Showing posts with label Travel Inspiration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel Inspiration. Show all posts

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Traveling To Russia

Our guest author Jess Signet travels to a land not much explored and uncovers the secrets of this colossal country with many lesser known attractions. If you are thinking about a maiden trip to Russia, this article will provide you the much needed helpful information from a fellow traveller. And if Russia has never appeared on your wish list, we are sure after reading this article, you’d seriously think about a trip to Russia.

Russia is an exciting and unique place for anyone to travel. Hidden for so long behind the iron curtain of the Soviet Union, western tourism still hasn’t taken this vast and impressive country into its clutch yet. Because of this, the unique and authentic experience that travellers get, without mass-crowds of foreigners, is pretty much unmatchable.

However, as soon as you get off the plane, it’s clear to see that this largely unknown part of our planet is a world away from what most travelers are used to. If you don’t do your research, you’re in for quite a surprise! Culturally, geographically and politically, this country is probably one of the most unique on earth, and arriving without the right preparation could make your traveling experience more difficult than you first anticipated.

Here’s a list of 10 things that I wish I’d known before setting off on my adventure to this wild and wonderful location.

1. You Don’t Know the Meaning of Cold

Coming from Britain, I was quite sure I had wintertime handled. You put on a thick coat, pull up your hood and spend six months of the year complaining that you wish it were summer. Unfortunately, after landing in Surgut International Airport in January, I realized the “cold” that I thought I knew so well was simply child’s play.

Reaching, and staying, well below zero during wintertime, Russia demands several jumpers, thermal underwear, hats, scarves and snow sports-quality gloves. It’s also advisable to have a back-up plan for days where the weather is too bad to go outside.

Catching up on movies, cooking a hearty meal and contacting loved ones back are all good options. Don’t underestimate this great country’s version of freezing, because getting cold, and having to stay cold, is not a particularly enjoyable experience. Note that if you’re planning to watch a fewmovies to avoid the cold when in Russia, be sure that you have a Virtual Private Network (VPN) installed, as many sites like Netflix are subject to geo-restrictions.

2. It’s Also Warm!

Fortunately, contrary to the popular and somewhat stereotyped belief, Russia can also be very warm. You have to remember that this country is huge, and whereas the northern regions are truly artic in their conditions, down south the climate is warmer than most European countries. I was astounded to discover that palm trees grow in the areas around the Black Sea, and in summer, temperatures can reach an incredible 40-43C and almost never drop below freezing in winter.

Unfortunately this means that any traveler planning to see the whole country requires a vast array of clothing options, from shorts and T-shirts to a fur-lined coat and thermal trousers!

3. Prepare to Chow Down

Perhaps unfairly, Russia is in no way known for its cuisine. Aside from the caviar, most people see Russian food as bland, heavy and generally undesirable. This could not be further from the truth! Whether you’re trying a crepe-like “Blini”, traditional beef stroganoff or a hearty “Knish” pastry, the many local delicacies are sure to delight.

This may be unfortunate news form me as I thought that the lack of tempting food would keep my budget down; however, it was well worth splurging in the local restaurants to try these mouth-watering dishes.
4. Poisonous Animals and Plants

There are many dangerous creepy-crawlies, snakes, stinging-trees and other undesirables in the vast landscape, and unfortunately, the sheer size of the country means that they vary considerably in different regions. Although there is information provided about the different species you need to be aware of when you’re over there, it’s usually in Russian, not explained very well or has pictures that leave a lot to the imagination. To avoid any nasty run-ins or trips to the local hospital, it’s definitely wise to do a bit of research and brush up on the potential dangers before you set off.

5. Journeys are Long…

As I may have mentioned previously: Russia is big! Covering an astounding 17.1 million km2, you only have to look at a map to see that traveling this country is an experience unlike any other. Although most travelers have a vague awareness of this, most people also fail to consider the repercussions.

To put things into perspective, I took the famed Trans Siberian Express journey,and it was an incredible seven days long, but it had very limited facilities, particularly in the lower class sections of the train. This meant that I was travelling for a whole week continuously without even basic necessities like a shower! Because of this I had to be extremely well prepared and ready to sit on a cramped train for, literally, days on end—which wasn’t easy!

6. …and Terrifying

Not only do you have a long way to go when driving anywhere, you also have a terrifying experience to endure. The driving in Russia is terrible, erratic and a complete recipe for disaster. Things to be aware of include the complete lack of use, or respect for, speed limits and sudden and unpredictable lane changes—even in busy traffic. It’s also not uncommon for drivers to use the hard shoulder as an extra lane as I experienced on my first day in the country when in a taxi from the airport.

7. Put Away the Courtesies

British people are known for their incessant politeness and focus on manners. I soon discovered that Russia could not be at a further end of the scale from this. No matter where you come from, you’re definitely going to find Russian people to be rude until you’ve learned to understand their culture.

Russians are very straightforward and genuine. They don’t smile if they don’t need to, and please and thank yous are very rare. However, this is a simply cultural difference rather than anything else, so put away the etiquette rulebook and get stuck in!

8. Vodka is Not Like Water

There’s a very common misconception, probably inspired by the fact we know so little about them, that all Russians are Vodka-guzzling alcoholics. This is definitely not the case. Although there are many heavy drinkers in more rural areas, the cities are no more filled with alcoholics than Germany, Ireland and many other European countries. Alcohol consumption is also banned on the streets and in public places, so if you think you’re going to get away with swigging Vodka straight from the bottle while sight-seeing, then you’re sorely mistaken. I definitely recommend enjoying the drink responsibly in some of the local bars because drinking Russian vodka with the Russians is definitely an experience!

9. Prepare To Queue

There are many monuments and landmarks left over from the Soviet Union and queuing is most definitely one of them. Whether you’re trying to send letters home to loved ones at the local post office or have just nipped down to the shops for a pint of milk, you are definitely going to end up in a queue.

The Russian people are experts at this phenomenon and even better at slyly pushing in without being noticed, so if you do find yourself part of a traditional Russian queue, be sure to stand fast and not give up your place to anyone! I once found myself in a queue when a friendly local popped in front of me to start, what appeared to be, a casual chat, it took a while before I realized they’d actually just stolen my place in the queue without me even noticing!

10. Avoid the Politics

For the majority of the rest of the world, the view we have of Russian politics is, at best, ridiculous and at worst, terrifying. However, partially due to the media input and partially due to the ease of following tradition, most Russian people wholeheartedly support their political regime. Because of this, it’s advisable not to engage in discussions about it as, no matter how convincing you think you are, you’re not going to change their minds, and it’s very likely you’ll offend them in the process.

A trip to Russia will be an amazing experience no matter how much you know, but these ten things are sure to improve your time there no end! If you have any more tips that you feel should be included, then be sure to comment below.

About the author: Jess Signet is an avid traveler who recently enjoyed a fantastic trip to Russia. It’s a great country, so much to see and do and hopefully this article will help you prepare for your trip or just learn a few things about this vast country! You can catch Jess and her adventures on Twitter at: @Jessstravels

Saturday, 13 February 2016

9 Best Historical Places in Dubai

If you think Dubai is all about skyscrapers and man-made wonders, then this article will make you rethink. Our guest author Neha Singh flies back in time and explores the side of Dubai often overlooked by tourists. This article will surely give history lovers a compelling reason to visit Dubai.

Dubai is loved by the whole world. Its exponential growth from a small Bedouin village to the entertainment hub of the world is astonishing. But what makes it more awe- inspiring is the fact that amongst the sky high towers and ultra modern developments, Dubai still has miraculously preserved its heritage and history. The city is full of monuments and places that hold immense historical importance and offer a peek into the rich past of Dubai and UAE.
Here are the 9 best historical places in Dubai that you must visit in order to get a detailed insight into the rich cultural heritage of this amazing city.

1. The Dubai Museum
Dubai Museum
The first place that we want you to visit is obviously the Dubai Museum. But unlike many places around the world, Dubai museum is very carefully adorned with the city’s history and it literally transports us back into the time of the Bedouin era. Every possible little thing of the past is so beautifully and carefully preserved in the museum that it’s hard to comprehend the amount of pain that must’ve gone into maintaining them in such great condition. From multimedia presentation of the history of Dubai to the fishing boats and traditional ornaments, Dubai museum is a must visit for every tourist.

2. Al Fahidi Fort
Al Fahidi Fort
Located in Bur Dubai, the Al Fahidi fort is a hit amongst visitors of all age groups. Built way back in the 1700s, the fort underwent various stages of expansion and played a huge role in preventing the village from the intervention of the neighboring tribes at that time. Over the centuries, AL Fahidi fort went on to become the home of the ruler of Dubai, then a garrison and lastly a prison to house the most deadly prisoners. Today, the fort acts as a museum and has on display various artifacts from the bygone era and local antiques.

3. Dubai Creek
Dubai Creek
The creek of Dubai that divides the city in to two halves goes long back in the history. It is linked to the centuries old trading tradition of Dubai when people used to use the creek as the only way of going to trade to the other side of the city.Going back in time the creek divided the city into Bur Dubai and Diera. It was in the Bur Dubai side of the creek where the Al Maktoum dynasty emerged.

4. Bastakiya Quarters
Bastakiya Quarters
Receiving its name from the historical town of Bastak, the Bastakiya quarters were established in the early 19th century by some of the rich pearl and textile traders from Iran. The area still has merchant houses, galleries and cafes that offer a glimpse of the past era. One of the most interesting neighborhoods of Dubai, Bastakiya Quarter is a delight walk in the glorious past of Dubai.

5. Hatta
Hatta Mountains
Located in the south east outskirts of Dubai, the Hatta Mountains have been a part of Dubai since its inception. Near the Hatta mountain site, there are various attractions that offer a glimpse in to the history of Dubai such as the fort built by the Sheikh Maktoum bin Hashr Al Maktoum in the late 1800s to safeguard the city from the invaders.

6. Sheikh Saeed House
Sheikh Saeed House
The grandfather of Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the current ruler of Dubai Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum stayed in this house from 1912 till 1958. The house today stands proud telling the story of its splendid past. The house which was built in the year 1896 houses a very rare collection of coins, historical pictures, and some of the most important documents and stamps of UAE.

7. Abra ride
Abra Ride
One of the oldest settlements and transport systems of Dubai- Abra has been used as a mode of transport to go to the other side of the creek for centuries. The travelers between Diera and Bur Dubai once had only one mode of transportation of boats known as Abra. Today these are modern motorized taxis, but still exude the age old feel to the tourists. It is still the cheapest way to cross the Dubai creek.

8. Souqs of Dubai
Souqs of Dubai
The Souqs or the markets of Dubai dates back to centuries. One of the city’s oldest souqs are gold souk, spice souq and the textile souq. The shapes of shops may have changed with time but the souqs still offer a feel of the era gone by. These souqs are famous for their bargains and the vibrancy. One of the oldest Souqof Dubai- Nafiq Souq was once a camel market, but now has over 100 shops selling abayas and many other traditional Arabic items.

9. Heritage and Divine Villages
Heritage Village
A great place for history lovers, the heritage villages offer great insight into the traditional and cultural past of Dubai through their historical construction including wind towers. Although it was constructed in the 1990s, the purpose was to allow the tourist to take a sneak peek and experience the cherished past of Dubai. It offers demonstrations for weaving, ship building and traditional cookery as well. It is today one of the most visited places by tourists in Dubai.

Dubai has retained its old-age charm while giving a tough competition to the world in the race of modernization. But in the course of moving towards a brighter future, Dubai has preserved its roots firmly and ensured that the world gets to know about the journey of this incredible city.
Such is the craze amongst tourists to know about the history of Dubai that they specially include most of these historical places in their Dubai tour packages. The start of a fishing village that got introduced to the world through its oil discovery in the 1960s is now way ahead of its contemporaries and is gradually moving towards the title of the best tourist destination in the world.

About the Author

Neha Singh is a postgraduate in Mass Communications, who loves everything about life. Traveling is extremely close to her heart and writing came to her naturally. An avid trekker & explorer, who often takes off some time from her busy life for mountaineering. She loves meeting new people & gets attached to their culture very easily. Her ambition is to explore as many places as she can in her life. She strongly believes in Gandhian principle – “simple living high thinking”.
You can connect with her adventures on Facebook

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Things I Learned After Travelling to Africa

Waka Waka. This time for Africa! Our guest author Amy Mia Goldsmith takes the road less travelled and writes about her first hand experience in Africa, which will inspire you to venture into this territory with full enthusiasm

A while back, I travelled to Africa on a vacation, which turned out to be a life changing experience. What I saw and learned there changed the way I perceive life and the world as a whole. It made me re-evaluate my life priorities and the things I cherished the most at that time. After realizing the following truths, I returned from that trip as a happier woman. Read them to see if you agree with me.

1. Less is more

What Ludwig Mies van der Rohe set as a standard in architecture, could be applied to building a better life of each individual. Regardless of how contradicting it may sound, having a less cluttered life means having a more fulfilled life. Some people in Africa do not have many valuable material things, but still they appreciate life more than us, who are so obsessed about living life to the fullest, that we never stop to actually enjoy in it. That is because we have been taught the things ever since we were born. We were told that material possessions are the measure of our success in life. That they will bring us joy. But the pursuit of material things is a never-ending pursuit. We spend our lives working long hours to earn more money to buy more things. And there always something new around the corner that we do not possess, and so the game goes on and on. This chase distracts us from pursuing what really matters in life, and these are experiences.There is so much truth in the words that pursuing less material possessions actually means pursuing happiness.

2. Having a positive attitude makes everything easier and much better

Despite not having much, people in Africa seem happier and more satisfied than we, the Westerners.It’s a simple life philosophy. A positive attitude makes it easier to cope with problems. It helps you avoid worries and concerns. If you adopt optimism as a life philosophy, it will bring you constructive thoughts and motivation to change things and accomplish goals. You will always see the bright side, and expect only good outcomes. Even when you are faced with a failure, it will give you strength not to give up.

3. Patience IS a virtue

This is all the more true when travelling, and in particular when travelling across Africa. If you have not been very patient before, you will master the skill there. We are all trying to keep everything under our control at all times, and when we realize that we cannot, it brings frustration and anger. Accepting that sometimes the world has its own pace, you will learn to relax and go with the flow. Plus, you will learn to cope with whatever life throws at you.

4. Taking risks brings more opportunities than failure

Settling on the status quo is the worst habit that most people have. If you do not make changes in your life, you will never make any progress. Taking risks might get you where you have never dreamed you could get.It was a risk to invest in the unknown, but I still managed to persuade my partners to invest in Africa. Many people still unfortunately see Africa as a continent of corruption, austerity, and civil wars, with slim prospects of business growth. Africa has come a long way from a place of humanitarian disasters and social turmoil, to one of the best investment destinations. Emerging online real estate portals like the successful are a proof of that.The steady economic growth is based on ample mineral resources, vast arable land, and hard-working people.

5. Sometimes the things you dread the most are the ones that make you grow the most

There are two ways you can deal with your fears – either overcome them or make them stand in your way. I have to admit that I felt a bit anxious about my trip to Africa and at some point even thought about cancelling the whole thing off. But now I regret not doing it sooner. Fear limits your full potential, and once you realize that it is irrational and all in your mind, you will live a happier life.
Are you ready to take risks in your life?

About the author

Amy Goldsmith is a literature graduate from Melbourne. Her job allows her to travel a lot, which also happens to be one of her greatest passions. Find out more about her travels on Twitter.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Tips & Tricks for Monsoon Trekking in India

The magical romance of monsoon with Mumbai has never been a deterrent to the trekking enthusiasts who take on the challenge to climb the slippery slopes of Western Ghats. Our adventure loving guest author Ankit K. J. shares some useful advice and handy tips on monsoon trekking preparedness from his own experiences. So, let's take the plunge to monsoon trekking!

Mumbai is a city with a hyperactive soul, they say. She does not sleep. Nor do the famous Mumbai rains stop her. It’s the time of the year where nature tries it’s best to dampen the spirit but fails miserably.

Monsoon is also the season when the otherwise dry Western Ghats turn lush green! The valleys surrounding the metropolis come alive with people flocking to the trails to take on the challenge of climbing slippery slopes only to rappel down a waterfall! However one thing people do not flock to is trekking preparedness. I had previously written a detailed post on trekking tips for beginners after I saw a lot of Indians not prepared for the trail - saves a lot of pain and hassle if you know the little details.

This post is about what to carry and a few tips that came in handy to me. A few essentials to carry on a monsoon trek in India!
Streams while trekking | Image source
1. Headphones/Earphones: If you are planning to do your travelling in a bus (which is usually the case if you want to reach the base where you begin a trek) and are the quiet, contemplative type, never forget to carry a decent pair of noise cancelling headphones. You'll lose less sleep and be fresh for your trek. They also have the secondary advantage of being able to play music!

2. A good pair of water shoes or sandals: The thing is that there are innumerable little streams to cross and taking shoes off and putting them on again is quite frustrating to both you and the rest of the group (who've already prepared for this eventuality). Look for shoes with a nice grip (rubber is preferable, since it slips less). Also, if possible, go for the shoes that look like an unholy (pun alert!) cross between a shoe and a sandal. These will have holes in them. To those with a sense of humour, they may also look like shoes in various stages of incompletion. Don't worry. They are designed to let the water out and dry quickly. Choose the ones that cover a maximum area of your exposed feet (so that the jungle mosquitoes have to work just a little harder). If not these, sandals always work best. Do not wear flip flops though, as they may result in your ankles twisting on rocky paths causing injuries!
Also, on a related note: do not wear these with socks or stockings.

Note: Shoes like these are what you are looking for
Waterfall on the way | Image source

3.  Mosquito repellent:Self-explanatory. Forget this at your own risk. Alternatively, you may also want to wear a jacket and full length pants. There are sprays and cream that one can use. If not, there are certain hacks around getting rid of those blood-sucking tiny monsters. Usage of sage leaves in the campfire, for example, also drives them away, leaving behind a pleasant aroma around the camp.

4. Layered Clothing: This is not as obvious as it sounds. Carry a t-shirt, track-pants, an extra pair of socks and a jacket. A cap is also helpful when it’s raining with a balaclava to cover the head. And carry a few layers – you can take them off if it’s hot and put more on if it gets chilly. You can never predict the weather and the rains!

And make sure they are comfortable. As a general rule of thumb, whatever suits you while running, works here. The more waterproof your possessions are, the more comfortable you'll be at the end of the day! Try stuffing it in a polythene bag before you pack them in a bag to keep them water tight! 

5. A bagpack: To carry your precious items. Find a water prof one if possible, but as described above, lining it with polythene can also do the trick. Make sure it isn't too heavy though. Also, carrying a poncho will also help in the rains.

6. Water & Sugar: Water - About 2 litres per person. Food: High energy stuff –Nuts, biscuits and granola bars. Glucose packs also help. The idea is to be prepared. You cannot trust the water on the trail, even if it looks sparkling clean. Animal/bird droppings nearby can easily pollute the water. And you do not want to become dehydrated with no water in the jungle! Light snacks do not take up space and provide much needed energy during crunch times. 

7.A Camera/Phone :So that you can take pics and call for help! And wondering how to use the phone in the rains? Seal it in a thin transparent plastic bag! Thank me later.

8. Towels: This becomes more important during monsoon trekking. Carrying light, quick drying towels help immensely. This may be the sole deciding factor on whether you get a cold after the trek or not.

9. Flashlight: A small hand-cranked flashlight should do the job. This is important especially in the rains, as it tends to get dark early. You do want to lose your way while camping and trekking. If you still manage to do so though, here is a helpful post on what to do if lost on the trail!
Base Villages before Trekking | Image source

Enjoy your treks! Safety first!

About the Author: Hi, I am Ankit. I love adventures and the outdoors and am the go-to guy if you need a sparring partner in adventures or sports :) I write about my travels on AlienAdv with a mission to inspire thousands to get off the couch and get going on lifetime experiences. I share my own travel stories (in the South East Asia and internationally) and my best tips and advice on issues like road-trips, scuba-diving nuggets, surfing, sailing and paragliding. You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Coolest ways to get colourblind

Planet Earth is full of colours. The nature decorates itself with a myriad of colours in its full bloom. But have you imagined a situation when you are overwhelmed with a particular colour, so much so that you see it everywhere as far as you can see and feel, as if you’ve gone colourblind, literally!

The guest post on my blog -World’s best Technicolor destinations provided some food for thought. Why don’t I write about some destinations which give us a colourblind like feeling without actually falling into colour blindness?

So what are you waiting for? Let’s zoom past some spectacular places where the beautiful nature makes you feel colourblind with a single colour all the way as if till infinity.

Canola Fields
Colour Yellow| Season Spring | China

It’s the season of spring at the Luoping County in Yunnan, China. The air is refreshing and the breeze is carrying with it a humming sound of bees. The flowers are in full bloom, and you are standing in front of a vast Yellow Sea. ..Yes, that’s how you would feel if you happen to visit these sprawling fields of blooming Canola flowers. The Canola or Rapeseed flowers, engulf the farmland making it appear as a virtual golden yellow sea that stretches till horizon where the yellow meets the blue. After a breathtaking view of the vast canola fields, if you close and reopen your eyes, you’d surely be flashed by yellow everywhere!

Canola fields. CC Image Courtesy: [License]
Shibazakura, Japan
Colour Pink | Season Spring | Japan

Hitsujiyama Park, Japan. CC Image [license]
Pink is the colour of beauty and love. It also symbolises romanticism, and when thousands of Shibazakura flowers bloom at the foothills of mount Fuji in Japan, your heart cannot stop pounding at the beat of the mild air that sways the nearby cherry blossoms. The season is spring, which brings with it different shades of pink to decorate the Shibazakura moss phloxes and cherry trees of Japan’s Hitsujiyama Park. What more can I say than calling this pink paradise a pretty lady adorned in all sorts of ornamental buds. Here’s a word of caution – some mosses are so intense pink that it might dazzle your eyes causing colour blindness! Who knows!

View of mount Fuji from a Shibazakura garden. CC image courtesy: [license]
Lavender Fields
Colour Purple| Season Summer | France

Lavender Fields, France. CC Image courtesy: [license]
Come summer, when the Lavenders bloom in the fields of Provence, southeastern France, and you can do only one thing- just stand at the middle and get speechless and mesmerized at the beauty and vastness of the infinite view of the perfumed gardens. ..And maybe, when you are back to the senses, click a few photographs to capture this unforgettable view of the colour purple at its best. Rest assured that it would be a treat to all your senses.

Colour White | Season Any | Turkey

Pamukkale, Turkey. CC image courtesy: [license]
White – a colour without colours, a colour that symbolises purity and light- is the prime theme of our next landscape – Pamukkale in Denizli province of southwestern Turkey. The giant’s teeth like white terraces formed by white calcium and limestone, coupled with 17 hot springs means a rejuvenating experience to indulge in. The best time to visit is spring/ autumn as the summer is too hot and winter is too cold and snowy. So, get ready to take the plunge into a warm spring, let the sunshine sparkle on the white and be colourblind with the brilliant colourless colour.

Pamukkale, Turkey. CC image courtesy: [license]
Aurora Borealis
Colour Green | Season Winter| Norway

Aurora Borealis. CC image courtesy: [license]
Aurora Borealis or the northern lights as it is commonly known, is a supernatural phenomena witnessed in the land of midnight sun. When highly charged electrons from the solar wind get in touch with Earth’s magnetic field, they collide with the oxygen and nitrogen atoms of the atmosphere generating surreal lights mostly green accompanying with blue, red and purple. The lights can be best seen during winter from arctic and Antarctic. Apart from Norway, tourists also flock to Alaska, Northern Canada, Iceland and other Scandinavian countries to witness these enchanting lights.

Aurora Borealis. CC image courtesy: [license]
Antelope Canyon
Colour Brown | Season Spring-Summer | United States of America

Antelope Canyon, USA. CC image courtesy: [license]
It’s hard to believe this geological wonder on hard brown rocks is a creation of water streams. The flow shaped walls of the Antelope canyon is primarily a result of thousands of years of flash floods that had been eroding the sandstones and sculpted such unique designs. What makes this space otherworldly is a enchanting beam of sunlight that peek through the upper opening of the canyon adding a heavenly touch to the curves and making it a true photographer’s delight . The radiating beam of light is though visible during April to September only. But the risk of flash flood, during the monsoon (July-September), cannot be ruled out.

Red Seabeach
Colour Red |Season Autumn| China

Now it’s time to get colourblind with red – intense, dark, crimson red at Panjin, China. Red sea beach, which derives the name from the red grass of Chenopodiaceae that grows in the Chinese wetland, is a complete treat to the eyes particularly for those who are passionate about the colour red. Located in the delta of Liaohe river, it’s also the world’s biggest wetland and a resting place for a number of species of migratory birds and a variety of wild animals. The green grass of this shallow sea turns red during autumn and envelopes the entire 25 km stretch with flaming red colour as if somebody had laid a royal red carpet to welcome you!

Panjin Red beach, China. CC image courtesy: [license]
Salar de Uyuni
Colour Blue |Season Autumn (March-May) | Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. CC image courtesy: [license]
Also known as the world’s largest mirror, this flat salt bed with a whopping 10,500 sq. km setting, located at southwest Bolivia creates stunning reflections on it as if somebody has photoshopped the lanscape. Whenever there is a little rainfall, the bright white bed of salt turns into a gigantic mirror and starts reflecting the objects on it…And when you stand on the bright rocks, you can feel the blue sky all over – up and down beneath you. It’s a unique phenomenon on earth and the best place to see the colour blue in its all encompassing form.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. CC image courtesy: [license]
Fall Foliage
Colour Orange | Season Autumn | Canada/ North America

Color of fall.CC image courtesy: [license]
It’s a magician called the season of autumn that colours the nature by painting all its trees and the entire setting turns into a blazing fair of vivid orange. It’s orange, orange and orange all the way, albeit with a lesser mix of red, yellow and purple. The autumn phenomenon of Fall Foliage can be seen in many places but the most flamboyant of all are best witnessed in the gorgeous rocky mountains and Québec (Canada), Glacier National Park, Yellow stone national park, Colorado and Vermont (USA) to name a few.

Color of fall.CC image courtesy: [license]
Moonlit Sky
Colour Black | Season Any| All throughout the globe

Night sky. CC image courtesy: [license]
If I had to name a new colour, it would have been the moonlit black. Yes it is our ageless sky which appears the same for rich and poor and offers the same view wherever you are on the planet. The night sky is black as hell but the heavenly sublime lights from the moon and the endless stars accentuate the beauty of the night sky into a view which is surreal, divine and simply out of the world, literally and metaphorically.

So, do you agree that sometimes it’s not that bad to get colourblind, at least fleetingly?

Cover photo is distributable under Creative Commons license

Friday, 14 August 2015

Lost in Salalah with Ali: The old man and the season of Khareef

Uncertainty, dilemma, bewilderment – some people hate these words. For some others, they are the part and parcel of life. In the context to travelling, these words decide which type of traveler you are. Some people prefer to plan everything in advance and even make provisions for the probable uncertainties. Some others jump at once and start enjoying whatever comes on their way, while some weird travelers like me simply let happen whatever would happen and keep exploring at the expense of all the uncertainties and yet end up with wonderful memories.

Has it ever happened to you that you travel around a place without having any idea about where you’re heading or what lies ahead? Have you ever been guided by somebody with whom you could barely interact?

Our visit to Salalah was one of such eccentric yet memorable experience where we confided with an unknown companion and explored this beautiful dreamland on the southern peninsula of the Sultanate of Oman.

First let me introduce you to the place called Salalah. Surrounded by lush green Dhofar Mountains, Salalah is located at a distance of 1100 kilometers south of the capital city of Muscat. It’s the second largest city of the sultanate and is adjacent to Oman’s border with Yemen. Salalah is traditionally known for its Frankincense trees, which is used as an ingredient in incense and perfumes and has been one of world’s top trading destinations of this commodity during the medieval times.
Salalah in Khareef - the monsoon season
Salalah in Khareef - the monsoon season
It is also one of the top tourist destinations in the gulf region. Salalah’s landscape undergoes a complete makeover during the Khareef season. It’s the monsoon season that brings lots of rainfall during the months of June to September and the hot and arid desert climate turns humid with lots of clouds on the sky and dense fogs enveloping the horizon and beyond. This is the time when wild plants and flowers adorn the mountains and the plains of Salalah and it appears to be painted in a mystifying shade of sparkling green. This is also the time when this place is crowded by tourists from all over the world – particularly from Muscat and rest of Gulf region to enjoy the short lived Khareef season in its full bloom.
Salalah in Khareef - the monsoon season
I heard so many great stories about this splendid place, its great tourist attractions and about the Khareef season but never seriously considered visiting it partially because of the long distance (12 hours by road) and mainly because of the old wives tale that Salalah’s Khareef season had nothing to offer than a green landscape and a humid climate, and it could only mesmerize the desert dwellers but not those acquainted to green landscapes. It was not to be.

It was July – mid summer and while almost whole of Middle East was under severe heat under the cruelest form of the Sun, Salalah was welcoming the clouds and the fogs. The Eid holidays were just declared and it suddenly struck our minds to take this opportunity to see Salalah. We had to think twice before taking this decision. First, it was the peak tourist season and prices were sky high. Second, holy month of Ramadan was still not over. It’s worthwhile to mention that Omanis observe fasting during the month of Ramadan. Food items are not sold openly and it’s customary for everyone including the tourists not to eat or drink publicly from dawn to dusk.

However, we had one solid reason to go for the trip – to get away from the burning heat of Muscat for a few days and after a long discussion with my wife, I went on to book the tickets the same day. The hotel prices were 2 to 3 times the normal tariff but finally we could find a hotel online at 40 Rials ($105) per night. So, we two packed our bags quickly and boarded the bus to Salalah the same night.

It was a long and tiring journey. As it was a single carriageway, we could not sleep due to the lights coming out of vehicles from the opposite side. The bus halted twice on the way for the passengers to take food. Finally it was morning and we could see gentle rays of sunshine. We were moving through a barren landscape and it was endless deserts all the way as far as we could see.

Suddenly, the Sun was encircled by a thick strand of clouds and it started to become denser and darker as we moved on. Finally, when the road turned to a slope of a hill, raindrops started pouring in all over. We peeped through the foggy windows and it was green all over. Monsoon had arrived to welcome us to Salalah, to a season called Khareef.
Salalah in Khareef - the monsoon season
By the time we reached the bus stop, the rain had subsided but the clouds were still around. An Omani taxi driver (only citizens are allowed to drive taxi) approached us.

Ad Dahariz beach – I asked the taxi driver. This is the place where our hotel was located.

He looked at me and raised 7 fingures and said –Rials.

7 Riyals was too much but we accepted. We were not in a mood to look out further.

During the short 7 minutes’ drive to the hotel, we wanted to strike a conversation with the driver but unfortunately he could comprehend little. He said something in Arabic, to which we simply smiled.

We reached hotel. The driver accompanied us to the reception and said something to the man. The receptionist translated it to us: Mr. Ali, the driver wants to know if you are interested in visiting the places in and around Salalah with him. He will start it at morning 9 and show you different places till 2:30 pm for 40 Riyals.

No way – I told myself, we will find somebody with whom we can communicate properly.

Please give us your contact number. I will call you if we require your help – I told Ali. The hotel receptionist, who claims to have elementary knowledge of Arabic, explained it to Ali. We were completely exhausted. So, we decided to retire to our hotel room and take rest for the rest of the day. I took this opportunity to browse internet and study about the must visit attractions of Salalah and finally ended up with an itinerary for next 2 days covering all the must visit attractions.

Everything was going fine but now we hit the dead end. For, there was no taxi to be found. The hotel receptionist told us that it would be really difficult to get a taxi due to the ongoing Ramadan. I used all my contacts and possible sources and finally found a man who was willing to take us with him for 60 Rial for a 3 hour sightseeing.

It was way too high, besides all our hard work of reaching Salalah would be useless for a meagre 3 hour sightseeing!

So, I used the last alternative. I called Ali.

Ali picked the phone. I introduced myself –you remember me? I was the one whom you dropped to hotel this morning….

Mafi Maloom – Ali replied and disconnected the phone. I knew the meaning of what he said. It meant-I don’t know. There was nobody to help us. Even the receptionist who translated Ali this morning left for the day. The new person didn’t know Arabic.

We were disappointed. We travelled such a long distance without any planning or preparation and now all our efforts were going to be wasted and we would have to confine ourselves to the hotel room and Dahariz beach for rest of the tour!
Dahariz Beach
We decided to wait till the next morning and then go to the city to lookout for a taxi for the tour. For the evening, we had nothing to do but to stroll around the beach, sip fresh coconut water (which is very inexpensive), and take some snaps of wild flowers and seagulls.

Next morning was dark and cloudy and it began to drizzle. We were taking breakfast at our hotel room when we received a call.

It was the receptionist – Good morning Sir! Your driver is waiting for you.

We were surprised. I went down and saw Ali waiting there. He smiled at me.

I greeted him and took out my itinerary from my pocket and explained him:

Look, we want to visit Wadi Darbat, Taqa, zero gravity point, Raysut falls, ............

It was of no use. Ali seemed to be completely oblivious of these places except Wadi Darbat. The receptionist also joined in to help us to communicate even though his own understanding of the language was not of very high standards.

So, thus it began. Here we were, in an unknown territory, with an unknown man, communicating with languages unknown to each other and moving ahead with an unknown itinerary.

Ali started to speak. It was difficult to understand, but we could make out some meaning from his speech. Probably he was talking about the hospitality of the Omani people, about His Majesty the Sultan and may be about the beautiful scenery of Salalah.

I tried to make best use of my body language, expressions and gestures but it all led to more confusion. Ali pointed to a large hotel on the roadside and tried to express that it was a great hotel.

Must be expensive – I told him. He looked at me seeming not to understand what I just said.

I gestured as if counting money. More money, big money- I told him by showing a high level with my hand. He turned his car and moved towards the hotel.

We were puzzled – why are we going inside? He didn’t reply. He stopped his car near the hotel entrance and pointed to an ATM.

Oh! Now I understood. My attempt to express the word ‘expensive’ by means of a gesture to count money was mistaken by him that I wanted to withdraw money from an ATM! We understood it would be for the benefit of us all not to experiment with gestures. It would only lead to more confusion.

Ali moved on, and with him we also moved on. After half an hour of drive Ali stopped his car on an isolated road and signalled us to get down from the car. It was barren land as far as we could see. We were puzzled but got out of the car. Ali pointed his fingure to something at a distance. We could see something moving towards us. Soon, it appeared bigger and bigger and finally we could recognise it. It was a hard of wild camels. There were thousands of them. It was a nice experience to see such an unbelievable number of camels crossing the road just in front of us.
Camels of Salalah
Ali then moved on again and stopped his car for a photo opportunity near the wadi Sumhuram.

After that he took us to the ruins of Khor Rori (also known as Sumhuram). It was an ancient fortified town and a port which dated back to 3rd century BC. During the heydays, this port was used for export of Frankincense to Europe, Mediterranean and India. It’s listed as part of “Land of Frankincense” as a world heritage site by UNESCO.
Sumhurum or Khor Rori a world heritage site
A Frankincense tree at the ruins of Khor Rori 

Next we headed toward the Wadi Darbat – the most visited tourist attraction of Salalah. As we entered the uphill road to the Wadi, it was green all the way. Washed in rains, the green leaves were beaded with sparkling droplets of water. The cattle were grazing on the freshly grown grass and fogs were flying here and there. Nobody would believe that it’s Oman. It seemed like a dense forest of Africa!
Wadi Darbat
Wadi Darbat
We spent some time at Wadi Darbat. It was difficult to walk there as the ground was slippery with rainwater pouring over wild grasses. Still I managed to run as much as I could on the grasses.

As we were coming out of Wadi Darbat, Ali called somebody and offered the phone to me to talk. It was a voice in plain English – Hi! Eid Mubarak to you. I’m Salim – Ali’s friend. My friend can only speak Arabic. So, he wants me to ask you if you are facing any problem. Are you enjoying the trip with him?

I thanked Salim and told him that Ali’d been fantastic as a guide: “Even though, we cannot communicate in words, it’s been a fabulous trip so far. Tell him that we are thankful to him for taking us to all these good places.”

I will tell Ali. He will be pleased – Salim Said.

So, where are we heading now? – I asked Salim.

Now my friend will take you to Arjaat (Ayn Razzat). You will enjoy this place. Do not hesitate to call me if you need any help. I will be available on phone in case you need any clarification with Ali.
Ayn Razzat
Ali smiled and we headed for Ayn Razzat. It’s a beautiful place with a spring water cannel, surrounded by mountains. One of the mountains had a small cave in it. The flower garden was also lovely.
The garden at Ayn Razzat
As we were leaving Ayn Razzat, I asked Ali: what’s next. He lifted both his hands up as if praying and said: Allah ho Akbar.

I understood it was Friday and it’s time for the weekly prayer in the mosque.

Ali parked his car near a mosque and went inside the mosque after showing his watch to us signalling half an hour. It was a picturesque location. So, instead of waiting in the car we explored the beautiful plains which were green with newly grown wild plants and flowers.
This is how Khareef changes the landscape of Salalah

Next we headed towards Ayn Sahalnoot. It is a natural spring surrounded by limestone formations. Kids were playing and some adults were trying a hand on climbing the hills. Another such site we had visited during our trip was Ain Garzis. It’s also natural spring popular with tourists.
Ayn Sahalnoot
After Sahalnoot, Ali steered towards a hilly road, which I would consider as one of the drives to remember. It was a green tunnel – a curvy road enveloped by lines of trees, dense and deep. It was raining heavily and we drove with lights on. It was a trip of a lifetime. We crossed the long tunnel which took about 25 minutes and came back to the plains.
Road towards the Green Tunnel
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at Ittin. Ali halted his car near the road side. We went out of the car and tried to climb a small hill. The soil was too slippery. But when we reached to the top we realised the effort was worth taking. It was a full 360 degree view of Salalah. It was green, green and green all over, which Salalah is famous for. People flock here to see the greenery and the monsoon. It’s the well-known Khareef season that turns this place to such a paradise that it’s hard to believe to be a part of the Middle East Asia. And it’s the lesser known people like Ali who makes this place even more beautiful.

We reached hotel at about 3 pm. I asked Ali about tomorrow’s programme. He only said: Mughsayl beach. (I will write another blogpost about our visit to Mughsayl beach as I have a lot of things to share about this natural wonder.)

We could have called Salim to get more clarification on next day’s schedule. But we didn’t. We didn’t even call Salim during our trip to Mughsayl beach the next day. We just loved the way we were exploring with Ali. We loved getting lost with Ali.

Ali also came to drop us at the bus stop. It was our return journey in a day bus. He parked his car in a place reserved for physically handicapped. During our tour it never got unnoticed that Ali was paralysed. He could move only one hand. But he is a master in driving, which is evident in the way he changes gears with just one hand!
With Ali
We thanked Ali. We called Salim and conveyed our gratitude. Salim advised us to buy some Frankincense before we get into the bus. Ali smiled at us and told something in Arabic. We could not understand the meaning but it was sure that he was not talking about the ATM or the hotel. It must have been some good wishes.

Some journeys are made in earth! They are made to be enjoyable by proper planning, research and expert help. We make all efforts to know in advance about the dos and don’ts and every piece of information that saves us from all the hustles and bustles.

Some other journeys are made in heaven – made out of the blue but turn out to be pleasant! It may be due to the extraordinary ability of the traveler to explore the unknown, or a companion who guides you through the path or due to sheer luck. It reminds me the song – I need to know I can be lost and not afraid.

So get ready for a journey where the itinerary is finalized only after it is over! Take the plunge and face the challenge of uncertainty and you will be rewarded by beautiful surprise of discovering something new.

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