Love lives on

Lake Bled, Slovenia

“It simmers yet again,

Happiness in a crimson bubble

That we better know as heart;

With the promise of

Flattering illusions

Palpable fantasies

Love lives on … ♥️

– Shagun

Happy Valentine’s Day, all !! ♥️ 🙂

 

Winter vacation 2018: Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore

Last year I planned to take all my annual leave at one go and travel home to India. I first thought it might be crazy, as I have never taken more than a week’s holiday at a stretch. So how could I possibly stay away from work for a month? But thanks to the support of my oh-so-wonderful colleagues! They made it much easier for me to be gone. I did enough on my holiday to pack myself up with energy and doses of sunshine, so I can now brave the dark and long tunnel of Swedish winter.

What I liked the most is that I had time to do all I wanted to do – be at home with family, meet closest friends and relatives, visit my parents-in-law, go shopping, take my dad for an excursion to Singapore, and also spend Christmas and New year exploring the vibrant Asian countries of Vietnam and Cambodia! I would have likely had to do 3 different trips to make it all happen, if I had split my journeys during the year. Not so efficient, right?

Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore – Being the tropical countries that they are, certain parts remain warm during December, and that made it a perfect winter getaway for me.  There were showers of rain on a couple of days, but not as much as to spoil the day’s plans. Keeping a pocket poncho at all times, especially in Singapore, is a wise thing to do!

More descriptive blogs on the travel will appear in your Reader soon! But I couldn’t wait to give you, my friends, a sneak peak into the rich landscape and a dreamy world these places own. So here goes a glimpse!

  • Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

What vibrant and lively cities these are. Be it the nature’s bountiful countryside, the world heritage preserved sites, the historic structures glittering in the glory of ancient architecture, or the the walking streets buzzing with party, nightlife and food, it surely has something for every visitor.

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Boat ride in the Ninh Binh province in North Vietnam, known for its scenic landscape

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  • Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Untouched by the paints of modernization, protecting it’s mythology and exuding ancient wisdom from every corner, this temple city of Angkor Wat in the Siem Reap region of Cambodia was nothing less than a gem discovered. Angkor Wat is a large temple complex, sort of an archaeological park, home to several glorious temples from the 12th century. Particularly fascinating in the area was the popular night market, pub street and the spa culture. We’re definitely going back again!

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Angkor Wat at sunrise

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  • Singapore

Who would have imagined a tiny country will become the biggest hub of commercial banking and trade, will rank one of the highest in the ease of setting up businesses, and yet be known as Garden City, thank to it’s lush greenery all around in the middle of the city. This little, yet highly developed nation, surely gives progressive goals to the rest of the world. It was not my first visit to Singapore, but it was the very first country that I visited outside India, along with my closest friends almost 10 years back. It will always remain special! 🙂

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Sentosa Island with a view of the iconic Merlion statue

Are you excited to read more about the holiday? Stay tuned 🙂

More travel stories:
How about visiting Riga, in Latvia?
For once, Blues are Beautiful! In Santorini, Greece

 

 

 

Message from the autumn leaves 🍁

It’s now time to bid adieu,
descend into the solace of winter;
holding on to a promise to revive
and come back alive,
in the best of green,
with the verve of youth,
packed with hope
and smiles of the spring.

Till we meet again,
let’s partner on this journey,
of a silent transformation
yet a throbbing resurrection;
Take a pause to reawaken, too
change things you wanted to,
always change about you.

Read my other autumn stories :

Leaves begin to fall

The breeze of autumn..

Leaves begin to fall

Woah, that was a long break. I haven’t seen my lovely readers in a little over 2 months. Caught up in such whirlwind, pointing all fingers back at myself for this disappearing act, and having gobbled up high doses of guilt tablets (honestly!) , I’m now ecstatic about getting back to the thing I love doing the most – write about my experiences and sharing them with you! And what better time to find my resurrection than while I witness this gorgeous transformation of the nature turning from emerald to gold. Earth is peeling away a layer of its brilliance and green beauty, and emanating the glow of its fire within. Every leaf is a flower, cozying up to its own warmth, and in turn presenting a sight to behold.

Autumn in Sweden is such that I always fall short of names to aptly describe the colors that so delicately and beautifully unfold. Ochre, mustard, buff, amber, sienna, crimson and scarlet are a few that I feasted my eyes on this weekend, along with the familiar tones of yellow, gold, orange, red and brown. Every step in the woods, and on the little streets drawn out as a carpet studded with jewels, gifted our hearts with precious moments of joy and pleasure.

How much I’d like you partake in this happiness!

Read also : The breeze of autumn

Happy autumn! 🙂

The active geyser of Iceland

The flow of water enhances the beauty of any landscape multifold. We have all seen this precious life source adding to the glory of nature in the form of swift and rapid rivers, cascading waterfalls, pristine lakes and vast oceans.

One truly wondrous and unforgettable sight for me was when I witnessed it spouting wildly from the deeper layers of the earth, like a vigorous fountain, roaring in its fury as it began to reach for the sky. Having attained its peak, it collapsed the next moment with a loud thud, only to stir up its core and rise again, and then again, every few minutes. What a spellbinding sight it was!

I was at the great Geysir, Strokkur, the famous active hot spring in Iceland that erupts about every 6-10 minutes, due to high geothermal activity in the area. It usually goes up to 30 meters of height, and before it begins to fall, it has already cast a lasting, bewildering impression on its bystanders! You can imagine people standing around it, and waiting patiently to get a perfect picture, like I attempted to get this one! 🙂

A trip to the Geysir can easily be done from Reykjavik (capital of Iceland) as part of the popular Golden Circle sightseeing route, which covers three major attractions in the range of 100-150 kms – the Þingvellir National Park where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, the spectacular double-layered waterfall of Gullfoss, and the active Geysir in the Haukadalur Valley.

Read my post about the most stunning waterfalls of Iceland

Read : These incredible waterfalls of Iceland

Crossing the Arctic 66°N – Part 2 : Ice Hotel and Swedish Lapland

It’s still winter in Scandinavia. And it’s still freezing in Stockholm, where I live. Or rather, where I hibernate. While the natives would merrily make way to the Mediterranean, or to the beaches of Gran Canaria, to pump in some necessary dose of Vitamin D, we had apprehensively jumped on to a plane flying further up North to some more brazen winter and icy winds. Read about how I mustered courage for this adventure, in my first post on Crossing the Arctic series, and revisit some pictures of the snow-white land of Kiruna.

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As a matter of a stunning fact, the whole city is being moved to another location currently, in order for the largest mining company in Kiruna (LKAB) to continue with their mining operations, since it is the financial backbone of the place. So a lot of buildings in the city centre have been or are being brought down.

In my previous post, I promised my readers to share some tips for a short visit to the Swedish Lapland. Needless to say, one weekend is not sufficient to even scathe the surface of the Arctic landscape, let alone getting into the skin of it. But like I confessed my fears in my first post, I didn’t think my body was designed to battle the snow and ice for a period longer than that, especially on my first trip 🙂 More might come, perhaps after a cool-off period!

So, are you ready for some highlights? Here we go!

  1. Guided activity tours
    The best and only way to explore Kiruna in winter is to join a couple of the activity tours, like snowmobiling, dog-sledding or mountain hiking – organized by the various tour companies. They take you deep into the forests laden with dense snow, where it’s unthinkable to get on your own. They also offer all sorts of warm overall clothing to beat that chill head to toe. So there you go! No hunting for a life-saviour winter jacket if you don’t already own one. Snowmobile and Dog-sledding tours are the most popular. We took a snowmobile tour from the company kirunaguidetur, and I can’t begin to say how exciting the experience was, driving the snowmobile in the middle of snowy wilderness. Choose between day or night tours depending on the time of your visit.

    From October to March, there are good chances of catching the Northern Lights when the sky gets dark after 6pm. I’d love to share that we caught a glimpse of the Lights from the plane just before landing 🙂 but unfortunately, nothing during the stay, due to dense clouds and rain 😦
  2. Ice Hotel
    Trust me, even if you don’t get to see the Northern Lights, a visit to the Ice Hotel will make your trip to the Lapland complete! Situated in a small Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi, 18 kms from Kiruna, 200 kms north of the Arctic Circle, this hotel made of fresh ice and snow, is rebuilt every year in December and lasts until April when it begins to melt away. Every winter, large blocks of ice are cut from the frozen Torne river close to Jukkasjärvi, and sculpted into the ICEHOTEL – everything from the hotel facade, hotel rooms and galleries, hotel art and decorations, and an Icebar!  ISN’T IT AMUSING? New art, new sculpting, new hotel every year! Every room is designed based on a different theme, and showcase some intricately beautiful patterns made of ice. And what more, if you’re the courageous and adventurous kinds, you can rent the rooms and stay over on beds made of ice.
    What a thrilling, and chilling experience! 😉

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    Ice Hotel entrance

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    Decorations inside the IceHotel

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    Themed rooms
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    Inside one of the Icehotel rooms. Fancy sleeping on that bed, eh? 🙂
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    Ice Hotel entrance view from a distance

    Don’t forget to gulp down some cocktails in their ICEBAR, served in glasses made entirely out of ice! Warm up the blood before starting your stroll around the icy ice hotel 😉

  3. City highlights

    We went around to see a few highlights of the town, one of them being the Kiruna Kyrka (Kiruna Church), one of Sweden’s largest wooden buildings.
    There are a couple of other buildings like the Kiruna City Hall with some interesting art and paintings, but like I mentioned in the beginning of the post, the whole town is on the move, and the building is getting demolished to facilitate the move.
    If you have an additional day, you could consider visiting the LKAB underground iron-ore mine, which is the world’s largest and it’s operations provide financial sustenance to the entire city of Kiruna.  Guided tours lasting about 3 hours are organized to take visitors 540 meters down into the mountain, and walk them around. Tours run only on certain dates, so it’s good to check online in advance.

  4. Abisko Sky Station for Northern Lights watching
    Roughly 100 kms from Kiruna, is a Swedish village, primarily known for being one of the places with the highest likelihood of Aurora or Northern Lights watching, due to its relatively clearer skies on most days. They even have a chair-lift ride up to their Aurora Sky Station, situated 900 meters above sea level, which takes visitors high above on a mountain with no disturbing sources of light. We didn’t get a chance to visit the Sky Station due to time constraints, but if you can, then do try! Who knows, you might get super lucky! 🙂

Read also : Crossing the Arctic 66°N – Part 1

 

Out of This World

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I strolled around one of the islands in the Mediterranean during the early hours of sunset, when something in the far horizon caught my eye. It was small, and black, with a strange shape, sort of a rectangle dented in between. It protruded out of the vast expanse of waters. It didn’t look like a boat parked in the middle of the sea. Also it was hard to imagine a boat as stationary or fixated, as this one was. I could not unravel it’s true identity despite giving it a keen gaze, and in order to allow myself to move on further, I placidly told myself that it could be a natural rock, stemming from the ocean bed, with a part of its head surfacing above the waters. May be that’s what it just was.

No sooner had I begun to turn my eyes around, than I came across an orchestration, so stunning and powerful and sinister at the same time, that I felt transfixed. My vision followed a path up from ‘my rock’, to the softly streaming crepuscular rays of the downing golden sun, that appeared to be wanting to shine on the rock but with no success. And then slowly leading to the gigantic and ominous mass of dark black cloud, which due to its shape, appeared to be cradling the biggest fireball in the sky. It was so enormous that it had almost devoured all the glory that could have possibly reached the rock. The rock! yes! How was this gigantic cloud looming only over the rock? How did it bring itself to engulf the radiating light and keep it from falling only over the rock, while the rest of the sky beamed blue cloudless?

The eerie and evil-looking sight I witnessed in that moment, posed an out of this world energy, contriving to disturb the quietude of the place, threatening to wreak havoc in ‘our’ world.

via Photo Challenge : Out of This World

Crossing the Arctic 66°N – Part 1

”I will see you again on Monday if I survive”, were my words to my colleagues on a cold Friday afternoon in February, as I made my way to the airport to catch a flight to Kiruna, a city perched in the far north of Sweden, famous for its thick snowy landscape, brazen winter, some freezing bones, plenty of ice chills and well, if one manages to live through it, then other exciting things like dog-sledding, snowmobiling, skiing and catching the Northern Lights.

Trust me, it wasn’t a fanciful, over-imaginative and unrealistic construal of my mind. I was gradually and craftily brought to this state. This Swedish salesman from the ‘Five Seasons’ store once told me, ”I’ve been out in the cold quite a lot, right from childhood, but well, Kiruna is a different story.” I was at his store to look for the warmest jacket ever manufactured. His words, as you can tell, weren’t of much help.

I believe the only motivation for me to travel was the thought that this place is exotic, as it goes beyond the Arctic circle. And living so far up in the north, one would only be a victim of circumstances, or a slave of the couch, or perhaps a native of cold climate places, to not want to travel further up there. How many of us really get a chance to go nearer to the poles, and experience its life and landscape? There was no reason for me to miss it.

If that sounded any brave, it was my courageous side talking – to my freakishly petrified side, who I know would happily agree to being labelled as a couch slave. I think I would have spent more time packing the zillion layers of warm clothing, than figuring out the quintessential things-to-see/do. I’m not trying to dissuade, but I count myself as one of those who defy the scientific theory of mammals being warm-blooded.

I was so pre-occupied arranging for things to keep me warm, that I did not travel with a lot on the agenda, or with much expectations. Now when I look back, I see how unique this experience was, as it pleasantly surprised me at every step, and how it has become one of my favorite trips to talk about!

I will, for sure, say all about what we did, and share some tips on itinerary planning in my upcoming post. So stay tuned!

Meanwhile, how about a glimpse of the dense snow all around which greeted us with all the chill that it had? 🙂

And here I give away my pretending-to-be-cool pose, trying to brave the -30 degrees celsius! 😉

Yaay! #justcrossedthearctic

Read alsoCrossing the Arctic 66°N – Part 2 : Ice Hotel and Swedish Lapland

Indian Culture : Sweets for religious offerings (Photo Challenge: Sweet)

A visit to a place of worship in India, like a temple, is usually associated with making  offerings to the Gods in the form of sweets. The worshippers show their love, devotion and respect by offering freshly made pure sweets to their divine god idols, and seek their blessings. While some devotees prefer home-made sweets, it is also not uncommon to purchase them from any of the indigenous sweet shops. Common ingredients used in traditional Indian sweet-making are flour (wheat/gram/lentil/rice), condensed milk, clarified butter, sugar/sugar syrup, dry fruits like almonds, cashews and pistachio, coconut, cardamom powder, milk powder, rose water, and many more!

I recently travelled with my father to visit one of the famous Hindu temples in Northern India. Known as ‘Shri Bankey Bihari mandir’, this temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna, one of our most loved, worshipped and revered Gods. Owing to the temple’s popularity and the thousands of visitors it witnesses in a day, the area nearby has several sweet shops lined up in the narrow lanes leading to the temple’s entrance steps.

Almost all of the shops had such an impressive array of colorful sweets, made from many different ingredients, in all forms and sizes, appealing to more senses than just one. The round ones are generally called ‘laddoo’, and the ones in block pieces form are called ‘barfi’. 

In the pictures, not only can we see the anxious seller sitting in anticipation of customers, watching over his precious mouth-watering products, but also some placards displaying the different rates of similar looking sweets! May be he used a special form of butter for the more expensive ones 😉

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I’m not so sure about the Gods, but my taste buds were overjoyed with the extremely delectable ‘besan laddoos’ (round sweets made using gramflour) shown in the last picture.

Did you get a chance to try any of the Indian sweets? 🙂 Which one was your favourite?!

via Photo Challenge: Sweet