Saturday, 23 September 2017

Postcards from Kerala : Banasura sagar dam

Located in Wayanad, Kerala, Banasura sagar dam is the largest earth dam in India. It is spread across a huge area and seemed almost like a river to me. The speedboat ride was really thrilling and it should definitely not be missed if you visit. Anyway, here are a few photographs that I took that day.


Took this from the speedboat, somewhere in the middle of the dam


View of the dam from the bank






One of the speedboats taking people around the lake


I hope you like the pictures. I will be back with more postcards from Kerala this Wednesday. Do visit and check it out. Wish you all a great weekend. Keep traveling!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Travel tips : How much money do you need to travel to Japan?




In the last 'Travel tips' post, I gave you 10 reasons why you must go to Japan. I know most of you would be more than ready to plan a trip there. But the most important thing which one has to worry about before planning such a trip, is the finance part. I haven't been on too many foreign trips to be honest, but I had been to Japan in April 2017, and I can give you a fair estimate on what the budget needs to be for such a trip. What I will do is give you a breakdown of how much each activity will cost you (approximately). For ease, I will divide the expenses into two categories; things which you will have to spend on, and second, things which you might end up spending on. Please note again that the expenses mentioned here are estimates. They are not be taken as definite values.

So let us start with things you will definitely have to spend on


FLIGHT TICKETS

The golden rule is to book your tickets about 4-6 months in advance, and I think that rings true for any foreign trip. If you do that, then going by today's standards, you should be able to procure round trip tickets from New Delhi, Mumbai, or Bangalore, for around INR 38,000 per person in a Malaysian or a Sri Lankan airline flight.


VISA

A visa for Japan preferably should be applied 2-3 weeks before the start of your journey. It normally costs you around INR 400, but because we were traveling in a group of 17, we approached a travel agent for this, and it nearly cost us twice that amount.


ACCOMMODATION


Again, it is advisable to book your accommodation online about a month before you travel. You can put up in a hotel or an Airbnb, but my suggestion would be to look for hostels. They are much cheaper than hotels and are really tidy and luxurious. We traveled in a group like I already mentioned, so we might have got better deals. But I am sure that if you look properly, you can find something for under INR 1500 per night per person.


INTERNET

An important piece of information to be noted is that Japan does not have access to wifi in public places. You will only get wifi in hostels/hotels, and nowhere else. So it is imperative to either get a simcard or a wifi device with you. I read mixed reviews about sim cards, and some people faced this issue where their cards did not get activated when they reached. If you find out that your card is not activated after you reach Japan, you can't really do much about it. I thought the safer option was to get a wifi device, which works pretty well. There are 2-3 variations which you can get depending on your requirements. Check out Japan wireless for more info. And let me also tell you that you need to place an order for this device at least 3-4 days before you leave.

Coming to its cost, it depends on the type of device you will opt for, the number of days you will get it for and the number of people you will share it with. But just to give you an approximation, if you take a premium wifi device, with insurance for 10 days, it will cost you around INR 4500 (JPY 7150) per device.


LOCAL TRANSPORTATION (JR LINE)

There are two types of underground rail in Japan. One is the local subway, operating within a particular city, and second, the JR line, which is more like an intercity network. I'll come to the local network in a bit.

If you travel to Japan and need to go from say Tokyo to Osaka, you have to take the JR line. Now a one way ticket for a journey like I mentioned above costs a bomb, approximately INR 8200 or JPY 14,200. That is why I highly recommend that you apply for a JR pass when you haven't even left for Japan. You get 7, 14 and 28 day passes. Plan your itinerary and take the pass only from the time you plan to use the JR line, such that say, even though your trip to Japan is 10 day long, but you plan to stay in Tokyo for 3 days, you can take the pass from the 4th day to the 10th only. That way, you don't have to go for a 14 day pass and a 7 day pass will work out just fine for you. The costs for each are

7 day ordinary pass - INR 16,850 (JPY 29,110)
14 day ordinary pass - INR 26,850 (JPY 46,390)
28 day ordinary pass - INR 34,350 (JPY 59,350)


LOCAL TRANSPORTATION (SUBWAY AND BUS)

The local bus and subway networks are relatively much cheaper. In Tokyo, the subway is very well connected and you can opt for 1 day, 2 day and 3 day subway passes. Their costs

1 DAY PASS - INR 465 (JPY 800)
2 DAY PASS - INR 695 (JPY 1200)
3 DAY PASS - INR 870 (JPY 1500)

I discovered that in Kyoto, and I assume it is the case with the other smaller cities as well, buses connect the city better. You can opt for a 1 day bus pass for INR 290 (JPY 500)

When I was in Osaka, I had a valid JR pass, so I think I used that to travel around, and you can do the same in Tokyo also as JR trains ply within the city as well. But I think a 1 day subway pass in Osaka is around the same as the one in Tokyo, which is INR 465 (JPY 800)


FOOD

Food is not as expensive in Japan as some of the other things, if you know what to eat. If you would like to keep it low profile and eat just to survive, you will get a decent meal for about INR 200 (JPY 350). Don't ever buy fruits though, because buying a car might be cheaper! Keeping it simple, you should manage to survive a day with about INR 750 (JPY 1300)


EXPENSE BEFORE THE AIRPORT

Most of us overlook the expense of reaching the airport, and going back home once you land. Even more of us overlook the expense of food in the airport, because this being an international journey, the wait at the airports tend to be never ending. Also, if it is Malaysian airline or Sri Lankan, a long halt at the Kuala Lampur or Colombo airports respectively, is inevitable. And if you have to eat there, you will need either USD, LKR (Sri Lanka) or RM (Kuala Lampur) to buy food. If you haven't carried that currency, you will need to exchange the money, and exchanging will always leave your pockets lighter than before. Anyway, consider this expense too, if you are on a tight budget, say, INR 1500?


EXCHANGE RATE

And like I mentioned above, exchanging first to a foreign currency and then converting all that back once you are back home, will eat up a small, usually neglected, amount of money. It might be a small amount, and even I don't know how much I lost in that, but let us consider that 5% of the total budget shall we? When we total up in the end, we will add this too and see how much of a factor it is.


Now, these were the things in which spending money is inevitable. Even though completing a trip with just this much is highly impractical, let us still add it up and come close to a 'minimum budget'. I will consider the trip to be 10 day long, and a JR pass of 7 days. If you are planning to add more days or otherwise, just add/remove the cost for per day food, per day accommodation and 1 day passes.


FLIGHT AND VISA -  INR 38,400
ACCOMMODATION -  INR 15,000
JR PASS - INR 16,850
FOOD - INR 7,500
LOCAL TRANSPORT - INR 2,500 
MISCELLANEOUS - INR 1,500
EXCHANGE RATE - 5%

TOTAL  - INR 85,850/-


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This is a basic expense on paper. There are a thousand other ways to spend more without even realizing. This, of course, is very subjective, I will try and come up with few things that most of us usually spend on, apart from the basic ones mentioned above


SHOPPING/ MEMENTOS

Japan has many unique, beautiful and weird things which you can buy. I can't mention all of them but once you go there, you will want to buy everything. Things are not that cheap though, so I suggest you keep aside a minimum of INR 10,000 for this only. I kept telling myself 'when am I ever going to come back' and I kept buying everything. If you are on a budget, don't tell yourself that!


ENTRANCE FEES

Most of the places in Japan have free entry, but you might have to pay in a few rare places, like Edo Tokyo museum (INR 350/ JPY 600) and Okochi sanso garden (INR 580/ JPY 1000) just to name a few. There might be other places which I didn't go to, and there might be an entrance fee there. So keep around INR 2000 that.


GETTING SCAMMED

Not many places will scam you, but if you go for dinner in Shinjuku, you will end up paying a dynamite. Keep INR 1500 more, just in case.


FOOD

I know I already mentioned food in the previous category, but that was just the bare minimum. If you are a foodie, and a non vegetarian (no offence to vegetarians, but veg food is very rare in Japan), you will find a lot of unique foodstuff to eat there. If 750 is the budget for basic food, keep INR 2000 for awesome and experimental food per day, which is INR 1,250 more than basic


CLUBBING/ KARAOKE

This category is too subjective, so I will not add it to the grand total, but let me just mention what could be. Karaoke is apparently a must-do when in Japan, something which I missed out on sadly. That doesn't cost too much, probably around INR 250 per half an hour (JPY 430). I did not go clubbing as well, but my friends did. If you plan to go for a night out, you will end up spending just a little higher than what you would spend in a club in Bangalore. But if you decide to come back home in a taxi because the metro closed down for the day, you will end up spending a lot. I cannot tell you specifically, but just to give you an idea, a 6-7 kilometer ride might cost you around INR 1,500-2000. There is something called the Robot cafe in Tokyo, and is a huge tourist attraction. You need to pre-book and go, and that might cost you around INR 4,000.


These are all the factors I could think of to be taken in consideration. Keeping clubbing aside, let us add all the factors

SHOPPING - INR 10,000
FOOD - INR 12,500
MISCELLANEOUS - INR 3,500
EXCHANGE - 5%

TOTAL - INR 27,300


Adding it to the basic expenses

GRAND TOTAL - INR 1,13,150

I believe that if you decide to go for a trip, you must have a minimum of 20% of the total budget as spare money, in case something goes wrong, or you overshoot the budget. So for a 10 day visit to Japan, our total budget is around




(*drum rolls*)





REVISED GRAND TOTAL - INR 1,35,000


Every individual/ group likes to spend their vacation in their own way, with their own set of priorities to make it a trip to be cherished. While somebody might manage with 90k, another individual might choose to spend 5 lac in a single trip. So this list is far from conclusive. Either way, it is more important to have a trip to remember and trust me guys, Japan is one place you must travel to one day. If it means you have to save money for it, I say start today and make it happen. To help you out, I will have another post out by next Friday stating 'everything you need to do before you land in Japan'. Visit again, keep traveling and have a great week.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Postcards from Kerala : A foggy morning in Mananthavady (Black & White)

Back in March 2017, I went on a short trip to Kerala on account my friend's engagement ceremony. I had been on treks to Kerela before, but this was my first opportunity to see the plain grounds of God's own country. I took the bus from Bangalore on Friday night and reached Mananthavady at around 4 A.M. the next morning. I was putting up at my friend's house only, and the entire place resonated of peace. There were trees, hills and mist all around and I could not just sit at home anymore. So I decided to talk a walk around the countryside. These are some of the shots I took.
















This was just the beginning of my visit to one of the most beautiful places in the country, and probably in the entire world. I'll bring you more photographs from my trip in my next few posts, and the next one comes this Saturday. So visit again, keep traveling and have a great day!

Monday, 18 September 2017

Travel diaries : Japan (Part IV)

Links to the previous parts 

Travel diaries : Japan (Part I)
Travel diaries : Japan (Part II)
Travel diaries : Japan (Part III)

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We had spent three days in Tokyo, and now it was time to visit Kawaguchiko on the fourth day to experience one of the most beautiful, scenic, imposing, iconic and symbolic attractions of Japan... the great Mount Fuji, or as the locals call it, Fujisan. 


It did start with a little bit of drama though, when our group of 17 had to board three different metros to the main station because of the crazy rush hour traffic; there was just not enough room for all of us in one train. When we reached the main station, we found out that the train we should have caught, left already, and the wait for the next one would delay us by a bit. We were almost on the verge of calling the trip off, but after much discussions, we decided to go ahead with it.

The journey takes around 2 hours from Shinjuku in Tokyo, and we reached the Kawaguchiko station at around 1:30 P.M. The station itself was beautiful, with cherry blossom trees in the vicinity. Mount Fuji was visible in the distance, and it looked even more majestic than it looks in photographs and books.



Cherry blossom in the Kawaguchiko station



View of Mount Fuji from the Kawaguchiko station


From the station, it is a 10 minute walk to Lake Kawaguchiko, which is one of the five Fuji lakes, and is the easiest to access as compared to the other 4. On the way to the lake, we came across a shrine called Entsuji temple, which looked like a place straight out of a fairy tale. Going inside wasn't actually allowed, but we did not know that. We left as soon as we were asked to though. 



Entsuji temple


Once we reached the lake, we hired speedboats to take us around the lake, so we could get a view of Mount Fuji from all angles possible. It was a great experience and it felt surreal to be looking at the imposing mountain with our own eyes. 



View of Mount Fuji from a speed boat in Lake Kawaguchiko


The plan after this was to go to Fuji-Q highland amusement park. So we left for the station after the boat ride. On the way we grabbed some lunch too. But the drama wasn't over. Due to some miscommunication, I and a colleague of mine could not make it on time to the station to board the train for the park, so we got left behind in Kawaguchiko. Making use of this opportunity, we instead rented a couple of bicycles and rode all the way to the park. It was already around 4 P.M. and we had to board a train back to Tokyo at around 5:30, and there was a queue for entry to the park. I did not see any point of trying to get in, so we instead decided to ride around the town. We did not have a destination in mind, we just rode in the direction of Mount Fuji, with the idea of getting as close to the mountain as possible. It was a wonderful experience and really invigorating to cycle around the town like that. We finally found a nice little spot to pose on our cycles, with Fujisan as the backdrop. A unique, but satisfying experience.



That is not my tummy by the way, I had a scarf in my pullover's pocket!


We finally got back to Tokyo around 8 P.M. I was not feeling well, and I was down with mild fever, so I quickly ate something for dinner, had medicines, and retired for the night.

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My friends were packed and ready to leave for Kyoto the next morning, but I had other ideas. I wasn't going anywhere till I visited the famous Tsukiji fish market, which is the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. A tuna auction takes place in the morning at around 5 A.M, which is a major tourist attraction. But I did not go for that because transport at that time becomes a problem, and secondly, I was unwell. I instead went at around 9:30 A.M., accompanied again by one of my colleagues, to visit the wholesale market. 

The wholesale market is unlike anything I have ever seen before. It is spread across a huge area, with uncountable number of boxes everywhere, kept ready to be shipped or transported, or are being moved in 'turret trucks'. On the way to the core of the market area, there are zebra crossings for pedestrians, which is something really strange for someone who grew up without ever seeing a zebra crossing even on the main roads. 



The wholesale seafood area in the Tsukiji fish market


The market area had all kinds of seafood on display, and I think I geeked out a little there, seeing so much potential food. There were prawns, octopuses, mussels, snails, squids, fishes and so much more for sale. The interior parts of the market also had vegetables on display, making it one of the largest wholesale markets of any kind in the world. I could not buy anything though, because I was supposed to leave for Kyoto soon.



A small section of the display


My friends were aboard the train to Kyoto, when I was still in the hostel back in Tokyo, packing my stuff to catch the next train. I suddenly got a call from one of my colleagues and she sounded quite tensed. The problem was that she had left her bag in the Tokyo station and left for Kyoto, and because I was yet to leave for the station, she asked me to look for it once I reached. I said I would, but I did have much hopes to be honest. Ten minutes later she calls me again to tell me that she informed one of the guards in the train about this, and he called up one of the staff members in the station. They actually went and found the bag lying in the exact same spot where she had left it, in the train station of one of the busiest cities in the world, untouched, untampered. So I just had to go and collect it from the staff office in the station, and got her bag safely back with me. I cannot imagine something like this happening like this anywhere in India, or maybe in any part of the world, and a bag like that would disappear in less than a minute if left unattended. Call me partial, but things like these adds to the love you have for a particular place even more.


That was the last I saw of Tokyo during that trip, but the action continued in Kyoto after this. I will cover all about my time in Kyoto in the next post, and it will be up no later than next Monday. So visit again, keep traveling and have a great week!


Saturday, 16 September 2017

Postcards from the hills : Trek to Top station (The descent)


As I had mentioned in the previous post [Poscards from the hills : Trek to Top station (Sunrise)], right after the sun rose, we packed our bags and started our descent. What we didn't know though, was that we would take a different route from the one we took for the ascent. This route was arguably more scenic and it capped off one of the best treks I had ever been part off. Here are a few photographs from the descent










It wasn't just about marching down. We had mini breaks to chill from time to time too. My friend Deepak here captured a moment when I was enjoying the view like a boss!

[Also read - Travel diaries : Top Staion trek, Munnar[




After a descent taking more than 6-7 hours, we finally made our way back to Banglore. As the weather was getting dryer due to the onset of winter, I decided not to go for any more treks till monsoon the following year. So my upcoming posts will not be from the hills, but from other places I traveled to. What are they going to be from? Visit again this Wednesday to find out. Till then, have a great weekend!

Friday, 15 September 2017

Travel tips : 10 reasons why you must visit Japan



One of the most iconic symbols of Japan, Mt. Fuji


Everyone has a dream destination, a place one keeps at the top of his/her bucketlist, a place one would want to visit at least once in their lifetime. When asked about one's dream destination, at least in the Indian context, the most common or immediate answers are usually, US, Rio de Janeiro, Australia, New Zealand, the pyramids of Egypt, Venice, Switzerland, Thailand, Malaysia and maybe a handful of other places. Very few people actually have Japan in their list. 

It might be due to many reasons. Maybe we are not as familiar about Japan as we are about France or Germany. Maybe we are doubtful about managing to survive in a country where people hardly understand English. Maybe because a trip to Japan is not exactly cheap. There might be a hundred more reasons, I don't know. But let me tell you this from experience. If you like to travel even one bit, you must plan a visit to Japan once in your lifetime. It will be worth every penny you spend! I went for a 11 day trip there 5 months ago, and I still can't stop talking about it. It was the best trip I ever had. Don't believe me? Give Travel diaries : Japan (Part I) a read and you'll know how much I am in love with that country. 

Anyway, I know that just telling you to go do something will not motivate you enough to actually go do something. So I will give you not 1, not 2, not 3, but 10 reasons why you must visit Japan, at least once in your life. Let me tell you here that the list is in no way exhaustive, and I can give you countless more pointers. That would mean though, that I will never finish writing this post, and as a result, you will not be able to ever read this list. So in no particular order, here are the 10 best reasons why.


Every country has its own kind of natural beauty, which is why I haven't included it in the points below.
But Japan's natural beauty is incentive enough to travel all the way there. The photograph shows the natural bamboo forests of Arashiyama



1. DISTINCT CULTURAL IDENTITY

I don't know how well I will be able to explain this point, but I'll try. What I mean to say here is that the people of Japan have a unique lifestyle, quite different from the rest of the world in some ways. The general behaviour of the people, their work ethics, the food they eat, their ways of interacting with other people, and in many other aspects, Japan and Japanese people are unique. I think I will be talking about this briefly in some of the points which will follow, so you will have a better idea of what I am talking about towards the end. Even if you don't, let me tell you that you are sure to get a culture-shock immediately when you land, and it will be in a good way, for sure. But this is something you must experience first hand to understand it fully.


2. NICEST PEOPLE EVER

We do tend to meet nice people here and there once in a while. But throughout the entire duration of my stay in Japan, I never met someone who was not nice, polite or respectful. Be it a person hurrying to work, a security guard working in the metro station or a departmental store manager, they will get out of their way to help you out with anything. Can't find your way back to the hotel? No problem, just stop and ask anybody. Whether they speak English or not, they will try their absolute best to make sure you get find your way back. You bump into someone accidentally because you were looking somewhere else and walking? It's alright. They will turn back, bow and apologize for 'your' mistake. They are just the nicest people ever! All of them.


3. BEST FOOD EVER

Food was one of the most important reasons why I loved my stay in Japan so much. The ramen, sushi, sashimis, kobe, ceaser sauce... I loved everything, everytime, everywhere I went. And the food in Japan is not just tasty, it is presented in the most appetizing of ways imaginable. So it looks good, smells good and tastes good.


Kurumi Korokke, topped with amazing Ceaser sauce


4. MOST WEIRDNESS EVER

Japan is the capital of the world in terms of weirdness, definitely! They have weird themed restaurants ranging from rabbits to robots, the most explicit animations and posters, out in full public display in some particular areas, square watermelons, love hotels, kitkats of all flavours imaginable and these are just a few out of a million other things from bizarro world!


All the kitkats from my collection after the trip



5. BEST TOILETS EVER

In terms of robots and gadgets, Japan is very advanced, but they have reached the next level when it comes to high tech toilets. The water closets have warmed seats, a panel attached to them to adjust the position, speed and temperature of the jet spray, and an emergency button in case you need help! The first time I saw one of these, I almost had tears in my eyes out of amazement!


A typical WC in Japan equipped with a panel
(image courtesy : www.tritan-plumbing.com)


6. ALL THE SUMO WRESTLING IN THE WORLD EVER

If you plan a trip to Japan, you might try and schedule it such that you are there when there is a sumo tournament on the way. Check out the Sumo tournament calender till 2020 in case you need to check for dates. Even if you have planned your trip some other time, you can visit the Ryogoku Kokugikan at around 7:30 AM, and try asking them really nicely. They might allow you to enjoy the practice sessions. In case even that doesn't happen, try a Sumo meal at least, a meal eaten by the sumo wrestlers, just like the name suggests.


7. BEST MANGA EVER

I am not into anime or manga at all, but for those of you who are into it, Japan will be fascinating for you. From books, to figurines, to actual people cosplaying as one of the characters, you will find a lot of it in Japan


8. BEST TRANSPORTATION EVER

The efficiency of the transport system in Tokyo, and in Japan as a whole, is beyond belief. Trains and the subway connect just about anything, and they are punctual to the second. And the icing on the cake is the Shinkansen or the bullet trains, which you must definitely hop on to if you are in Japan. Those trains are a thing a beauty!


The Shainkansen's have futuristic smoking pods. Like whaaaat!


9. MOST SAFETY EVER

No country in the world is devoid of crime, but you will feel safer in Japan than in most other places. You leave your rented bicycle unlocked in the street the entire night, and I can guarantee you that you will find it in the exact same place the next morning. Same with wallets, money, or any valuables. If you think I have copied this from google, you are wrong, because I have experienced it first hand. In short, my friend left his phone outside a restaurant in a busy part of Kyoto, and found it when he came back looking for it 3-4 hours later. 


10. BEST BLEND OF MODERN AND ANCIENT ARCHITECTURE EVER

Japan is an amazing place for architects and architecture lovers, and that was the point of our trip basically. While there are magnificent shrines all over the country such as the Kiyomizu dera, the Kinkaku-ji and the Inari shrine, architects such as Tadao Ando, Toyo Ito and Kenzo Kuma have produced marvels such as the Chi Chu museum, Sendai mediatheque and the Asakusa culture and tourism centre. Actually whether you like architecture or not, you will be rendered speechless anyway.


Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto


Asakusa culture and tourism centre, Tokyo


As I mentioned before, there are many other things which I could have included in this list. So have I motivated you enough to pack your bags and visit the best place ever? Hopefully I have. 

Now the next question is 'how much money do you need' to make this trip possible? Do not worry, I will do everything in my power to help you plan a trip there, and that means, I will give you a tentative breakdown of expenses you need to consider for this trip in my next 'Travel tips' post, which should be out by next Friday. Till then, stay tuned, and have a great week!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Postcards from the hills : Trek to Top station (Sunrise)


After my night shots of the stars [Postcards from the hills : Trek to Top station (Night-time)], I hung around in the vicinity looking for more shots. It was bitter cold, and I was shivering, but I persisted.




Soon, dawn broke, and the sky was becoming a shade lighter every minute. The co-ordinators of the trek got up and lit a fire for us and arranged for some tea. Whoever was up, flocked around the fire, warming their hands and feet.




Almost everyone was admiring the view. But the best part was yet to come. After about half an hour of loitering around, we could see the sky turn orange behind the hills. Let me tell you though that the orange that you see in the pictures above can be a bit misleading, because the camera captures colours which we do not perceive with our naked eyes. The actual scene in front of our eyes was much darker, and the orange was not actually seen. The hues seen in the picture below were much more distinctly visible to us, hence, we knew that the sun was about to come up.






It was time. I set up my tripod and went about clicking madly in every direction, trying to capture all that I could. I managed to get a few shots of the sun rising from the hills, and here they are in chronological order, from the sun about to rise, then being partly visible, and then fully risen.








It was truly an inexplicable spectacle and the climb seemed to be totally worth it. Soon we packed our bags and by this time, the sun was out in its full glory.




We started our way down to the base, but took a different, and arguably, a more scenic route this time around. I will be bringing you postcards from the descent as a final post from my trek to Top station. That post will be up this Saturday, so stay tuned for that one. Also, if you haven't read about my experience of this entire trek, visit Travel diaries : Top Station trek, Munnar. Have a great day folks!