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?

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My personal traveling style certainly does not include staying in villas! I do not earn enough, and even if I do, I cannot spend it on villas. I want to travel every 15 days, I certainly do not earn enough to stay every 15 days in a posh accommodation. How I wish I could take just two vacations in a year and splurge. But that is just not me.

And yet I ended up staying in a villa! When I go on such trips, I do feel someone up there is keeping a kind eye on me. For my #lumiainlapland trip I was staying at the Levi Spirit Villa in Levi, Lapland. After seeing a bit of luxury on my invited trips, I am sort of getting accustomed to it on the sponsored trips. But at this villa even my eyes popped out. First, the location took my breath away, it was located in a winter wonderland! Each villa has four bed rooms on the second floor and one bedroom is in the attic. We were four members from India who shared the villa.

Levi Spirit Villa, Lapland, Finland
Levi Spirit Villa, Lapland, Finland; Photo by Lumia 1020

Levi Spirit Villa was sheer luxury. With a nicely done living area the villa had things that I could not even try in my two night stay. For example I could never switch on the music system with Bose speakers. I never managed to switch on the large living room TV as well. For that matter I never managed to switch on the bedroom TV. Then downstairs there was home theater, sadly that also went unused too.

What I did use was the sauna and the outdoor Jacuzzi. Each villa had its own sauna and Jacuzzi. Now that was ultimate luxury for me. On the second evening all four of us went to the outdoor Jacuzzi and enjoyed watching the snow outside. It was such fun to be in hot water while there was snow everywhere around us. Better still, have a look at the video to see the villa virtually.

With beer in hand we went to the hot sauna (this one was a different sauna than the ice dip madness) and I had such a great time. I had to almost pinch myself to believe that this was for real. For me my fist villa stay with the Levi Spirit has been such a memorable experience.

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I am scared of them Doggies. When I got to know about the Husky Dog Sledge ride in Levi (Lapland, Finland) at the #lumiainlapland event, I had mixed feelings. I was not sure how I would react to a dog sledge ride. But then I had to give it a try! I also did not know who was supposed to drive the sledge. I was very clear I was not up to it. When Mark asked me if I would go with him, I smiled. I don’t remember what I said to him but I try not to make the same mistakes twice! I knew what a dare devil he was with the snow mobile, there was no chance I was going on a husky ride with him! Thankfully the sledges were driven by the experts, they would not trust their precious animals to us rookies!

The Husky Dog Sledge Ride
The Husky Ride, Photo by Lumia 1020

But reaching to the Levi Husky Park was a minor adventure. We first reached the wrong place first. We all got down from the bus, started clicking pictures, only to be told that we were at the wrong park! We got back to the bus again, this time we reached the correct place in the end. The dogs were in large enclosed areas, they started barking at our arrival, I guess in excitement and welcome. It did leave me a bit nervous. But going on the ride was actually easy. I just had to sit on the sledge, they tucked me in, in an extra blanket and off we went, galloping and tearing.

For me, an event is not complete if I cannot take pictures of it. I was the first person in the sledge. All the snow flakes the dogs sent up with their paws, would try to find its way around my face and neck. At one point I closed my eyes to avoid the flakes, even though I didn’t want to miss any of the view.

I am not very good at using my camera with gloves in my hands. So, I took them off to take a video! I lasted for 13 seconds in all before I feared that my hands would get frozen solid. One of the members of the team kept her hands out. After the ride she asked me to put on the gloves for her, she had no sensation in her hands for a while. It was scarily cold when the dogs took off. However much I like to take pictures, I just could not keep my hands out. Even with my fear of dogs, this was a fun ride, which I would be happy to repeat whenever I get a chance next!

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Even before leaving for the #lumiainlapland we were told to carry our swim suites for the sauna experience. I have been to saunas in the past but within Indian spas. The Finnish take the sauna experience to an altogether different level. First of all we have to take into account the weather. When I landed at the Kittila Aiport the pilot cheerfully announced, “Welcome to Kittila, the weather is the usual Lapland weather, the temperature outside is -22 degrees.” Now that sounded incredibly cold to me. Thankfully the walk to the terminal building was short. I was happy to be back inside with central heating.

Kittila Airport, lapland, Finland
Kittila Airport, Lapland, Finland, Photo by Lumia 1020

Throughout my stay at Levi, Lapland the temperature was minus something. With no sunshine for three months in winter (the days and nights were roughly equal when I was there in March) a hot sauna makes complete sense. We had with us Friida Turku from Nokia who is a local. She gave us great insights to the sauna culture of Finland and Finland in general. She said many apartment complexes would have a sauna where you could book time, even homes may have it. Business deals apparently are sealed in saunas in Finland.

It makes perfect sense for such cold weather. If you Google images for Finnish Sauna you would also see how comfortable they are with nudity. Friida mentioned that recently Finland went with mixed sex saunas and people have mixed feelings about it.

Our group had people from China and India apart from our hosts Frida and Prima. We women went into the sauna first. We changed into our swim suites in a changing room. Armed with bathrobe to keep the cold away, we ran to the sauna which was a short distance away from the changing room shivering all the way.

Snow at Levi, Lapland, Finland
Snow at Levi, Lapland, Finland, Photo by Lumia 1020

Once we got in the warmth was oh so welcome. It was a traditional sauna with a huge wood container to generate heat. We were carrying cool drinks to the hot sauna. I was sipping on a beer in the steaming sauna with 7 other women, sitting on wooden benches that went around the room. I was content, I was happy. Our hosts had other ideas though. Apparently it is a Finnish tradition that once you have become nice and cozy you cannot sit content. You have to get out and take a dip in ice cold water! Friida and her colleague Prima exhorted all of us to go and do it.

Imagine getting out in the snow again from a warm sauna. It felt like madness. I thought  I had the fill of madness for the day with the snow mobile ride already. But out we marched. They had a special hatch which was covered and hence it had water in which ice crystals were floating. Everything else of course was frozen solid. Friida was the first to go. I was almost the last. Did I scream? You bet I did. One quick dip and I was out of it as fast as my numb legs would carry me. There are pictures of this event to prove that I actually did it, but then my swim suit pictures are not going to make it to the blog.

Getting inside the sauna again was such a bliss. Any rational group would have settled down in the hot sauna and enjoyed the rest of the time, remember the men were waiting for us to get out. But then we were not a rational group. We next decided to make snow angels and unlike the lady portrayed in the link who is fully clothed we were in our swim suites. So out we went to make snow angels. You can hear us scream in this video while we indulged in more madness.

After a few seconds, once again we ran back to the sauna screaming. However, guys started knocking at the door saying we were taking too much time. We asked them to go away. But we knew we had to get out. By now we were experts at getting out in the cold and walking around. The warm changing room was still quite a welcome relief once we got there. With an icy dip, making snow angels and drinking beer in a warm sauna, I wonder if I could have got a better introduction to the ultimate Finnish sauna experience!

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