Can the youth have a good holiday visiting religious places?

The answer to this question really depends upon what is your definition of a holiday. Is it just to relax, explore the destination or get a new experience? Each one of us will have our own answers. IN 2019, I got an opportunity to visit Vrindavan with my elders. The trip was a family ritual and I did not have an option to say no.

I am glad I din’t have the option. I would like to talk about this trip to set things into perspective. We started with a trip to Rajasthan to visit our Kul Devi in the small town of Jhunjhunu. I have visited my Kul devi many times in the past. What I like about these trips is the pace at which life moves here. Coming from Mumbai, everything seems to slow down considerably in Jhunjhunu. I get see peacocks in the verandah of the temple. I have always enjoyed this sight since childhood. Then sitting on the khatiya sipping tea, sleeping on the same khatiya under the sky on the terrace, gazing at the stars. There are wonderful stories about the goddess worth listening as well and makes you wonder – How is that possible?

After spending 2 days here, we took an 8 hour train journey to Mathura. From Mathura station, we took a rickshaw to Vrindavan – the land of lord krishna. Next day, we visited the Vrindavan temple. The moment we entered the temple, hoards of monkeys greeted us, trying to snatch our bags, spectacles, cap etc. It was scary for some and fun for others. Then we took blessings of lord krishna and had lunch at a local dhaba. The food was great.

The elders then took us to visit “Nidhivan” – the forest of treasure. You have to hear what is coming up. Nidhivan had several trees and monkeys with a narrow passage to reach the temple in the middle of the forest. According to locals, Nidhivan was settled by guru Haridas, whose deep devotion, penance and meditation compelled Lord Krishna to visit this place. Locals believe Lord Krishna comes every night to this temple to play Rasleela with Radhaji and all the gopis.

When i visited Nidhivan late afternoon, I saw the trees with red sindoor. My guide told me the trees become Gopi’s in the night. I got curious. When I reached the temple, it was almost closing time. My guide told me that the temple caretakers prepare a sandalwood bed, a jar filled with water, Neem datun to brush teeth and pan (betel leaf) next to the bed. The temple is closed in the night and nobody is allowed to enter the Nidhivan. Locals say those who tried to secretly hide inside the Nidhivan to experience the Rasleela, lost their speech, sight or even worse mental soundness. Locals also say those close to the Nidhivan can hear the sound of music every night and they close their windows to avoid losing their eyesight.

If you visit the Nidhivan first thing in the morning at 5am, when the temple opens, you will see the water jar half full, pan eaten and brush on the floor. I thought of experiencing this in the morning, but honestly was too scared to enter the Nidhivan at that hour. But on the other hand, I was glad that I came here.

Next day we drove to Taj Mahal (about 2 hours drive) and came back the same day to take our train back to Mumbai next day. When I came back to Mumbai, I read a lot about the stories of Vrindavan. It was a completely different experience, something which I wont get partying in Goa, or relaxing in my beach resort in Kovalam or similar other stuff.

When I came back to Mumbai, I realized that my definition of true holiday was to experience the place and culture. I have travelled several continents, but this trip was definitely a great experience and made me think about the various other stories India has to tell the world. You may not do a pure religious trip but instead club it with other cities nearby which will give you the real travel experience.

As I love to say, guys go and #DekhoApnaDesh. #2021 belongs to India

Should I travel now or later in #2021?

With #Summer holidays round the corner, many of you are tempted to plan the next holiday this summer. Its been over a year since Covid started spreading in India and with the year #2020 gone staying at home, many of us really want to get out.

Some of you may have already done a 2 day bungalow or villa stay but I am sure you want more. The idea is to experience a different place, to feel disconnected from the routine life and to spend quality time with family and friends.

So how can you satisfy your need to travel? There are few things to consider when planning to travel now or later. Does your state have high covid cases? Are you doing your routine work of travelling to office, buying vegetables in the market? Are you living a pre covid life wearing a mask? If yes, whether you travel now or later will not make a difference. #Should you stay in a hotel or villa? Again it does not matter as hotels are taking precautions and staying in a hotel will definitely be better than being among people in the market buying vegetable or being at the parlor or smoking cigarette on the road.

One big disadvantage of travelling now specially to a tourist destination like Goa is the over priced hotel. Yesterday one of our customers asked us for a quote for Goa for 1st April and the price was whopping 22k per night for a 5 star property. There were other 5 star properties double the price. With summer season setting in, Goa would be hot although very popular. We recommended she travel to Kashmir for 3/4th the price including flight, hotel and car for a family of 4.

So if you are planning to travel now, you should research the destination carefully. Things like whether negative covid test is mandatory, hotel prices, airfare etc. I know Kashmir currently is doing testing at Srinagar airport for all incoming tourist. Similarly other states may have different rules.

If you plan to travel later, go for a full cancellation package including airfare. State rules will keep changing towards travel and are beyond your control so free cancellation or full refund will be helpful. You will benefit from the pricing only if you book now. For e.g. average return airfare from Mumbai to Goa during new year period is 12k. If you book now with free cancellation, you will get it for around 7k. Thats a saving of 70%. Hotels will not be available later or if the demand increases because of Covid fading due to mass vaccination, be ready to shell out 100% extra later compared to what you would pay now.

One more concern my clients have when planning their travel is what happens if they get Covid before travel date and are unable to travel. Well, if you have booked free cancellation ticket, you will get full refund of the air ticket. For hotel, some hotels will refund you the money while some will give credit note to utilise later. Do check the policies before booking. If you have booked a transfer, these are generally cancellation upto 48 hours prior. If you get Covid while travelling, make sure you buy a travel insurance policy before travel to take care of this.

For all those who prefer international destinations, year #2021 will be the year to travel within India. If you plan your holiday smartly with proper research and book in advance, you will surely end up doing 2 holidays in the price of 1!

So guys #DekhoApnaDesh

Which is the best national park in India?

Difficult question to answer. There are many wild life or national parks in India. Some are more popular than the others. In this post, I will share my experience visiting 5 major national parks in India.

National parks could be classified based on the area of the park, number of lions or tiger or other difficult to spot animals, number of water bodies, how dense the forest is and so on. So for example, if the park is 1000 sq km and number of lions in the park is 400 versus if the park is 2000 sq km for the same number of lions, it easy to guess which one you should opt for. Parks also have different gates and some gates have more chances of spotting the animal compared to the others. But there is no guarantee.

I have visited Gir national park, Kanha wild life reserve, Pench national park, Ranthambore national park, Jim Corbett national park. Gir is famous for the Asiatic lions. Park area is small compared to the number of Asiatic lions which was at 400 some 6 years back. I had a wonderful time here. It was easy to spot lions. I must have seen some 8 lions on one safari. Mind you not everyone was that lucky. One scene from my trip which I cannot forget is the male lion sitting peacefully as it they dint care for the world. Behind the male lion was the female lion hunting down a deer and calling the other family members to have a meal.

Next I visited Pench national park because it was closest to Nagpur airport (about 2 hours drive). Here the park was big but not very dense. Hence it was easy to spot animals moving. Still I could not spot the tiger but I did spot how a deer outplayed 6 jackals from hunting it down.

Then I visited Ranthambore national park. Ranthambore is known for the big cat. Park was big and the jungle had a different feel. Here our guide tried every possible tactic to spot a tiger but in vain. The closest we came to spotting the tiger was when the jungle was filled with sound of the monkeys communicating in their own language and broadcasting that a tiger is close by. After our safari, we went to visit he Ganesh temple. And guess who we saw on the way. A big cat in the bush. Sometimes you get things when you least expect it.

Then I went to Kanha. I was planning this for a while, but it did not happen as the driving distance to Kanha was 5 hours. We were always in 2 minds to travel that much distance with kids for a 3 night holiday. But we some got the trip together and 2 more friends joined. Kanha is a big jungle with dense forest. So its not easy to spot the tiger. To be honest, i really enjoyed the tour of the jungle. We were almost in the last 30 mins of our safari and guess what we saw coming in front of us! Yes a big cat walking towards us. Our driver was slowly taking the vehicle behind so that the tiger does not come too close. The tiger was with us for almost 8 minutes. Wow, what an experience.

Next time I planned a trip for my friend to Kanha and he took the night safari. Yes, he must be crazy. He told me about his experience of spotting tiger in the night. He said this was the best trip of his life. For someone who has travelled quite a lot across the world, the jungle must have given him a different experience for sure.

My last national park was Jim Corbett. Park is very big and best known for elephant spotting. Forget he park, we found wild animals on the road blocking our way. But the park experience was again different.

Every park has its own feel and I loved every experience. If asked to choose one, I would go with Kanha. However, its really difficult to say why this one and not the other park. Its a matter of choice on what you want to see, proximity to airport among other things.

So experience the different parks and then maybe I can ask you which national park is the best!!!

Why should you visit a national park in summer?

Sounds crazy right? It didn’t to me when I planned my summer holiday to Pench National Park. Its was 1st week of May. Yes its true! Peak summer season with temperatures soaring to 40 degrees plus.

Pench is 2 hours drive from Nagpur airport. It was a comfortable drive. Checked-in at the Taj bordering the park. One thing good about Taj is the hospitality – they really make you comfortable.

We did a 3 nights stay and booked 4 Safaris, 3 morning and 1 afternoon. It is important to note this if you want to travel in summer. We arrived at the hotel in the afternoon in scorching heat but we didn’t really care. We went to the room to relax and came out in the evening when it was much cooler.

Next day we went for our early morning safari. Got up at 5am and reached the reception at 5.30am. Taj had arranged tea and coffee with biscuits for us. There are 2 options for Safari. You could either book the Canter with some 20 people or book a private jeep. We opted for the private vehicle as it was part of the package. Also Taj had package our breakfast and kept in the jeep. This was a real surprise element and I shall tell you why a little later.

Time to get on get on the jeep. Weather was awesome at 6 in the morning. We entered the park and it looked like we entered somebody else’s home. Calm, serene, birds chirping, monkeys communicating in their own language. Everything was just wonderful. We roamed around for 1.5 hours spotting deers, birds, jackals among other animals.

Now it was breakfast time. Our private vehicle was parked under a tree, a little away from the common breakfast area of the park. The jeep had a carrier where breakfast could be served. We could stand and eat the same. Absolutely magical experience in middle of the jungle. We drove for another 1.5 hours before heading back to the hotel. We could not spot the tiger but were not disappointed. What we experienced in the jungle was out of the world.

The next 3 safaris were went without spotting the tiger. But I would like to talk about my experience with in the afternoon safari on Day 2. Many may not like the idea but it wasn’t difficult – it started at 3 and ended at 6pm. The jungle has lot of trees and when you are in a Jeep which is constantly moving, you may not feel the heat as much.

I experienced something anybody would pay for and still not get it. We spotted a deer near a pond drinking water and suddenly we saw 6 hungry Jackals wanting to eat the deer. I thought the deer would be gone but no that’s not what happened. The deer was smart. It went in the middle of the pond and waited. The jackal because of their height could not go in the pond. They stood at the edge of the pond waiting for the deer to come out. But the deer didn’t. Finally after waiting for an hour, the Jackals left and so did the deer.

When you are visiting the jungle, few things to keep in mind:

  1. To spot an animal, you have to be patient. You don’t know where they will come from
  2. You are constantly looking for cues to spot the animal. The pug marks of the tiger are a great cue. Another cue is monkey making noise when they spot a tiger.
  3. Your chances of spotting the animal near a pond or a water body are very high

Now back to the question on why you should visit a national park in summer, here were my reasons:

  1. Chances of spotting animals are higher. Because of the heat, they need to drink water and chances of they coming out in the open are more.
  2. Summers is off season so you get good deals. I got a Stay 3, Pay 2 deal from Taj with 4 Safaris as part of the package. The same thing winter would cost be close to double. You will get good discounts from almost every hotel.
  3. There is no network in most places. This was important for me to get a good break

So want to experience something different???