had to sit down and ponder! If I can do even half of this next year, I would not complain.