To the 5 budget hotels that I have enjoyed, there are at least 50 that I didn’t. Some of them were outright nightmares. One day I will talk about them too. Thinking about those experiences, I guess they will generate more conversation but for today I talk about the good ones.
One word of caution about the word budget itself. In India any random hotel charges 1500. The hotels I talk about could cost up to 3000 Indian Rupees. For me all I need in a budget hotel is clean bed, clean bathroom with hot water, if it is a really hot place then air conditioning. I do not look for anything else beyond it.
The Waterfall within Shringi Vatika Premises
5. Shringi Vatika, Himachal Pradesh: Shringi Vatika has a waterfall within its premises, it has a small flour mill too. The couple Mr and Mrs Manohar Lal, who run it, give out a few rooms out of their own house. They do have a restaurant though. They cook some awesome Himachali dishes like sidu, sweet rajma and nettle leaf soup. This is a place to go to if you like to go on long walks.It is also a place to go to if you want to do nothing. It is on the old Shimla Manali highway between Banjar and Ghiyagi. I have been here twice and on my second trip my nephew who eats non-veg thought very highly of the food (my experience of the trip here).
View from the Balcony, Holiday Home, Palampur
4. Holiday Home, Palampur: I went to Palampur before the 16th December Gang Rape in Delhi. I just turned up there without pre-booking anything. I had seen good reviews of Holiday Home on Tripadvisor. This hotel is run by a couple, Sher Saklani and Shakuntala Saklani. They rent out a few rooms out of their own home. Their new wing is outside but as I was a solo traveler they offered one of the rooms inside the house. They told me they don’t take in single men unless they are recommended by someone who has stayed with them before. The rooms are clean, there is a small TV and the bathroom has hot water and is really clean. They cook the food for you in the family kitchen. It is served hot and it is delicious. The view from the balcony is fabulous too. I found it absolutely safe as a solo female traveler. But that was before 16th December. I still do FAM trips alone but I have not gone out in India solo after this trip without a FAM offer (the hotel’s official website here).
Breeze Backwater Homes, Alappuza, Kerala
3. Breeze Backwater Homes, Alappuza, Kerala: Breeze Backwater Homes has just four rooms. Each of those rooms are between 5-10 steps away from the Vembanad Lake. They serve delicious South Indian food and they make good tea as well. It is place where you go and do nothing. The trees within the premises attract many species of birds. They own a canoe and a house boat both hand powered. There are hammocks to lie down in and read a book. If you feel inclined to lift a finger go on a cycling tour of the village and go for a canoe ride. If you wish to stay in the house boat that is also possible. A gem of a place, go there before it is discovered (hotel official website link).
The Stairs from the Thaporban Beach House Leading to the Unawatuna Beach, Sri Lanka
2. Thaporban Beach House, Unawatuna, Sri Lanka: The location is to die for. You climb down the ladder at the back of the hotel and you straight get down on to the Unawatuna beach. Unawatuna figures regularly in various top 100 beaches of the world lists. They have various category of rooms and their standard rooms used to cost $55. It used to be less than 3000 Indian Rupees when the rupee was not in a free fall. The rooms were clean, air conditioned and well maintained, the bathroom was clean and had hot water. They have a nice deck overlooking the sea where they serve food. The best part about the hotel was their staff. It was such a cheerful and friendly bunch. It was actually cheaper for me to travel to Sri Lanka than many destinations in India (official website of the hotel here).
The Trekking Lodges in Nepal
1. An Ode to Trekking Lodges in Nepal: I have trekked twice in Nepal to the Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit. Both are remote regions, Everest Base Camp more than Annapurna Circuit. They are high altitude treks, these are cold regions. But was this any excuse to keep the basic lodges less than clean? Never did I stay in a lodge that was not clean, really clean. Food can be variable not because they don’t cook it well but because at higher altitudes it is very difficult to eat anything anyway. I can keep singing praises for the trekking lodges in Nepal. On my first trek I thought they were clean because my guide knew which lodges were clean. But when I found them clean on my second trip too, I asked my guide. And he said as a rule most of them are clean. But this applies only to the trekking lodges only and not to the city budget hotels in Kathmandu or Beshishahar ( my Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit Trek experiences here and here).
So which are some nice budget hotels that you have discovered?
I need one major trek every year to cope with my daily grind. And I eagerly look forward to it every year. I tried to trek through Annapurna Circuit in Nepal in June 2013 and the next major trek is now going to happen in June 2014 only. Yet I think of it daily and I talk about it daily. In the end it is going to be a toss between Spiti and Ladakh as after June there are only a few regions which are safe for trekking.
I thought it was about time I took you through my 5 most cherished treks till date.
Sar Pass, YHAI Trek, Himachal Pradesh
5. Sar Pass, Himachal Pradesh: Sar Pass was my first trek. It was my first trek with my husband. It was also the first time I saw snow. So, there are so many firsts associated with it. But I remember it most for my stupidity. I was trekking in a sneaker and I slipped and slipped on snow. After that I feared walking on snow. It is only now that I use good trekking shoes that I got over the fear of walking in snow. YHAI treks are so scenic but I have outgrown their big groups. YHAI treks are designed such that anyone with average fitness can do it. They are also quite economical. So you are thinking of trekking for the first time YHAI treks could be a good way to get started.
A Magnificent Rainow at Triund, Himachal Pradesh
4. Triund, Himachal Pradesh: Triund is an easy one day trek from McLeod Ganj in Himachal Pradesh. When I say easy I mean it is easier in comparison to other treks. It doesn’t mean you will not get tired. Our original plan was to cross the Indrahar Pass but there was too mush snow beyond Lehs Cave. We had to give up the trek but that has never bothered me much. This was the last trek my husband and I did together. We adopted Chhavi after this and since then we take turns to trek.
Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand
3. Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand: Valley of flowers was on my agenda since 2002. I managed to do it in 2012. It breaks my heart to think that the region got affected in the massive flooding this year. Valley of Flowers is a tea house trek and once again it is not very difficult on the relative scale. The first day involves walking only for 12 kilometers on a mildly uphill terrain. There are tea house all along where you get food to eat. So looking for a stream to fetch water on this trek. You can stay in lodges and eat out of a menu.
Village Langza, Trekking in Spiti, Himachal Pradesh
2. Spiti, Himachal Pradesh: I wish to visit both Spiti and Ladakh again. Next year it is going to be a toss between these two. My husband, elder nephew and I trekked through Spiti in 2007. It was a homestay trek, an unforgettable one. Spiti is a high altitude trek and that requires some getting used to. I hardly knew any photography then (not that I know much now) but my pictures from the region are so beautiful because the region is so beautiful. I have to go back. I also missed out on Chandratal, so have to go back for that too. Spiti should be on every traveler’s agenda whether you trek or just visit the region.
Gorekshep, The Last Stop Before the Everest Base Camp, Nepal
1. Everest Base Camp: I managed to stumble through the Everest Base Camp in Nepal in May 2012. It was tough and I was never sure if I would last till I reached there in the end. It has been the most difficult trek I ever did in my life. It was also the start of my love affair with Nepal, though it was not my first trip to Nepal. Will I ever do it again? Only if my daughter or my niece wants to do it with me.
I have always shied away from writing about how I manage to travel with a full time job and a family. I once even gave a talk on the same topic with TUI. I work full time as an Associate Professor and we adopted our daughter in 2009. It helps that my husband is a travel enthusiast. So here are 5 ways in which I manage to travel more.
What She Likes Best- Playing in Sand and Mud
5. Family Travel: My husband and I love to travel and my daughter is too small to have an opinion. We shudder to think of the day when she will prefer Disney Land over a trek! We do not drag her on long distance trips but she has enjoyed Rishikesh, Manali, Alwar and a few more with us. The best was when my husband took her to a trek and she walked to the snow line! She has already slept in a tent. Only I was not there. But we take all opportunities to travel and whoever can go will go, no sentimentality involved here. My husband and I also take turns to travel. I can only say in my defense that he started it. We were supposed trek to Triund together and I became mildly unwell. He still went ahead saying I would not become better if he stayed home! And anyway my father was around to take care of me! I am lucky that my extended family stays two doors away and between all of us we manage to travel.
I have two grown up nephews who are excellent travel companions. Sometimes I go with them. After all I am now at that age where I am very particular about the people I travel with.
4. Finding Safe Places to Travel: After we adopted Chhavi in October 2009 my husband ran to trek in the summer of 2010. I was left gaping after his disappearing back. As our daughter is too small to be dragged on a major treks (and trekking is an annual pilgrimage for me) I realized I have to find safe places to trek alone. In the summer of 2011 I tried trekking with a group. It was a safe group but I am getting old and the youngsters run all through the way. So, I switched to Nepal as it gets a lot of solo woman trekkers. I am not noticed there so much. I could have been invisible but for being Indian. There are not too many solo Indian women in the region and hence many curious questions come my way. But with a trusted trekking agency and a guide I have always felt safe in Nepal. Also we have trusted guides both in Himachal and Uttarakhand. I have trekked solo in Uttarakhand with Sohan Singh Bisht.
Watching my Leaves with a Sharp Eye!
3. Watching my Leaves: I watch my leaves with a sharp eye. After all I have a limited number of leaves and I like to stretch them as far as I can. It help that I have stayed in this job for more than 4 years and I have accumulated earned leaves as well. I will try to travel on all the extended weekends and make my travel plans around them. It helps that in teaching there is a slack period called summer vacations. It is not that I do not have to go to work for all those months. But it is easier to take leave when the classes are off. It is almost impossible for me to take off if I have to adjust a class. So no Chadar Trek for me in January. I can’t take 15 days off in January while the classes are going on. But then there are trade offs in every job I guess. There was a time when I would not even dream of quitting my job. But these days I am more undecided. I guess I just do not wish to quit my paycheck after all.
A second part to this is that I manage my work also. If I know I am traveling and I have a deadline during those days, I will finish the work before going. That way it is easier to ask for leave.
Falling in Place!
2. Just Booking the Tickets: There have been times when all the planning seems to yield no results. I can’t think of a place, if I can think of a place none of the dates look feasible. In such a scenario if I can fix on anyone thing, I just do the tickets. Everything else then just falls in place!
With Dr. Ng Yen Yen, the Former Minister of Tourism, Malaysia
1. Getting Invited to Travel: When I started this blog in June 2005 (thank you Alka and Amrit, my sister and brother-in-law for giving me no peace till I got going) even in my wildest dreams I never imagined I would get invited to travel! That was the time when you mentioned the word blog people would give you queer glances! And if you happened to be an academician you were considered doubly crazy. Teachers don’t have fun, nor do they have a life or so a lot of people thought! Thankfully those days belong to the past now. I still have to manage my leaves but I have been lucky that many people within India do suit my dates. When a trip from abroad comes along I put on my best bargaining cloak and somehow manage to get those leaves.
I like traveling and blogging so much that it doesn’t even feel like hard work!
Travel Tales from India and I have been really lucky till now in 2013. In February at one point it seemed all my trips were getting cancelled. Since then I have been on a travelling spree though. The year started with a trip to Alwar which was a family vacation. February as I said was a month of cancelled trips.
Gulmarg in March, Kashmir
5. Kashmir: But early March saw me heading to Gulmarg in Kashmir. And you have to to believe me when I say that there was high snow at Gulmarg even in March. The trip was on invitation from The Khyber. I would say I would put the Kashmir trip at 5 because of the scenic beauty, good food and snow.
The Kerala Backwaters
4. Kerala: I was in Kerala (August 2013) on invitation from Travspire. And what a trip it was! I was completely bowled over by the backwaters and I specially loved kayaking through the narrow canals. And even though I am not really cultured, the experience of it in Kerala was on a grand scale.
Mirissa Beach, Sri Lanka
3. Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka (April 2013) was a personal vacation and what fun it was! I was with my younger nephew (in the picture above) and the way he talks. He and my daughter need no response, they can talk to the walls too. After this trip in April I got used to my solo trips with great difficulty. He is such good company. We explored Unawatuna and Mirissa beaches. We went to the city of Galle and Matara. But the highlight of the trip was discovering the Stick Fisherman of Koggala region.
Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal
2. Nepal: I got soaked to my bone trekking (personal trip, what I call my annual pilgrimage) through the Annapurna Circuit Trek in June in Nepal. But I am mesmerized with Nepal’s high mountains and treks. Only I do not like getting soaked to my bones while walking from morning to evening. So you can imagine how special Nepal is for me that I still put it on number 2. But for South Africa it would have been number 1 destination.
An African Lion, South Africa
1. South Africa: South Africa (May, 2013) was on invitation of South Africa Tourism and I am glad it came my way. South Africa is a truly amazing place. If you have seen South African wildlife you are probably spoiled for life! And there Panorama Route is smashing too. Their music and sense of dressing up is colorful. The extra special bit- I spent my birthday there too. And even though I have posted this lion picture on my blog before, there is nothing better that captures the essence of my South Africa trip.
There is another exciting trip (invitation) scheduled for September and let us see what the rest of the year has in store for me.