travel diaries: hiking through the todra gorge

There are two choices for the hiker at Todra Gorge. You can either go up, scaling the burnt orange limestone crumbling cliffs of the High Atlas Mountains, higher with every step, or carry on along the canyon floor into its bowels, deeper ahead. Both have their own perks. A bit like life itself.

Since most people tend to climb up, and I like to do things a tad differently, I decided to walk on straight. It was a long walk. Some four-and-a-half-hours long.

I started at the most visited and dramatic section, a 10-meter-wide chasm shared by both river and road, and penned in with towering perpendicular cliffs 160 metres tall. Stretched over a length of 600 metres, the tourist crowds usually do their U-turn here and go back.

But should one venture on, the unfolding of the cliffs into craggy piles of rock up to 400 metres high that line a desolate sun-baked concrete road is surreal and unreal rolled into one. The only sound I could here as I trudged on alone under the ultramarine blue sky was the chirping of birds. They seemed almost glad for my company. Continue reading

south africa: travel resources—where, what, why, how

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When putting together my travel plans for South Africa I was unable to find any package that truly covered what I was looking for. They either catered for the passive traveller or did the usual Cape Town/ Kruger combination and nothing else. A bit of a waste, I felt, since there was much more to South Africa. So I ended up travelling solo and independently through the country, doing all the things I really wanted to do, and pleasantly finding it one of the safest and friendliest countries for a woman to travel alone through.

I did some homework and luckily also found great guides whilst travelling. I’ve put together a list of the travel services I used. All of these are still valid as of now. I checked. Continue reading

south africa 10: kruger and the big 5

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Kruger National Park is nearly every South African’s favourite place in the world. It is also part of every tourist’s mandatory itinerary to the country. Covering an area of two million hectares, the game reserve is a realm in itself where wildlife reigns supreme and we humans are the outsiders, satiated with being mere audiences to a world that is complete.

No matter how many times one has been to Kruger, one can just never get enough of it. It is too big. It changes colours and moods with every passing day. Established in 1898 to protect the wildlife of the lowveld in the country, the park contains a mind-boggling number of animal and plant species together with centuries old cultural treasures such as rock paintings and archaeological sites.

I stayed for three days and two nights and, yes, saw all the Big 5. 🙂 Which boiled down to herds of buffaloes and elephants, a leopard smacking away its lips after an impala kill, rhinos marking their territories with trails of urine and dung, and seven lions and a herd of buffaloes battling away on the banks of a stream after the lions had attacked one of the buffaloes. Continue reading

south africa 9: the ‘panorama’ journey

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Guess you’ve heard the old adage—the journey is as important as the destination. My destination is Kruger National Park. The journey is appropriately the Panorama Route. 🙂

I had always wanted to do South Africa’s Panorama Route. One of those ‘have to do’ things in life. Why, you might well ask? It is scenic, on a majestic scale, cutting through the northern Drakensberg Mountains and Great Escarpment to abruptly give way to the plains of the lowveld.

Nature in South Africa is rather grand. Everything a little larger than life, a little more verdant, a little more unique and unduplicated by god. The Panorama Route’s first highlight is the Blyde River Canyon with the Three Rondavels standing sentry on the side; the latter evocative of the huts of the country’s indigenous people. Continue reading

south africa 6: kwazulu-natal adventure—from sani pass to its game reserves

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The thrill of Sani Pass

Aah, that adrenalin rush! That sense of adventure in exploring unchartered, gruelling terrains and then coming back to tell the tale. For many travelling to South Africa, and to me, it simply means the Sani Pass.

Once a rough mule trail, Sani Pass is now a notoriously dangerous mountain road to Lesotho via the Drakensberg Mountains which can only be traversed by a 4X4. Lying between the border controls of South Africa and Lesotho, the 8-kilometre-long gravel road through no-man’s land starts at 1,968 metres above sea level and ends near the summit at 2,873 metres. The journey is marked with steep ascents, hairpin bends appropriately named “suicide bend” and “big wind corner”, loose gravel, and beautiful views. Some walk this road. For the adventurous, the thrill is in the 4X4 drive. Continue reading

south africa 5: kwazulu-natal history—from rorke’s drift to kamberg to shakaland

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At the historic Anglo-Zulu battlefields in northern KwaZulu-Natal. What you see behind me, to the right, are sand storms in action. 

Day 1: Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift: Where heroes were made

An endless expanse of dusty plains and stunted thorn trees sprawls for miles in front of me. We’ve been driving for five hours now. I’m on my way to Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift and am told it is just beyond the last mound that shimmers in the horizon.

It is incredible that these barren expanses in the middle of nowhere, absolutely nowhere, were once the scenes of key battles fought during the Boer-Zulu, Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer wars.

The few travellers who trickle up north to make this journey tend to be British, military buffs, or those tracing their family tree. But you don’t have to be any of them really. Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift are a celebration of the human spirit during war, of courage against all odds. In the former, the valour was that of the Zulus. In Rorke’s Drift, the heroes were the British. Continue reading

south africa 2: the 4-day scenic garden route

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Day 1: Tsitsikamma and Plettenberg Bay

To travel through South Africa and not do the Garden Route is blasphemy! Or so would every travel book and site claim and the fact is each one of them is right. Don’t, however, expect pretty little gardens to constitute the route, for that is the last thing you’ll come across. It is nature’s and god’s gardens. Towering mountains, sparkling rivers, tranquil lakes and estuaries, sun-kissed beaches, and indigenous forests line the southern coastline between Port Elizabeth and Cape TownContinue reading

south africa 1: port elizabeth, victorian england in africa

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Yay! I’m travelling through South Africa, FINALLY.

For all those who work and live in the Southern African region, South Africa, or the Republic of South Africa (RSA) as it is officially called, is the inevitable pit stop for our international flights, our business partner for professional dealings, venue for our conferences and workshops, the end of the road for shopping, and the place we go to, to chill. But ask us if we have really travelled to it, and you’ll get a big blank “nope.” Which is an absolute pity. People come from far and wide to discover this beautiful country. Every year, I myself pack my bags and travel to some distant exotic locale thousands of miles away. And yet, right in front of my doorstep is a country so familiar, so beautiful, and one I know so little of.

These four weeks are about exploring my own home—of visiting South Africa’s myriad world-famous attractions, as well as its lesser known, off-the-beaten-paths. Sanibonani. 🙂 Continue reading

5 best kept secrets of bundi, india’s best kept secret

Bundi. The very name is evocative. Translated literally it means sweetened, fried chickpea flour—a snack indigenous to Rajasthan. When applied to a small, sleepy, powder-blue painted town nestled in a deep gorge surrounded on three sides by the Aravalli hills with a spectacular fort and palace looming over it, it becomes synonymous with one of India’s best kept secrets. A secret with myriad secrets within its folds.

Founded by a gentleman of the Meena tribe who went by the name Bunda, it was annexed by Rao Deva Hada in 1342, founder of Bundi [the princely state] and Hadoti [land of the great Hada Rajputs]. Friends with the Mughals and thereafter, the British Raj, it retained its princely status till 1947. Not many venture into Bundi; neither today nor in the past.

Here are five secrets I discovered in Bundi which make it the treasure trove that it is. If you know of more, please do share in the comments section. 😊 Continue reading

photo essay: in search of bundi’s prehistoric rock paintings

Destination, or the journey? In travel, it is often hard put to distinguish between the two.

When I went to Bundi in Rajasthan a fortnight ago, I had no clue that merely 30 kilometres south of the town were 101 sites of prehistoric rock art painted 15,000 years ago. They were discovered by a one Mr. Kukkiji in 1997, who was to take me to the sites himself. What I knew less of was the charms of the paintings’ backdrop—the caves lined tranquil wide rivers, on whose lush shores the Bhil, an Indian Adivasi tribal had made their homes. Continue reading

global travel shot: the prehistoric rock paintings of bundi

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The image above is that of an antelope in a forest, next to a trap waiting to catapult it to its death. Nope. This is not somewhere in the interiors of France or Spain, more commonly associated with prehistoric art, or even in Bhimbetka where India’s prized rock art collection lies.

It is instead on the insides of a cave lining a tributary of the river Chambal in Gararda, Rajasthan, 35 kilometres from Bundi, my base a fortnight ago.

Painted 15,000 years ago in mineral colours, very few people know of it. Just a handful come from the far corners of the world to marvel at its beauty, and timelessness.

And if it were not for a local sweetmeat-shop-owner-turned-archaeologist, we would not know of it either. He discovered the site in 1997 and has passionately been creating awareness of it ever since, unearthing 101 caves festooned with prehistoric art to-date. His name is Kukkiji. Continue reading

cycling solo from kanyakumari to kashmir

Preface
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“Who am I? The question keeps beating inside of me.” We were sitting by a window overlooking Bandstand. “Everything I do, I think, is an attempt to answer this question for myself. Who am I? You need to be more like me, you know.” Advait was showing me how the Enneagram system worked. It was about two and a half years ago.

This post is about Advait Dikshit’s story. Or to be more correct, it is the story of what gave him some of the answers to his question. Advait is a change consultant. But that’s the outer part. He is also an adventurer.

The person inside is constantly experimenting with his own life—partly for the kick it gives him, and partly to overcome obstacles and, as a result, feel powerful. But we humans are too puny in the face of nature to deride ourselves that we could ever conquer it, and it would be merely feeding our vanity to believe otherwise. And he knows that, deep within. The experimentations, thus, are more of an attempt to find his authentic self, much like most of us would secretly like to do. But are scared of, for the answers that may show up or the awkwardness of experiments. Continue reading