Set Yourself Free…

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When you truly sing, you sing yourself free.
When you truly dance, you dance yourself free.
And when you travel to places and discover a river, you swim to set yourself free!

PS: Read these lines somewhere in a book and modified them a little

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On a Snow-Hooded Himalayan Trail: The Story of Serken

Into the Mountains
Into the Mountains…

There are only 3000 to 6000 Snow Leopards estimated to be alive today- they are an endangered species. By some conservative estimates, you would be 10 times more likely to be struck by a lightning, than having the absolute luck of seeing the majestic Snow Leopard. Serken (in local name) is considered to be a symbol of God. With these thoughts in mind, five layers of warm clothing and strong, sturdy shoes I set out on a journey to feel the Himalayas. A lot of effort was put into bringing together all necessary life belongings into one rucksack. The aim was to keep it as light as possible. I was going to climb steep rocky mountains in -10 degrees celsius (it was late October), explore the frozen valleys and live with the locals of the Spiti-Lahaul district in Himachal Pradesh, India.

When I arrived at Chandigarh in the morning, three free souls and one self-driven car welcomed me at the airport. We hopped in and shortly hit the highway to Manali. A night spent well and an energy packed breakfast filled me with thrill and enthusiasm to drive further. Through the snow peaks and huge rocks we paced our SUV to stop right at our next destination- Chatru. Unlike the usual tar or cement roads, the roads here were made only of gravel. For the first time in my life, I witnessed a landslide right beside me. Mother Earth pulled down everything from big boulders to minute sand particles and threw them at us puny humans! Everything was grey, hidden under the vast dust cloud that rose in the sky. Gravity showed its aggression to us. It looked like a trailer. Earth- like an angry goddess; trying to tell man that she is far more powerful than any human being could ever aspire to be!

A big speed breaker and a bumpy bridge, got me back to the present and I saw that we had by now passed the landslide. The grey had disappeared and I had reached Chatru, just before dusk! The stars shimmered and glittered, as only the stars under the grand Himalayan sky can. There were only two huts where we could ask for food. The temperature fell rapidly but the small hut, the family we met, the fried eggs and noodles they cooked for us brought much needed warmth and love! After setting up the tent I watched stars change position for about two hours and discussed how enlightened our life was to be experiencing pure nature first hand. We also discussed struggles of life while talking to the only family we had met. They had no permanent address- they lived six months in Chatru and the other six in a village at a lower elevation. They were filled with joy to meet us, to share their dinner with us and allow us to spend a night on their land- it wasn’t often that they had visitors this late into the year. They told me people like us, make their life beautiful. I strongly believe the struggles you choose determine the level of carefree and happy life you lead!

The next morning I woke up to numb feet, ice in my hair and chirping birds. There were a pair of singing River Chats flying all over the place. The tributary of Spiti river flowed freely by the side. After waving goodbye to the family who provided us shelter we moved ahead to Dhankar Village. On the way we spent another night at a pristine lake that we bumped into after our not so perfect google search. We took a narrow, winding road that led us to Chandra tal lake- the Lake of the Moon- one of the highest lakes in the world. We spent the night under the starry galaxy and woke up to clear blue water which literally turned the Himalayas upside down.

When the Himalayas turned upside down
When the Himalayas turned upside down

Dhankar Village was 8 hours away from the Lake of the Moon. After a great bumpy make-your-own-way ride on gravel, the stars twinkled their smiles upon us one by one. The night fell dark- we were about to reach Dhankar Monastery. It was 9 PM at night. To my ecstasy, the monastery lights shared the space with twinkling stars at the horizon. I shouted with joy “Yay, we found a home”. All of us got really excited to see civilization again! Faint with hunger, we decided to distract ourselves by turning our attention to our daily “wildlife talks” and discussed how we were 4000 meters above the sea level. My friends curiously asked me about the wildlife found here! I told them about the Short-toed Larks that we had seen flying in flocks at the lake, the majestic Himalayan Griffon that perched on the rock, the Ibex which we couldn’t see and then we discussed the mighty and elusive Snow-Leopard.

Himalayan Griffon in all its glory!
Himalayan Griffon in all its glory!

“The Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia), lives in high altitudes about 3,000-4,500 meters from the sea level. It can walk on the rocky steep slopes of the Himalayas and is usually seen only above the tree level. Sources say that there are only 6000 of these individuals left in the wild. They have been facing major threats like climate change and habitat destruction owing to the greed of homo sapiens. They can hunt prey three times their size. They are about 125 cms long- not counting their tail length. They have an extremely useful tail which can sometimes be used to protect them from the harsh snow.” Can we come across a Snow-Leopard here? Asked a friend who was currently concentrating on driving and reaching the horizon with lights. “Yes”, I said, “If only fate is on our side! It is an extremely rare and elusive animal, and finding one is like finding an angel falling from the sky” My friends laughed as we continued making our way.

After about thirty minutes, while we were still driving and I was lost in the stars that followed us, my friend who had never seen even a Snow-Leopard photograph, shouted out- “Snow-leopard!” as he brought the car to a grinding halt. Wait, what, that isn’t possible- I thought. “No, it can’t be”, I said still lost in the stars. “It is, there is no other creature this size with that long a tail. Her eyes are shining in the car’s headlights, at least take a look, you girlgonebirdzz!” He exclaimed. I got up from my recumbent position and to my surprise an adult solitary “Serken” as the locals would call it was sitting comfortably on the cold, very steep mountain beside me. I hurriedly got my torch and focused straight on the animal, keeping a safe distance. “Yes, a female Snow-Leopard!”

Yes, the elusive and rare- Snow Leopard!
Yes, the elusive and rare- Snow Leopard!

We stopped the car to get a better look. I tried photographing it but it was too dark. It stared at us as we stared back. I tried to climb up to get a better picture, careful not to make any sudden movements and scare it away. The result was this shot that I managed to capture after 30 minutes of slowly and painfully inching forward. By then I had closely monitored her behavior towards me- she looked calm and peaceful, she just wanted to relax on the mountain! We stayed like this for another 30 minutes, staring at each other before my friends dragged me away and I went to the car reluctantly. That night we holed up at the monastery, where the monks told us that yes indeed a Sow Leopard had been dragging away their livestock over the last few weeks. They mentioned that spotting a Snow Leopard is very rare and that we were one of the luckiest travelers that year! I slept fitfully, dreaming of the leopard, chasing it through the mountain crags.

Next day morning, at the break of dawn, I jumped out of my bed and drove towards the place where we had spotted the Serken. Alas, it was gone! I jumped into the narrow gap between the mountains and started pulling myself up. Although the Serken was gone, I was fortunate enough to collect her hair and a few droppings. I secured these valuable samples up in air- tight zip-lock bag to get them tested at a lab once we returned to civilization. The Serken was a majestic sight, one that crowned our entire trip. It was more than the icing on the cake, for me personally, the Serken took the cake itself! 🙂

 

PS: This article was first published on Travelettes – an online platform for women travelers to share inspiring stories. Read it here. Don’t forget to show your love- comment, like and share! Any help with my Travel Funds will be highly appreciated. Thanks!

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My Heartwarming Experiences Might Completely Change The Way You Travel

I usually travel in ways that help local communities while getting them to develop in a sustainable way (this, by the way, is the very definition of sustainable ecotourism!). The places that I prefer travelling to include- villages, forest reserves, national parks, heritage towns and biodiversity hotspots. Why? Because usually tourists leave these places alone, enabling the locals to offer their own version of ecotourism, without corporate influences getting in the way!

I have tried to embrace all principles of sustainable tourism wherever I have traveled. Here are some of my experiences over the last two years:

Experience 1: Chilling with the Banjaras, otherwise known as the lost tribes of India. 

Spending time with local communities!
Spending time with local communities!

They are locally called “Lambadi” or “Lambani”, counted among the fast disappearing tribes of the world. Karnataka, in India hosts one of the richest and the most vibrant cultures of Lambanis. They now work in farms or any other daily wage jobs possible around their village. All the other time they chill and roam or create intricate art work with mirrors and colored thread. Some have turned their artisan skills into small scale businesses. They aren’t hesitant to tell you that their ancestors are Gypsies/Romans of Europe. When you travel local, you get to learn about and see the heritage of any place that you are travelling to. When you interact with the people, you might get to know how exactly to boost their economy and help them. After this happy meeting, I ended up buying some cheap, local, banjara jewelry for myself! And you know what, it looks awesome on me. 

OMG, I love tribal jewelry ;)
OMG, I love tribal jewelry 😉

Experience 2: Camping to support local communities and demand less while traveling 

Camping within the snow-clad mountains in Chatru!
Camping within the snow-clad mountains in Chatru!

Sleeping under the stars with a local family in Chatru (3100 meters above the sea level) was an experience of a lifetime. The family of four that I stayed with, lived here for six months and spends the rest of the year roaming in the villages at a lower elevation. How difficult their life is, I thought! Although I was equally pleased to see them welcome us with a heartful of smiles!

The hut of my host, who served warm coffee and noodles with much love
The host’s cozy hut, who served warm coffee and noodles with much love

That night when I looked up in the cold breeze at the clear sky, I saw the whole galaxy stretch out over my head. Holy Christ! I could experience nature first hand. I wanted to fly and touch every star to twinkle like it. I just smiled and realized, one twinkling smile can make a whole lot of difference. I was here because I had decided to ditch all the hotels and guesthouses. Had I been in a hotel, I am sure I would have missed out on the starry galaxy and a whole lot of joyous thoughts! 

Experience 3: Living in local homestays thus encouraging local businesses

A forest officers' terrace converted into a basic stay for travelers!
A forest officers’ terrace converted into a basic stay for travelers!

In Hampi, a UNESCO heritage town in India, I lived in this colorful homestay run by Rambo and admired the beauty of this quaint little hamlet. The nearby frogs were my friends during my stay. You might like to read- Frogs of Hampi. Rambo taught me a way of life- he tells me that the biggest happiness for him is when his travelers are happy and smiling in his warm hut! He says, the only wish he makes to God is to keep his travelers happy. What a simple and beautiful way of life, I thought, as I chilled in my hut overlooking the paddy-fields! Seeing happiness in others is something not many people master. But the ones who do, are enlightened in their lives. Most of Rambo’s daily earning depends upon travelers like you and me! The money he makes out of this homestay goes towards his children’s education, maintenance of his farm and his home.

My colorful and peaceful homestay at Hampi
My colorful and peaceful homestay at Hampi

You might also like to know of another wonderful example of me staying local- The Organic Bamboo shacks in India’s best kept secret beaches of Gokarna. Read- Snippets from Gokarna: India’s Best Kept Secret Beach?

Experience 4: Going veg and eating simple local food

Yummy Gujarathi Thali!
Yummy Gujarathi Thali!

Treating myself to a whole fat veggie meal in Gujarat prepared with much love by a local restaurant owner. I turned vegetarian five months ago from being a voracious meat eater and this I think is a big step in contributing towards sustainable living. The global number of people eating veg is about 4-5% in the Canada and US and about 30% in India. Just livestock adds about 15% of all the global greenhouse gases which is far more than the world’s planes, ships and automobiles put together. Jaws dropped- who’s going vegan?

I loved spending time in Honey-Valley Resort in Coorg

Experience 5: Explore a destination on foot

Exploring the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park on foot!
Exploring the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park on foot!

I went trekking through the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park in Nepal to spend time with birds and local tribes there. Trekking is a great way to explore the outdoors. It is healthy and reduces your carbon footprint. It is much better than exploring the same area with jeeps/cars. Also, believe it or not, being close to nature has several health benefits. Walking on natural non-cemented paths is great for your joints and muscles. It reduces the ground reaction force exerted on your joints (The physiotherapist in me is talking here!).

Here’s another picture that I clicked while exploring the gorgeous rain forests of India on foot with several leeches, snakes and other little crawlies. 

Bisle Rainforest in Southern India
Bisle Rainforest in Southern India

Experience 6: Volunteer Travel

Working at a forest farm on the outskirts of Dharwad
Working at a forest farm on the outskirts of Dharwad

This is my favorite way of travelling. By volunteering and helping different organisations, I have made my way to the breathtaking countryside of Nepal, lived with the farmers in Karnataka and have taught children an eco-friendly/sustainable way of living almost everywhere I have gone! Even today, at most times I end up volunteering with local NGOs and working for them while I get to explore the town/village locally.

Happy times with kids in a local school!
Happy times with kids in a local school!

When you travel minimizing your demands, encouraging local communities and getting close to nature- you are appreciating the wonders of mother nature and giving back to where it all belongs. This is the need of the hour, to develop a feeling of compassion towards nature and the environment we live in. Climate change is real and doing whatever little that we can do to make our only habitable planet a much more livable place is indeed amazing. Not to mention- the locals will appreciate you much more than they would snobbish high-maintenance luxury travelers!

Recently, I wrote an elaborate article on how to become an eco-tourist and do your bit while you travel. My nine step guide to traveling more responsibly might really help you! I am not a luxury traveler. I love using public transport, exploring the rural India, landing somewhere away from the touristy over-hyped towns and experiencing nature up close! This is my way of travel.

What’s your way of travel- Do you prefer luxury resorts over nature and local culture?  

Tell me in the comments or mail me your views on madhushri06@gmail.com and the best responses shall be published as a follow up to this article! 😉 

PS: This article was featured at www.thestreetedit.com. Read it here. Street Edit is a fashion, travel and lifestyle blog run by my dear friend Monica. Don’t forget to check it out!  🙂
It was also featured on Backpacker Bible- your go to place if you love backpacking the globe while benefiting the community.

Show love in the comments, by sharing this with your friends and by helping me fund my travel.

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How I Met My ‘Courage’

‘Courage’ the little frog sat comfortably across this fast flowing stream. It looked as if he had made friends with the stream and her fast flowing water. The very strong wavy water was trying to protect it from predators.

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The rocks neighboring the water made it even more difficult to reach the frog. As soon as I stepped in the stream the water flow increased and the waves stopped me from getting close to Courage. But I knew I wasn’t supposed to give up. I had to prove to the stream and her friends that I am different. I am not the human being who throws plastic at them and usually comes to destroy them.

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I am going to observe this frog and help conserve him. So I put my foot down and went ahead. While I played with the fast flowing waves, another Whistling friend joined in. Thrush, the bird, occupied the canopy above me and watched all the drama below. He looked at me like “Oh just another creepy human being”. But wait, there’s more to me, I thought as I struggled to keep my foot down in the waves.

Look at the frog

The rocks had decided to stop me as well. They turned slippery and asked moss to cover them. I knew, these are not inanimate objects that we look upon them as. They are in fact the beloved children of Mother Earth, live creatures in themselves. All these life forces come together to make a brilliant cradle for the survival of human beings. In return it is our duty to give back, as much as we can.

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As my mind recited these thoughts, Mother Nature seemed to guess this already. She calmed down a little, after a good twenty minutes of my struggle through the rocks and waves. I had reached where Courage was. He posed for me and said ribbit-ribbit. Two more frogs jumped in and these I decided to call- Moxie and Energy!

Mr Courage

As I got out of the stream, I felt super happy. All the adrenaline rush and this new bond of frogship felt really wonderful. I was on top of the world. When I first decided to cross the stream, I was afraid. But as I gathered my courage and decided to take this path, I made friends on the way. These friends might not be able to party, wish me birthday or Whatsapp me, but they will always be there. Having them as companions, I realized, I don’t need anyone else!

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Frogs Of Hampi: You Must Check Them Out During Your Visit To The Heritage Town!

Hampi, a UNESCO heritage site is not only rich in its heritage but also unique in its wildlife. The town is slightly touristy and has numerous temples which makes it a very famous tourist spot. In my search to find lesser known places, I ended up staying in the north of Hampi (across the Tungabhadra River) in Sanapur. Sanapur has pristine, undisturbed habitats which are a home for numerous frogs, birds and reptiles. Especially in the rainy season, the paddy fields, adjoining granite monoliths and the mud houses of farmers become a paradise for frogs and toads to breed. If you happen to be in Hampi, anytime during the months of June to September, you will definitely get to see a number of frogs here-

I am in love with these paddyfields, just outside my homestay!
I am in love with these paddyfields, just outside my homestay!

Here are all the frogs that I saw during my visit to Hampi-

The Sri Lankan Painted Frog (Kaloula taprobanica)

This colorful and distinctive frog is about 5 to 6 cms in length. It is stocky with short legs. It is possible to come across this frog in moist places, smaller puddles and near fields. Occasionally, it is possible to find this in your courtyard or your bathroom.

I found him jump below my hammock when I was reading a book in dim light very close to paddyfields at Rambo Homestay

This colorful frog is such a poser!
This colorful frog is such a poser!

Variegata Ramanella (Ramanella variegata)

This frog looks like a tiny birthday balloon with its distinctive fine yellow spots. I am not sure what this loner was doing in my bathroom. But it probably swum through the sewer opening, jumped through the door or was just planning to say “hi” to me. Did you know that this frog has a very large distribution and if you are observant enough, you might just find it in almost any damp places, protected forests, rivers, fields, etc. There are eight species of Ramanella out of which six appear in peninsular India.

Tiny, spotted beauty in your bathroom!
Tiny, spotted beauty in my bathroom!

Common Indian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus)

The toad has to make it to my list wherever I go in India. They can be found almost everywhere, a toad, could most likely be. In monsoons, a walk around your own home in a sparkling city can reveal at least one toad. These are super easy to identify- just look for a “V” above the snout with warty skin and dull color.

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That “V” = Common Indian Toad

Common Indian Tree Frog (Polypedates maculatus)

This is apparently a very common frog. It is possible to find one almost anywhere and everywhere, given its distinctive call. It is distributed throughout India as per resources. My frog expert friends tell me- “You should know where to look for this frog”. It lives in the trees and shrubs about 3 to 4 feet above the ground. Occasionally, it climbs down on rocks near puddles and fields and you might be lucky like me to find one.

Chilling on the rock!
Chilling on the rock!

Burrowing frog (Sphaerotheca species)

I came across this species of frog while taking a night stroll. The tiny frogs of this genus have a specialized digging apparatus on their feet. A really funny incident happened when I spotted this one. I was walking on the road and the frog jumped over someone’s feet who was pissing by the side. I am sure I weirded out this man but still managed clicking this one awkward shot in all the smelly area. So now you know where to get this digging frog!

Little digging frog
Little digging frog.

I love these little, slimy creatures. How about you- have you visited Hampi yet?

If not, pack your bags this monsoon for the much needed weekend break and stay at my favorite Homestay to see all the frogs in one go! 

PS: Heartfelt thanks to all my wonderful frog loving friends who helped me with the frog identities and information. For more check the inspiration section!

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Travel lessons- Find your soul, what are you?

The beautiful blue sea at Kodi Bengre- A small town on the coasts of Karnataka, India
The beautiful blue sea at Kodi Bengre- A small town on the coasts of Karnataka, India

The sea is so gorgeous. When you stand in front of it, it shows you what space you occupy in this huge world. You’re a tiny speck lost in yourself, difficult to find and constantly fighting with the numerous external and internal factors. Who knows what you are, who you are? No one, but you yourself will find the answer one day.

Some say you must meditate, maintain relationships, listen to your parents, follow your elders/mentors, explore and travel to get there, to lead a happy life. But I doubt! I don’t think anyone can answer it for you.

No one but you will know whether you need meditation, exploration or a relationship! It just takes one moment, one thought, to realize and find your soul. Although when will that thought trigger, no one knows. It isn’t age dependent or time dependent. It just happens, like you fall in love but it is still a mystery.

And whether you have the guts to let that thought run your life defines whether you sail successfully like what a ship is suppose to do or are tied to the shore, which is also what some ships do.

The choice is yours of course!

PS: Show love in the comments, by sharing this with your friends and by helping me fund my travel.

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Ecotourism- A way for you to have your cake and eat it too!

The Ecotourism Society (TES) defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people.”  On 17th and 18th of Oct a group of nature enthusiasts from Bangalore, Mysore and Coimbatore flocked together to explore the Annamalai hills in Tamil Nadu. The relationship between human beings and nature is so beautiful that anyone as young as 5 or as old as 50 years can experience and enjoy it. You need not be 21 to fall in love, just set out on an exploration in the forests and feel the magic!

Witness The Biodiversity Of Western Ghats

Human migration began about 2 million years ago when homo erectus moved out of Africa. Finally 75,000 years ago homo sapiens ventured into Asia and other continents. Today human beings have successfully conquered all the continents in the world. Not to forget there is a vast difference between travelling then and travelling now. Then, there were less man-made resources, there was no conveyance, no speed, but today things have changed drastically. We can travel through any medium and have conquered the world. But where does all the raw material come from, our forests and our limited natural reserves! I am sure when the first wheel was invented about 3500 years BC, man certainly didn’t know “the wheel” would grow to such an extend that most human beings today could afford to have a minimum of two to four.

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The point is, there has been a very strong relationship between human beings and travelling. We all love getting out of our concrete jungles to open natural spaces. We love the lush green forests and crystal clear water. I pity those who have not seen or enjoyed the beauty of nature. But for now let us concentrate on the three major concerns of mankind. According to me these are, the ever increasing population, poverty and ignorance. Ignorance towards pollution, demand of energy, supplies, development, construction and much more. We all love to play the blame game, but today let us concentrate on ourselves.
Try finding an answer to this one question-
What can I do to create a positive change and a bright, pollution free, green future?

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Conservation of forests is a global cause of concern- researchers and environmentalists from all over the world have been shouting about the perils of climate change, increasing pollution, depletion of ozone layer, species extinction and destruction of biodiversity hotspots. How much does all this matter to man? The recent Chennai floods are now gaining attention with their root causes being destruction of natural drainage systems and unplanned development. The day when each one of us will be seeing such a day isn’t too far. Protection of natural biodiversity has now become critical. The stage when this was just ‘important’ and not yet critical- has gone down way back in history. It is now that all of us must join hands and think about all the small ways that will make a big difference in the future.

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Here I would like to talk about one of the fun ways of contributing to this global cause. Traveling- not the commercial large scale variety tourism but sustainable eco-tourism instead! Eco-tourism if done appropriately can help save the natural biodiversity hotspots while employing and empowering the otherwise disadvantaged local communities. With many people around India failing to understand the problem of natural diversity, tourism like this can be of great help. Especially in a developing countries, it is a must-adopt model where you can conserve maximum resources while helping the indigenous groups of people sustain their natural livelihoods. Many claim that ecotourism ventures market tourism as environmentally friendly, but in fact destroy the very ecosystems they claim to protect. However, when planned and implemented properly, ecotourism can be both an effective conservation tool and successful community development model.

Take nothing but photographs. Leave nothing but footprints. These are but two of the various approaches to ecotourism. Let me list some more over here:

– Conserving the land and animals through active measures
– Visiting endangered and exotic lands and educating tourist of the dangers the environment faces from human development
– Giving local governments and industry a reason to be ecologically minded
– Putting money into the environment- donate for a cause!
– Raising the value of a live animal in the eyes of an increasingly apathetic world

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Which approach is the best? Well that’s still not crystal clear, probably taking the best out of each or combining two approaches would work wonderfully! Ecotourism is a double edged sword- when used correctly it has amazing results including protection of biodiversity, raising the local livelihood and protecting a species but when misused and abused- it may turn out to be worst possible offender! It is for this exact reason that it must be carried out by trained and aware practitioners who know what works and what hurts.

Around the world when most ecosystems are becoming farmlands or falling victim to urbanization, the effects of depletion of biodiversity have now started showing up. Extinction of species and increasing temperature are just a few that are gaining attention. In a scenario like so it has become critical to work on appropriate models of conservation.

In essence, “Ecotourism” has become the manifestation of an economically driven world by preserving the environment and helping the indigenous communities. That being said- ecotourism as a business model has a vast potential to let you have your cake and eat it too! With the ever increasing awareness among masses, many are choosing eco-traveling while giving up on luxury travel packages. This travel is not only fun but also an experience one can never get out of luxury hotels and resorts, the adrenaline rush with the challenge of trekking through the jungle overrides the extravagance of a car. It is this “Connect with Nature” that really distils and captures the very core essence of not only Ecotourism but in fact travelling in general!

PS: This article was first published in January 2016 in Pollachi Papyrus, a magazine aiming to promote responsible tourism.

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Spooky Memories From Bisle Rainforest Within The Western Ghats Of India

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Rain hug- that’s my way of showing love!

I love the monsoons. Unlike most people who complain of the rains as messy, dirty or a season of inactive gloomy life, I set out on explorations to discover the hidden world unknown.

You must let the rain kiss you, let it beat upon your head and let it sing you a lullaby to discover new life springing out of everywhere!

1. I spent ten rainy days in a rain-forest, take a glimpse into that world beyond ours!I set out in my car and drove three hours straight. With constant lactic acid build up, there was a need to stretch. Finding a place was really difficult so I stopped by the side!

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 2. One more hour of driving and I was off into the wild.

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 3. With every turn, the forest grew greener and darker. Although I loved each turn as I cuddled in nature’s lap

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 4. There is simply nothing as beautiful as listening to showers and soaking in your own thoughts

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 5. With all that love the clouds went hard on me, I took shelter and promised I won’t leave all night

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 6. After a peaceful sleep, I woke up to a dark morning

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 7. Went out to discover hidden life on an unknown path, although I knew it was safe because it was GREEN!

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 8. As I walked I came across smaller beings bustling with life, creatures no one usually marvels at! And probably this little blood sucker is enough to keep people away from the rain forests

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9. Wait, there is more to life!

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 10. By far he is my favorite, I spent hours watching him hunt frogs and swim in the water

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So when I looked deep inside, the clouds smiled at me. We had developed a great relationship after spending 9 drenched days cuddled together.

On the tenth day the sun came up to bid me farewell!

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PS: Any help to my travel fund will be highly appreciated!
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My 9 Incredible Eco-Tour Moments

I make sure I go on at least one nature tour every week to keep my brain and body vitalized. I suggest you try my mantra of happiness as well. I visited Pollachi and Valparai for my monthly dose of rejuvenation. I was astonished by the beauty of this forest. In this holiday season I urge you to go and visit at least one of the green and beautiful hill-stations in India. In fact, if I were a Santa Claus, I would make sure I gift you a trip to Anamalai hills.

But till then I will let you enjoy these remarkable hills virtually through my photo-story:

1. Experience the rich forest closely by trekking in the Anamalai Tiger Reserve

I have been a trekker and a hiker by body, mind and soul. I am thrilled by the idea of exploring new places on foot. All I need is a pair of good shoes. My Quechua waterproof hiking boots help me to be ready for an adventure at all times. I explored the hills with a group of six nature enthusiasts along with one local guide.

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2. Sighting of Nilgiri tahr when we drove up-hill to Valparai

The Nilgiri tahr is a large mammal. It is a close relative of sheep and shares common ancestors with cattle and horses. The animal is protected under section I of the Wildlife Protection Act in India. It was indeed a breath-taking experience to watch the tahr take a stroll where no humans could dare to climb!

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3. Spending time within the lush green tea plantations at a local home-stay


A walk within the green tea plantations reminded me of the romantic songs in the 1990s. These mountain farms have been a famous tourist attraction for years. Even today the beauty of these gardens remains and gives a unique picturesque serenity- attracting tourists from all over India.

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4. Climbing up an old broken shaky watchtower in search of tigers and leopards


These days with the decreasing population and increased poaching, tigers and leopards are no easy animals to watch in the wild. Although in an attempt to try our luck we took the risk of climbing a shaky, rickety watch-tower. Unfortunately, no cats showed up. As the stars took to the sky, we all had to rush back to our tents. But I must admit that the thrill of climbing the tower was an unforgettable experience!

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5. Face to face with a family of Elephants

Watching an animal as huge as an elephant, in the wild, was an awestricking experience. While we were driving up to our home-stay, our local expert pointed out to a family of three elephants feeding and bathing. The bond between the mother Elephant and the baby is possibly the most magnificent wonder of mother nature. To see it right in front of you is a once in a lifetime opportunity, I got, owing to my eco-travels.

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6. Spending time pondering with Nilgiri Langoors and thoughts on human evolution


I love langoors for the strange fact that they communicate within their groups by various vocalization skills that most primates exhibit, though the langoor communication skills are not as advanced as that of Chimpanzees. By simple observation one can easily point out the similarities between man and langoors. Langoors show similar habits to that of a group of homo sapiens

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7. Listening to the loud, haunting calls of the huge Great Hornbill


These majestic giant birds with a yellow bill and black and white body are simply astonishing to witness within the forests. They usually live in pairs. Their population has now been decreasing and this has put them in a ‘near-threatened’ category by International Union for Conservation of Nature.  We were lucky to get a glimpse of this flying giant.

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8. When we all sat down with our freshly prepared tea to enjoy a long tete-a-tete with the Malabar Whistling Thrush


When chotu served us tea with the freshness I cannot possibly explain in words, this little beautiful bluebird came in whistling at us. The Malabar thrush are known to live in dense canopies in evergreen forests but here in the Anamalai tea gardens the scenario is a little bit different. Possibly the cutest animal on this list!

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9. The last click where we all stood together ‘for nature within nature’- nurturing bonds that would last forever


Traveling not only connects you with Nature but gives you a chance to meet like minded people of all ages. This is when one can truly reflect on the true meaning of friendship- giving it a new sense and new boundaries every single time 🙂

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PS: This article was first published in January 2016 in Pollachi Papyrus, a magazine aiming to promote responsible tourism.

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10 Unforgettable Moments From My Trip To The Himalayas

Two weeks ago, I returned from Spiti valley situated in the state of Himachal Pradesh in India. Past the treacherous winding pass through Rohtang, down beyond the barrenness of Chhatru- lies the most beautiful valley of wonders!

I couldn’t stop feeling blessed to have gotten a chance to experience the pristine beauty of the Himalayas. I have truly, madly loved travelling in India despite it being regarded as unsafe for women. There is something that cannot stop me from exploring the land of so many languages, motley crowd, endless diverse cultures, varied habitats, disparate climates which you might experience the moment you step out of your home or office.

Here are my top 10 moments from the trip that never fail to fill me with nostalgia about the Himalayas.

1. The thrilling 24-hour off roading drive on snowy perilous roads – driving past an actual live landslide

2. Crossing a flimsy wooden bridge with broken steps over a clean blue fast-flowing river

3. Spending time with Griffon Vultures, Ravens, Magpies, a Snow Leopard, Yaks in the wild dry land

4. The precious 30-minute nap after a strenuous 4-hour trek to reach the peak

5. Camp night with friends, fire and the infinite stars. Nothing beats camaraderie in the lap of nature and wilderness

6. Meditating to trigger self-realization in one of the highest Monasteries in India

7. The simple soulful breakfast in our home stay at Manali – cooked with more love than the best restaurant in any city

8. Cold, steep, exhausting and slippery 14 km trek to bask in the glory of a pristine Himalayan lake – one of the highest in India

9. The glimpse of real, lush green amidst vast coniferous forests

10. Pins and needles flashing through my body when I dived into chilling sub-zero water at Chandra Tal lake 4,300 meters above sea level

PS: This article was first published on boredpanda.com

PSS: Show love in the comments, by sharing this with your friends and by helping me fund my travel.

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