BEYOND THE OBVIOUS

Off-beat things to do in Delhi

by Debashree Chatterjee

Dotted with ancient monuments, sprawling gardens, magnificent forts and buzzing bazaars (markets), Delhi is stuffed with history and heritage. One can keep discovering it beyond layers and with every layer there is a new surprise, and this is what makes her different. Though, the must-visit places in this city of Mughal grandeur and colonial classiness are mesmerising, but what if you have “been there, done that”… seen them all. Don’t worry. Delhi has an incredible lot to offer. A tourist’s hot-spot and a traveller’s paradise, things to see, do and experience in Delhi are never-ending and can be truly varied, depending on one’s interests and budget. If you want to dig deeper into the local experiences, the city (I love from the head, heart and stomach) has to offer, here is my basket of “unique 10” for you. I have divided the list under a few categories, depending on activities and interests. Hoping you visit and fall in love too with the elegant, quirky, vibrant, crazy enchantress named Delhi, and remember her aura, sound and smell long after you have returned home.

 

Listen, watch and enjoy…

LISTEN TO SUFI DEVOTIONAL SONGS AT NIZAMUDDIN DARGAH

Experience the magic of music at Nizamuddin Dargah, the resting place of one of the world’s most famous Sufi saints, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. The soulful sound of qawwalis (Sufi devotional songs) and traditional music instruments fills the courtyard with peace and tranquility. The centuries-old songs and poetry transport you to a different world, and for a couple of hours the hectic city outside the four walls of the dargah (shrine) seems to vanish in thin air. A tip: Do dress conservatively and bring a stole/scarf with you to cover your head (though it’s not a must).

Address: Boali Gate Rd, Nizamuddin, Nizammudin West Slum, Nizamuddin West
Qawwali Timings: 5pm to 9.30pm

Website: nizamuddinaulia.org

 

LIGHT & SOUND SHOW AT PURANA QILA

Photo: shutterstock / ID: 514508047

The 16th century Purana Qila (Old Fort) is one of the oldest in Delhi, standing tall in the middle of the buzzing city. The site has been continuously inhabited for 2,500 years, and it won’t be an exaggeration to say that every stone and brick there breathe history. The light and sound show, introduced in 2011 and named Ishq-e-Dilli (For the Love of Delhi or Romancing Delhi), takes you on a journey showing the history of Delhi through the rise and fall of its 10 cities, starting from 11th century to the present. It is detailed, colourful, informative and interesting enough to keep your eyes glued to it for the entire duration of the show. For timings and language please check the website, as they change with seasons. So, pack a stole and mosquito repellent, and let the show begin…

Address: Mathura Road, Pragati Maidan
Timings: 7pm — 8 (Hindi show); 8.30pm—9.30pm (English show); Fridays are off
Entrance: 100 INR
Nearest Metro Station: Pragati Maidan

 

A day at a museum…

SULABH INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM OF TOILETS

If you are traveller, you must have visited many museums across the globe. But have you ever come across a museum dedicated to toilet? The Sulabh International Museum in Delhi is that unique place which is sure to make your “I have world knowledge on sanitation” dream come true. According to Time magazine, the museum is among the “10 museums around the world that are anything but mundane”. Established in 1992, it tells the history of types of toilets across the world, their many designs, and also shows the evolution of the sewage system since 2500 BC. Though, not the only toilet museum of the world, still, I consider it one of the weirdest and most offbeat places to visit in Delhi.

Address: Sulabh Bhawan, Mahavir Enclave, Palam Dabri Marg
Timings: Monday-Saturday: 8am to 8pm, Sunday: 10am to 5pm
Entrance: free
Website: www.sulabhtoiletmuseum.org
Nearest Metro Station: Dashrath Puri

 

SHANKAR’S INTERNATIONAL DOLLS MUSEUM

A dreamland for children, the museum houses more than 6,000 dolls from 85 countries. The India exhibit comprises 500 dolls dressed in costumes worn from all over the country. Though not a huge doll fan myself, still, I went to the museum out of sheer curiosity, eager to know just how many dolls can there be. And I have to admit that I was impressed by the extensive collection, giving insight into the different dressing styles and varied attire designs of the many countries and continents of the world.

Address: 4, Nehru House, Bahadur Shah Zafar Road
Timings: Tuesday-Sunday, 10am – 6pm
Entrance: 17 INR
Nearest Metro Station: ITO

 

Visit and be a part of history at…

AGRASEN KI BAOLI (Hailey Road)

Located right off Connaught Place in the heart of Delhi and standing in the shadow of modern highrises, this site is an architectural gem. Easy to reach and small in area, this subterranean marvel hides in plain sight. Infamous for being haunted after sun-down, this centuries-old stepwell, with soaring arched walls, alcoves and ornate stone works, is a startling oasis in the middle of the hustle bustle of Delhi. Go down the stairs, walk along the arches, sit under the trees and of course take innumerable photos to make the memories last forever. The echo of the rustling trees, low-flying birds, dark shadows and the black water at the bottom is guaranteed to provide you with the right ambience.

Address: Hailey Road, KG Marg, near Diwanchand Imaging Centre
Timings: daily 9am to 5.30pm
Entrance: free
Nearest Metro Station: Janpath

 

MIRZA GHALIB’S HAVELI (Ballimaran)

Located in a lane in Old Delhi, this 300-year-old Mughal-era mansion was the home to India’s one of the most celebrated and quoted Urdu poets, Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan, known the world over as Mirza Ghalib. Now a heritage site and a museum, this not so out-of-the-ordinary building offers an insight into Ghalib’s lifestyle and also the architecture of the Mughals. The museum houses a life-size replica of the poet in a realistic setting, with a hookah, and various handwritten poems by him besides his books. Ghalib lived in this haveli (mansion), presented to him by an ardent admirer, from 1860 to 1869 after he came to Delhi from Agra, and it is while living here that he wrote his famous Urdu and Persian diwans (collection of poems) and ghazals. Located near Chawri Bazar Metro station, the haveli is open to all from 11 am till 6 pm on all days except Monday. Visit and explore this standing testimonial to a bygone era in Indian history. Also, read out his poems from the thought-provoking walls, brimming with love and romance.

Address: 2469, Gali Captain, Baradari, Balli Maran
Timings: Tuesday-Sunday, 10am to 6pm
Entrance: free
Nearest Metro Station: Huda City Center

 

Eat, drink & try out…

KUNZUM TRAVEL CAFE (Hauz Khas Village)

One of the coolest cafes in the city, it is the perfect place to meet fellow wanderlusters and share travel stories, ideas and even make future travel plans. You can use the free WiFi, read from the well-stocked library or simply sit and chill without buying anything at all at this pocket-friendly hangout. And, in case you end up having coffee and biscuits, you can pay as you like. Moreover, regular workshops by travelers, writers and photographers make this café a perfect place to connect with like-minded people.

Address: T-49, GF, Hauz Khas Village
Timings: Tuesday-Sunday, 11.00am to 07.30pm
Nearest Metro Station: Hauz Khas

 

AUTHENTIC TIBETAN MEAL (Majnu Ka Tila)

Delhi’s very own “Little Tibet”, dotted with cafes, eateries, kiosks and stalls, has a charm like nowhere else in the city. A hub of Tibetan culture, monks in red robes, narrow but clean alleys and colourful prayer flags and architecture is a common sight here. But above everything else, it is the food that scores big. The colony is studded with cute little restaurants serving mouthwatering, authentic Tibetan delicacies. While you are at it, don’t forget to try out the spicy lhaphing, super soft tingmo and steamy momos among other treats.

Nearest Metro Station: Vidhan Sabha

 

Checkout & shop at…

ASIA’S LARGEST SPICE MARKET (Khari Baoli)

Doesn’t matter if you are a spice-lover or not, a cooking enthusiast or just a non-cooking foodoholic (like me), this aromatic and colourful world of spices is sure to take your breath away. The 17th century market in Old Delhi, with huge heaps and sacks of spices lying all around, is Asia’s largest wholesale spice bazaar. A tip: Keep a handkerchief handy to cover your nose in case the aroma gets too strong to handle. And, the market is super congested, so it might get a bit overwhelming to navigate the alleyways. However, keeping the concerns aside, it’s an experience to savour, for sure.

 

CHAMPA GALI (Saket)

Situated in Saidulajab, an urban village in south Delhi, Champa Gali is a bohemian lane lined with boutiques and cafes. Until the 1990s it was nothing but long stretches of agricultural fields, but now the picture is completely different. Known for its quirky shops, handmade craft items, delightful food, latest fashion and incredible coffee, this hidden gem has a lot to offer if you want to just stroll around and enjoy a relaxed day. An added charm is the green plants lining the lane, twinkling fairy-lights and colourful flags contrasting the dark wood-work. Plus, the laidback, easygoing feel of the place is nearly therapeutic.

 


 

Do you want to explore Delhi with Debashree?

Book a tour with her!

Delhi is not only exciting and dynamic, rich in history and tradition, but also home to millions of people of many different confessions. In Delhi as well as in the whole of India, characterized by its diversity, it is possible to find almost all the religions of the world. Of course, these are not practiced just in the hearts and minds of men, but also in thousands of temples. More about the religious Delhi-Tour with Debashree …


The long, rich and exciting history of Delhi makes itself manifest – and actually, tangible – in a myriad monuments scattered all over the city. Where to start, then, and which of its many stories are the most interesting ones? Debashree knows them all, and will happily share them with you. More about the historical tour with Debashree …


Delhi is colorful and noisy, and its never-ending hustle and bustle is part of everyday life in the big city. There are countless markets where everything you can think of is sold, traded and bought with heartfelt passion. From high-priced luxury goods to colorful textiles to exotic fruits and vegetables: if you can imagine it you can find it. But shopping can be stressful too: who is trying to take advantage of you, and who to trust? Because there’s one thing that you can’t avoid in Delhi, and that is haggling. As in most Oriental countries, also in India is haggling a common practice when dealing with all kinds of merchants, from street sellers to shop owners. It is simply an intrinsic part of the trade, but can also be a lot of fun once you get the hang of it. Come and bargain with Debashree …


Delhi is colorful and noisy, and its never-ending hustle and bustle is part of everyday life in the big city. There are countless markets where everything you can think of is sold, traded and bought with heartfelt passion. But during the hot season the heat and humidity can make even the stones sweat. Not everyone can endure a shopping day in these conditions. Our shopping trip “Shopping without sweating” is aimed at all those souvenir and gift seekers who want to get a little more comfortable and escape the heat of the city and the frantic action of the open markets. More about the shopping tour with Debashree …




The gastronomical Gem called Delhi

A foodie’s path to ecstasy

Eat with Debashree Chatterjee, who tells us her favorite 10 restaurants in Delhi

 

Delhi’s rich and diverse culinary heritage reflects hues of various cultures coming together as a single vibrant mosaic. With many gastronomic traditions – a result of many kingdoms and rulers making this city their own at different times in history – Delhi is often dubbed as the culinary capital of India. It has a layered cuisine, with food not just served in hotels and restaurants. There are innumerable family recipes which have been passed on from generation to generation; and strolls on the streets would have been boring had it not been for the lip-smacking roadside food luring us. Many migrated communities from lands near and far, narrow and wide have led to inclusion, adaptation and refinement of the recipes, traditions and cuisines, making Delhi a confluence of food cultures. And it will be a biological sin (a phrase in my dictionary) if one deprives his/her tongue and stomach from experiencing this greasy goodness, which Delhi offers in abundance.

The city boasts of a long string of eateries, stalls, shacks, restaurants and hotels serving cuisines from across India, and in every budget possible. From traditional to modern, from posh to roadside, from quickie to well-spread, it has it all. It is nearly impossible to put all in one platter (read page). So, here is my list (a small one) of favourite 10.

 

KARIM’S, Nizamuddin

Address: Shop No.168/2, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti Near Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin, Nizammudin West

Nestled in one of Delhi’s oldest settlements, Karim’s is an icon in itself serving arguably the best Mughlai cuisine in the country. Though the first outlet, opened in 1913 in Old Delhi, is where most like to go, my favourite, however, is the one in Nizamuddin. Traditional wood-paneled dining room, a menu having items with names like Shahjahani Kabab, Nargisi Kofta, Biryani Anarkali, Chicken Jahangiri and Kheer Benazeer makes me feel like I am in the middle of royals enjoying mouth-watering history. Yes, this place is historical, authentic and the holy grail of pure deliciousness.

 

OH! CALCUTTA, Nehru Place

Address: Ground International Trade Tower, American Plaza, Lala Lajpat Rai Rd, Block “E, Nehru Place
Website: https://www.speciality.co.in/oh!-calcutta.html

This elegant restaurant, serving the cuisine from Bengal, has kept the spirit and tradition of the East alive and well. The food here is as authentic as it gets, immersed in the aroma of fish being cooked in mustard oil or prawn being simmered in coconut milk. The Bengalis living in Delhi swear by its authenticity and backs their claim by thronging this eatery during lunch hours, indulging in its marvelous buffet spread. But I pick loochi, daab chingri and mishti doi any day.

 

NAIVEDYAM, Hauz Khas Village

Address: 1, Hauz Khas Village, Deer Park, Hauz Khas
Website: https://www.naivedyamrestaurants.in/

This flower-covered, wall-painted, low-lit restaurant in HKV transports you straight to South India. A 100% vegetarian joint, the food here has the essence of simple home-cooked meals. With innumerable dosas, uttapams and chutneys on the menu card, even a local like me wonders “why haven’t I heard these names before”… there are just so many options. However, whether you take a risk or play safe, either way you won’t go wrong here. Whatever you pick will be delicious and authentic.

 

THE POTBELLY, Shahpur Jat

Address: Top Floor, 116 C, behind UCO Bank, Shahpur Jat
Facebook-Page: https://www.facebook.com/ThePotbelly/

Food from Bihar is rarely found in restaurants or placed on menus, which is a shame. One visit to this quirky restaurant will tell you what you have been missing. Their Saboodana basket, Aloo Lalu Chop, Litti-Chokha and Tehri are to die for. If you are looking for a big combo dish to share, then their innumerable Thalis are the best bet. Let me assure you, you will not regret this choice; not just for the food but also the location of the restaurant. I suggest, you be there to find out J

 

KHAN CHACHA
Addresses: 9 outlets; please check website for a convenient location
Website: http://khanchacha.in/

This is a “been there, done that” kind of place. However, you don’t come here for the décor or the ambience… it’s just the food… the traditional, well-made North Indian food. The juicy kababs, delicious rolls, succulent mutton nihari and traditional gravy items are the draw. Whether you drop in for a mid-afternoon snack or a proper lunch or dinner, be ready to wait, or even share a table. But it’s worth the wait, as you might end up experiencing a little bit of Old Delhi in any of the Khan Chacha outlets.

 

DZUKOU TRIBAL KITCHEN, Hauz Khas

Address: E-22, Third Floor,, Hauz Khas Main Market, Kharera, Hauz Khas
Website: http://dzukoutribalkitchen.com/

Chic and authentic with a traditional Naga menu, this gem is located in the heart of south Delhi. The restaurant’s name comes from the Dzukou Valley in Nagaland, in the farthest corner of India. The northeastern cuisine is far removed from other Indian cuisines and its reliable versions are usually hard to come by. This is one reason I like visiting this restaurant… because anything and everything I try every single time, I end up tasting something new and unique. They claim to be the ideal spot in this megacity to stretch your evening into the night. And I have to admit their claim is rightful and deliciously just.

 

SODABOTTLEOPENERWALA, Khan Market

Address: 73B, Khan Market, Rabindra Nagar
Website: https://www.sodabottleopenerwala.in/khan-market-3/

A warm inviting vibe, smiley faces, quirky menu and delicious food – this place has everything a restaurant needs to have. Built with affection and aesthetic, this Bombay Irani café and bar has finely revived and is showcasing the lost glory of Parsi cuisine, which has been a part of the Indian food scene for hundreds of years. Berry Pulao, Aloo Aunty’s Cutlet and Kolmi Fry are my personal favourites and I will go back their time and again even if there are thousands of yummiest restaurants to pick from.

 

CAFÉ LOTA, National Crafts Museum

Address: Gate No. 2, National Crafts Museum, Bhairon Marg, Pragati Maidan
Website: https://meltingpotfood.in/cafe-lota/

This charming joint, tucked away in a museum in central Delhi, is definitely not to be missed. This quaint and artsy café offers a contemporary take on regional, pan-Indian dishes which rarely make it to the menu of regular restaurants. In sync with the rural-themed museum, the café kitchen’s simple home-style cooking is the crowd-puller. Of all the unique items from different pockets of the country, their Bhapa doi cheesecake and palak-patta chaat are my all-time favourites and my mouth waters even while writing about them. So, let’s say the plethora of options, substantial portions and pocket-friendliness are few of the many reasons why Café Lota is the right place to enjoy a healthy and hearty meal.

 

INDIAN ACCENT, The Lodhi, Lodhi Road

Address: The Lodhi, Lodhi Rd, CGO Complex, Pragati Vihar
Website: https://indianaccent.com/newdelhi/index.php

This refined restaurant, which gives contemporary twists to traditional Indian dishes, is an experience in itself. One feels like a royal who has been air-dropped into a modern setup of glassy, watery walls and ceilings. Featured in World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019, Indian Accent showcases inventive Indian cuisine by complementing the flavours and traditions of India with global ingredients and techniques. Most of the items here (if not all) put preparations elsewhere to shame. Honestly, try it to believe it. However, it is a reservation-driven restaurant, which follows a strict seating time, so if you want to be the one in the fancy affair, you better hurry and definitely book early.

 

FARZI CAFÉ, Connaught Place

Address: E-38/39, Rajiv Chowk, Inner Circle, Block E, Connaught Place
Facebook-Page: https://www.facebook.com/FarziCafeCP/

This bustling café, creating fusion Indian flavours using molecular gastronomy methods, shows modern Delhi’s love for quirkiness. In its effort to bring Indian cuisine back in-vogue, it has built itself to be a chic café, where guests enjoy a sensory experience through the finest modern Indian cuisine, in a high energy atmosphere. With large comfortable seating areas, the café has paid close attention to both the food spread and the décor, which deserves special mention. “Farzi” in Urdu means “one that creates an illusion”, and true to its name, the café has done it wonderfully with the dishes it serves. Once you have ordered preparations like Butter Chicken Bao (bun) & Green Chilli Mayo, Kashmiri Morel Risotto & Truffle Oil, after a very long look at the chic and interesting menu, you might end up thinking, “did I really order them, or was it my mind playing a trick.”

 




Sorry the english translation is not ready yet, but you can see her video meanwhile:

 




TRAVELLING LIKE A BOSS

Making Delhi your own

by Debashree Chatterjee


In a city as big, diverse and vibrant as Delhi, it often feels like the entire populace of the place is travelling at the same time and somehow, everybody is going the same way as you and me. This extremeness of everything makes it really difficult for Delhi to make the right first impression on her guests. Which in turn, leads to most of the tourists missing out on discovering her hidden beauty.

The never-ending traffic beeline, the non-stop car horn orchestra and hundreds of busy heads bobbing around everywhere might make it a little challenging to wrap your head around the chaos, but fear not… there is some sense of order in this chaos as well (or it could simply be my blind love for Delhi).

With many transport options available, getting around in the city is not a big problem, though it is not a cake-walk either. It doesn’t matter if one is a tourist, or a traveller, a nomad, or a local… one should be armed with the knowledge of the travelling options available and at the same time, must be open to making on-the-spot conveyance decisions.

Here, I will tell you about the mode of transport I use on a daily basis (depending on which part of the city I am going to). So, now, with the transport info, a loaded wallet and a city map in your bag, be ready to be wooed, seduced and charmed by Delhi.

 

METRO RAIL

Click for bigger printable version

Efficient and fast, the Metro rail is an easy way to travel around and has been a boon to the city of millions. The Metro is a rapid transit system serving Delhi and its satellite cities/towns of Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Noida, Bahadurgarh and Ballabhgarh. With around 10 lines covering nearly the entire length and breadth of the National Capital Region, the Metro is one of the safest modes of transport as well. A note to women travellers: The first car of every train is reserved for women only, and the rest are for both men and women. Air-conditioned and clean, the Metro network is like a cob-web, so, I suggest you keep a Metro map handy or download the Delhi Metro app. Another pointer… with a daily average ridership of 4.7 million, I can safely suggest that definitely avoid it during the office rush hours.

 

RICKSHAW

Auto rickshaw

These Rickshaws are called “Autos” by locals

Cheaper than taxis and app-based cabs, auto (as they are locally called) is my favoured mode of transport. I take them anywhere and everywhere. Smaller than cars, these three-wheelers can negotiate traffic far smoothly than the rest and 3 passengers can comfortably fit in. These green-yellow, partially enclosed “king of convenience” can be easily spotted and hailed at nearly every street corner, in front of markets and all the heritage sites. Equipped with rate meters (before you take the ride, insist that you will pay according to the meter), at times, with extra charge, you can even keep the auto waiting for the return ride. Note: If you travel as a non-local by meter and you don’t know the route, the driver might take some extra detours to make the ride longer and therefor increase the price, so maybe, but only if you are a good bargainer, you could as well agree on a price before the ride.

Cycle rickshaw

An inexpensive way to travel short distances, cycle rickshaw is more about experience than convenience. Phased out in certain areas of the city, this mode of transport is definitely the cheapest way to travel around. However, the vehicle being nearly fully open, it’s not ideal during the sweltering summers. Having said that, I must add that in certain areas of the city (read Old Delhi), it’s the most convenient of them all and works like a fairy in those super heavily congested narrow roads.

 

APP-BASED CABS

Yes, Uber is available in Delhi, is incredibly affordable, and a huge hit among locals and tourists alike. I usually pay cash (in rupees) to the driver after the ride, but you can pay via Uber app as well. It’s a lifesaver, especially during Delhi’s infamous summer heat, winter chill and during late nights.

There is another app-based one – OLA – which is widely used as well in Delhi and is cheap and efficient too.

 

RENTAL CARS (WITH DRIVER)

This is a very feasible option to travel, especially if you have a time-crunch. Usually it needs prior booking, which can be easily done by the hotel/guesthouse/travel agency you have booked with. Though not budget-friendly like autos, still, the price can be negotiated while booking (it’s not too expensive either) and if you are travelling with someone, I feel, this is one of the most convenient and comfortable way of travelling in Delhi.

 

RADIO CABS

Radio Cabs are a bit more expensive but a good option for rides from the airport into the city.

There are quite a few radio cabs available in the city now, like Meru Cab, Easy Cab, Mega Cab. From the airport, I always take one of these as they all have little kiosks right outside the exit gate. However, for travelling around in the city these get a little expensive, especially when compared to the other transport options available. Moreover, an added drawback of these radio cabs is that one needs to have a local mobile number to book, which makes it inconvenient for tourists. (Except at the airport where you can simply book at one of the kiosks.)

 

CABS/TAXIS

This is another option of travelling around Delhi ofcourse. However, I will not recommend taking them, as I myself never ever use these cabs. Usually they charge much more than what they are supposed to, and they definitely try to rip off tourists.

 

DELHI TRANSPORT CORPORATION BUSES

Public buses are easily available and are many. However, I personally don’t use them and wouldn’t recommend, as they are extremely packed and secondly, most of the places one would want to go to are comfortably reached by autos and app-based cabs. Note for women: Buses are known for being the perfect place for men to touch women indecently as they are so crowded.

 

HoHo BUSES

Click for high-resolution map

Like every major city in the world, Delhi too has its Hop-On/Hop-Off (HoHo) Buses. With the historical sites and tourist attractions scattered all over the city, HoHo buses come to your rescue and lets you travel around in your own pace and in a budget-friendly manner. HoHo Bus gives you the freedom to see the 25+tourist attractions of your choice with one-day and two-day passes. However, because Delhi is so big and varied, this option of going around gets a little hectic and time-consuming.

 

Note: If you have any traffic-related complaints while travelling in any mode of transport, you can call the Delhi Traffic Police’s 24×7 helpline, on 1095.

 

(Title photograph: Shutterstock / Nikhlesh Kumar Singh)



MALL’S THE WORD

Walking the branded trail

by Debashree Chatterjee

When you are in Delhi during the sweltering summers, and want to keep “stepping out” 100% optional (WAIT! what about shopping? that’s 100% compulsory) then the many malls in this vibrant city are sure to play the saviour. Take a break from street-shopping and the state emporiums and take a chance on these glassy-classy giants. Armed with kids’ zone, multiplex, food court, cafes, bars and shops, these malls are sure to quench your “Oh! I surely need to buy that” thirst. However, with the mushrooming of malls in Delhi, there are quite a few to choose from. That is why, in this section, I am telling you about the ones I frequent and can totally vouch for (I am not a shopaholic; in case you are judging me). However, I would recommend that once you have booked your stay in Delhi, you decide on the malls and add them to your schedule accordingly.

Easily accessible and open on all days, here is a list of my favourites in South Delhi.

South Delhi is the right spot for classy shopping malls.

 


1 AMBIENCE MALL, VASANT KUNJ

A popular name and a go-to place for Delhiites, this mall has all kinds of shops to showoff. From high-end ones to small brands, to not-so-expensive brands as well. From apparels to accessories, it covers all your “let’s dress-up” needs. And, in case you are one of those who like food more than shopping, then here you will get to choose from many choicest restaurants. Moreover, other than these popular eateries, the food court here is soundly equipped and offers many lip-smacking delicacies.

Right next to Ambience are two other malls you can definitely visit – DLF Promenade and DLF Emporio. But remember to keep enough time in hand because these three malls put together can demand lengthy walks and dedicated eyes. Just an added note, if you are looking for ultra-luxury and wants to browse through Cartier, Gucci and Dior showrooms, then, Emporio is your pick.

 


2 SELECT CITYWALK, SAKET

One of the most visited malls in Delhi, Citywalk has innumerable national and international brands for you to choose from. H&M, Zara, Kate Spade, to name a few, with their eye-catchy window displays are sure to pull you in. Moreover, the outdoor open-air plaza often hosts flea markets, fests and functions and have exclusive items to offer. It could be anything, from quirky garden décor to hand-painted shoes. So, what you must do is grab a coffee and walk around till your insta-shopping list is ready to roll back.

 


 

THE CHANAKYA, CHANAKYAPURI

A fan of luxury? This is the place to be. Housing several upscale brands and a multiplex, this mall speaks elite. Home to the city’s first Rolex boutique, Chanakya has many more international brands to boast of. Ted Baker, Thomas Pink, Noir salon, Mont Blanc boutique are to name a few. With an amazing food court offering a multi-cuisine palette, Chanakya is more an experience than a mall, which I recommend you see and feel for yourself.

 


You might be interested in these blogposts by Debashree as well


 


In the mood for shopping now? Take Debashree along!

Shopping tour: Trading & Bargaining

An exciting shopping tour with Debashree.
Individual shopping tour from 1 person onwards.
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Shopping tour: Cool shopping

Another great shopping tour with Debashree that doesn’t include sweating. Especially recommended for the hottest months may and june.
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Shop till you drop

A bargainer’s diary

by Debashree Chatterjee

Doesn’t matter if you are a self-confessed shopaholic, or a need-based shopper, or a shopahater (haven’t come across any in my life), . Doesn’t matter what you are looking for, or where you are staying in the megacity, you are sure to come across one market (most likely many) every 20 minutes. And also, doesn’t matter if you want cheap/bargain shopping, luxury/mall shopping or simply window shopping, Delhi is the paradise you have been promised.

Let’s get started with where to stop for a shop. But, before I name names, let me give you an idea about what you can look for, as a gift for a dear one or as a souvenir for yourself.

 

A few of my favorite things 

Food items: Spices, Tea, Indian pickle (with mango/chilli/lemon/mixed)

Home décor: Puppets, brass, wood or sandalwood curios, leather goods

Garments: Pure silk scarves, Pashmina shawls, colourful mixed-thread stoles

Jewellery: Kundan, Meenakari, ornaments with precious stones, casual/cheap imitation ones

Spiritual: Oil lamps, incense sticks, garlands, hand-woven prayer rugs

Personal-care: Herbal beauty products

Now that we know what to buy, let’s get out on the road with a big bag, a bottle of water and loads of sunscreen. Here goes the list of my favorite Delhi markets.

Dilli Haat

While you shop, your driver can take a rest.

My all-time favourite and the go-to place for most of us living in Delhi, this open-air market is a hub for handicrafts. It is a platform for artisans from across the country to showcase and sell their work. From traditional Indian garments, to home décor, to pottery, to brass idols, to leather lampshades… you name it and they have it. Along with the colourful ambience and hassle-free atmosphere, the foodstalls offering lip-smacking delicacies from nearly all the states/regions of India give brownie points to this market.

Janpath Market

Put on your bargaining boots for this one. Located in the heart of the city, this market has something for everyone, for any occasion, at any budget. The colourful scarves, the jingling wind-chimes, the bright sequin handbags, the aromatic sandalwood Ganesha statues are sure to bring out the child in you… and you would want to get them all. However, the Tibetan shops packed with artefacts (statues, masks and jewellery) from ceiling to floor, deserve a special mention.

Get ready to spend a lot of money while on a shopping tour in Delhi

Khan Market

Known to be Delhi’s classiest, this upscale market is “the spot” for the city’s A-listers, but a disappointment for a bargain-shopper like me. However, with its many shops offering international brands, charming boutiques, well-stocked bookshops, cool cafes and trendy restaurants, this market keeps calling me back. It also has few shops with a promising stock of fancy fruits, usually not available anywhere else in the city.

Chandni Chowk

The epitome of chaos, this market is hundreds of years old, and surely looks that way. However, tackling the thousands of people around you, ducking the low-flying pigeons and listening to the orchestra of non-stop honking, you will make your way through a marvelous maze of sights and smell. The entire shopping district is divided into special sections dedicated to specific items. For example, Dariba Kalan is for silver jewellery, Katra Neel for fabrics and ofcourse Khari Baoili Road, Asia’s largest wholesale spice market. An added bonus in this market is the many roadside sweet and snack shops. Don’t forget to refuel yourself with some jalebi and samosa as you get ready for a second round of bargaining.

Bargaining makes oh so hungry

Lajpat Nagar Central Market

A heaven for reasonable shopping, this market is usually buzzing with women looking for their ethnicwear. One of the oldest markets in the city, this place is full of hawkers calling out to shoppers. Don’t be alarmed. While displaying their clothes, bags or traditional footwear, they also shout out competitive price so that one can out-do a fellow shopkeeper. It’s all a trick of the trade, but a lot of fun to watch.

GK-1 M Block Market

If you want to eat and shop, or shop and eat, this is your place. This market is a cornerstone of style, affordability and variety. With international brands and local vendors, it has small (mostly) but stylish shops offering apparel, shoes, jewellery and even kids’ wear. Moreover, if you want a shopping break, you can visit one of the soulful spas or hop in one of the quirky cafés.

In Delhi one doesn’t need a shop to sell.

Paharganj

Though mainly known to tourists for its affordable hotels and lodges, Paharganj has much more to offer in terms of goods. It’s a place for rough-and-tough shopping (read bargaining) and photo ops. Crowded, noisy and dirty, it doesn’t fail to attract tourists and locals alike. The main bazaar is lined with shops selling books, handicrafts, textiles, junk jewellery and ofcourse traditional clothes. Keep your eyes wide open for shops selling ittar (traditional perfume) and mehendiwallahs, surrounded by customers waiting for their turn to get the palm art done.

Hauz Khas Village

With its unique fashion options and quirky shops, HKV has always been a trend-setter. One of my personal favourites in Delhi, this place seems to add a spring in your step. With graffiti at every corner, a lake across the wall and a deer park at the gate, this “village” is less shopping and more a feeling. From dresses straight from the ramp, to Monroe-like swimsuits, to rare movie posters, to colourful glass bongs and antique shops selling “postcard from Stalin”, HKV has it all. And, to add to the charm are quaint cafes overlooking the lake with great coffee and tasty nibbles.

If you need a break from shopping Hauz Khas with it’s green surrounding is the right spot for you

Sarojini Nagar

Another place for die-hard bargain shopping, this market is swarmed with youngsters and elderly alike. Along with permanent shops, you will find hawkers lining up the lanes with their product for sale lying in a heap on the ground. The never-ending stream of buzzing and bargaining shoppers here, kind of, pushes you to strive for more (read cheaper/better bargaining). And you somehow go with the flow, and end up becoming a bull in the race. A very happy bull.

In the mood for shopping now? Take Debashree along!

Shopping tour: Trading & Bargaining

An exciting shopping tour with Debashree.
Individual shopping tour from 1 person onwards.
More info


Shopping tour: Cool shopping

Another great shopping tour with Debashree that doesn’t include sweating. Especially recommended for the hottest months may and june.
More info




SPILLING THE BEANS

A coffee lover’s chronicle

by Debashree Chatterjee

Doesn’t matter if it’s the morning dose or the evening shot, coffee is the life line for most of us (if not all of us). I am sure you will agree that coffee plays saviour for an office-goer, who is late for the meeting; a mom waiting for her child outside the play school; or a tourist who just wants to sit and check out the city map for the next destination. There are very few of us who can resist the coffee’s titillating smell or the warmth of the cup in our hands. Delhi is no different. With the growing number of cafes dotting the city, one thing is certain — Delhi’s dedication towards coffee is strong, thick and steadily increasing.

Thinking of getting your cuppa of coffee now, but not sure where to grab it. Here is a list of Delhi’s “Awesome-10”.

 

BLUE TOKAI COFFEE ROASTERS, Saidulajab

Address: Khasra No. 258, Lane Number 3, Saidulajab, New Delhi, Delhi 110030

When you think of coffee in Delhi, this roastery with a little café is the one sure-shot target. This coffee chain is spreading rapidly in more cities than one, fast converting the “C for chai to C for coffee”. Made from fresh beans, from estates across India, their brews are to die for. And if you are happy with their cup, you can even buy the beans for some fresh brew at home. With the soothing ambience and a very long list of coffees, all you need is a book and their sea salt cappuccino.

 

UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, Connaught Place

Address: E-15, Rajiv Chowk, Block E, Connaught Place, New Delhi, Delhi 110001

Old, regal and charming, this coffee joint in the centre of the Delhi has come a long way (literally) and has influenced the city’s coffee culture. Established in 1942 (before India got her Independence), it was a first of the few places to have offered the people of Delhi the concept of “hanging out over coffee”. Don’t miss out on their signature Cona coffee, and also add a couple of their savouries to go with it. However, with its art-deco interior, it’s more of a vintage restaurant than just a coffee shop, and a “must visit spot” when you are in Delhi.

 

PERCH WINE AND COFFEE BAR, Khan Market

Address: 71, Khan Market, Rabindra Nagar, New Delhi, Delhi 110003

Located in the posh Khan Market, this place can impress you in 10 seconds. Doesn’t matter if you are choosing a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, this eatery has many things to offer. Quaint, quiet and warm it has the right mix of classy and casual. Order their top of the list Vietnamese coffee or a cappuccino, along with some cakes or nibbles, and it will become your favourite joint to perch… morning, day or night.

 

DIGGIN, Opposite Gargi College

Address: No.1 & 2 Anand Lok Shopping Centre Opp Gargi College, Anand Lok, New Delhi, Delhi 110049

With a leafy terrace, brick walls and swings, this casual eatery is a true café. It provides a sudden patch of much-needed green within the concrete castle of Delhi. It’s frequented by students, professionals, travellers, solo on the road… all alike. With a wide menu of Italian fares, you can easily pair your latte with their finger food items, or can go for a sumptuous pizza or risotto. You won’t regret either.

 

THE BREW ROOM, SDA Market

Address: C-16 floor, SDA Opposite IIT Gate, New, Hauz Khas Enclave, Hauz Khas, New Delhi, Delhi 110016

With a long list of coffees on the menu, this cute café with bright wall art is the perfect getaway from the hustle-bustle of the city. And while you are at it, you might like to try out their side bites as well. Moreover, other than the “oh so perfect” frappes and cappuccino, their delectable Italian, Continental and American food options are a sure A-plus.

 

THE COFFEE SHOP, Saket

Address: 8, Community Center, Saket, New Delhi, Delhi 110017

You have a thing for cinnamon? This is your spot. Sit back, relax and order your Cinnamon Coffee (very high on my list of love) or a Mocha Frappe at this café. This place lets you chill on your chair with no cares in the world, as the smell of the freshly brewing coffee tingles your nose. You can choose this joint for a long brunch or a quick break, either way, you will be pleased.

 

AMA CAFÉ, Majnu ka Tila

Address: New Camp, Street Number 6, New Aruna Colony, Majnu-ka-tilla, New Aruna Nagar, New Delhi, Delhi 110054

It’s one of those cafes, you know you are going to love. Settled in Delhi’s very own Little Tibet, this place offers pancakes, pies, cheesecakes, coffees and warm smiles, all in a happy platter. You feel cozy, calm and at ease here. Don’t miss their famous mud-cake and order as many coffees as you want and it won’t be tight on your pocket, at all. You might just feel like coming back to it after another short spell of bargain shopping in the many shops strewn around the area.

 

KAFFA CERRADO, Okhla Phase-1

Address: A 77, Pocket D, Okhla Phase II, Okhla Industrial Area, New Delhi, Delhi 110020

Go international here… as this café can boast of beans from around the world. Exotic blends or customised cups, you name it and they have it. Known to have some of the best coffees in town, their specialty coffee can really be a peck on the cheek. If you are a coffee lover from the heart and the gut, this is your C-spot.

 

CAFÉ TURTLE, Khan Market

Address: 23 No, 1st Floor, Khan Market, Khan Market, New Delhi, Delhi 110003

A heaven for book lovers and coffee appreciators, this vegetarian café-restaurant in the heart of Delhi is a place to be. With its healthy food and beverage options, combined with a nice green ambience, it is all you are looking for. With a bookshop on the first floor and the café on the second, this eatery is a gem. The menu offered is short and homely, and you can try anything you feel like and it won’t be a bad pick, that’s a guarantee.

 

CAFÉ CULTURE, Greater Kailash -1 M Block Market

Address: 33, Greater Kailash-1, M Block, Greater Kailash I, Greater Kailash, New Delhi, Delhi 110048

Looking for a break from shopping at the market or a break from moving around in the city, this cute little place is my personal favourite. I love everything here… cappuccino, tea infusions, fries, napkins, even their chairs. Grab a book, get a friend or just be with yourself and order their veg/non-veg mezze platter, pair it with the coffee of your choice and you are all set for the day, or night.




Cafés I like in Bhutan

By Ulrike Čokl

As an Austrian I appreciate the Viennese “Kaffeehauskultur” (coffee culture).  You can spend hours and even a full day in cafés, enjoying various types of coffee, cakes and snacks while reading a good book, jotting down your thoughts and working.

I was delighted when the first cafés opened in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu. They finally provided a welcomed break from the instant coffee which I personally dread. At last I was able to get freshly brewed espresso and cappuccino and all sorts of snacks including sandwiches, burgers and fries. That was a good start. Whether you eat such fast food at home or not, when you live in a country like Bhutan for years and finally get to eat a burger, it can be a euphoric experience. This was over 10 years ago and in the meantime many cafés have mushroomed in Thimphu and in other parts of Bhutan. Karma’s Coffee is still a great place but as a non-smoker I feel that having to pass through a room full of smokers on the way to the toilet is a bit of a downside. However, the place is worthwhile visiting!

When Coffee Culture in Thimphu opened its doors at Changlam Square, I became a regular there. It has a sitting area outside which is nice during warm summer days. I have become addicted to the desserts, especially tiramisu, cheese cake and “ema datshi momos” (dumplings stuffed with chili and cheese).

In Coffee Culture you can eat an Ema Datshi Pizza as well.

A relatively recent asset is the new Brusnika Café in Lanjopakha, next to Ludrong memorial garden. The owners are a lovely Russian-Bhutanese couple with three adorable daughters who commute between Europe and Bhutan. You can get anything there from grilled chicken (fantastic!) to a variety of home-made cakes and bread (baguette!). The location is great and offers wonderful views of Thimphu Dzong, the Bhutanese parliament building and a public garden just below. At special occasions in winter you will even get “Glühwein” (hot wine with spices) here. This is clearly my new favorite.

The lovely owners of Brusnika Café

Another place in Thimphu worth mentioning is Café Ambient at Norzin Lam in town. The owners are a lovely couple who support recovering addicts by training them at their establishment. They follow a strictly non-smoking and non-alcohol policy. The place is popular with the “chilips”, foreigners who are tourists or expats, and the coffee is excellent and pastries are tasty. There are non-traditional food options, including vegetarian and vegan. An added plus is the free Wi-Fi.

The Ambient Café in Thimphu

These days the choice of cafés in Thimphu is considerable. What about other districts in west and central Bhutan?

In Paro I am a faithful customer of Brioche Café. The owner, Ms. Rupa Tamang, is a hard working woman and pastry chef at Aman resorts. Hot chocolate, coffee, tea and all sorts of pastries (anything with chocolate are my favorites!), this place offers whatever your sweet heart desires. I usually suggest visiting the café at the end of a tour when many guests are more than ready for something sweet and creamy.

Pastries at Brioche Café

On Thimphu to Paro highway, you cannot miss Your Café. It is a beautifully restored old mud house ruin, typical for the region. The café is part of the Neyphug Heritage Foundation and purely vegetarian. All the proceeds go to the private Neyphug monastery to support the monks there. At the premises you will find facilities for families with small kids and a meditation room. The place is worthwhile visiting just to see the structure.

 

In Bumthang I like Café Perk. Years ago, during my days in the field in Bumthang, it was with great pleasure that I welcomed the opening of this place in Jakar town. You get really good coffee here and the snacks include delicious pizza, grilled sandwich, spaghetti, and fries as well as salad. If you sit next to the window you can observe the main street where people are going about their chores. The owner is a lovely young woman who speaks fluent English.

Apple & almond cream tart at Café Perks

Last but not least, there is a relatively new place in Jakar town, the Tea House Café, which I have yet to check out properly. If you happen to visit the place, please let us know what it is like!

 

 

 

 




Stok Kangri (6,123m) is the most popular mountain in Ladakh. Every year, hundreds of people from all over the world have tried to climb the 6,000er. But that over for now, because from now on further expeditions to the mountain are forbidden until further notice.

 

Why all expeditions to Stok Kangri are closed

Stok Kangri is considered the most popular mountain in Ladakh for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it is technically relatively easy to climb, on the other hand, it can be reached in a very short time from Leh and thus – and because for few years now relatively cheap fixed tent camps were available – expeditions to the mountain were comparatively low in costs. For reasons of environmental protection, however, this is over for now, because the inhabitants of the village Stok and the authorities have now decided to give the mountain a break to recover. We hope that there will be some access restrictions in the form of a maximum number of expeditions per year when reopening the mountain and / or only expeditions with trained teams will be allowed.

Gesar Travel welcomes this measure, because unfortunately not all mountain climbers and agencies were considerate and gentle enough, left rubbish behind and thus contributed to a pollution of the streams that endangered the drinking water supply of the population.

At present, it is impossible to predict for how long Stok Kangri will remain closed.

Anyone who still wants to go to Ladakh to climb a mountain has a variety of alternatives. There are countless 6,000ers that are technically equally easy to climb.

Some of the alternatives:

Starting from Nimaling in Markha Valley: Dzo Jongo, Regoni Malai Ri, Tasken Ri, Kangyatse Schulter

In Changthang: Dome Peak, Pyramide Peak, Mentok Peaks, Spangnak Ri

and many others.

We are happy to help you choose a suitable mountain.

Also read the following blog post on mountains in Changthang:

Mountain climbing in the land of the nomads

 

At Gesar Travel we guarantee a considerate approach to nature on all our expeditions: our team is well trained and never leaves trash behind! (Again and again, our team collects the leftover garbage of other expedition tours and takes it back to Leh.) We urge all mountain climbers to leave nothing but footprints.

Here a few examples of our other expeditions in Ladakh:

Sky of the nomads || 6000er Expedition

Two 6000ers in a row || Expedition

Zanskar for Sky Busters

Expedition Nun 7.135m

 




Visiting a monastery festival in Ladakh is one of the highlights of their trip for most of the visitors and yes, it is something spectacular and touching to see the colorfully dressed monks dance their stories. Here are the celebrations for 2020.

Ladakh: Monastery festivals and other celebrations 2020

Hemis-Festival

Hemis-Festival

  • Spituk Gustor in Spituk: 22.-23. January 2020
  • Leh & Likir Dosmochey in Leh and Likir: 21.-22. February 2020
  • Yargon Tungshak in Nubra: 27.-28. February 2020
  • Stok Guru Tsechu in Stok: 3.-4. March 2020
  • Matho Nagrang in Matho: 8.-9. March 2020
  • Saka Dawa all over Ladakh: 5. June 2020
  • Yuru Kabgyat in Lamayuru: 18.-19. June 2020
  • Silk Route Festival in Nubra: 23.-24. June 2020
  • Ladakh Polo Festival in Chushot: 11.-17. July 2020
  • Hemis Tsechu in Hemis: 30. June-01. July 2020
  • Shachukul Gustor in Shachukul: 7.-8. July 2020
  • Stongde Gustor in Zanskar: 8.-9. July 2020
  • Karsha Gustor in Zanskar: 18.-19. July 2020
  • Diggar Heritage Tourism Festival in Nubra: 27.-28. July 2020
  • Phyang Tsedup in Phyang: 18.-19. July 2020
  • Korzok Gustor at Tsomoriri: 23.-24. July 2020
  • Thakthok Tsechu in Sakti: 29.-30. July 2020
  • Sani Nasjal in Zanskar: 2.-3. August 2020
  • Deskit Gustor in Nubra: 14.-15. October 2020
  • Thikse Gustor in Thikse: 3.-4. November 2020
  • Chemde Wangchok in Chemde: 13.-14. November 2020
  • Galdan Namchot all over Ladakh: 10. December 2020
  • Ladakhi Losar (New Year) all over Ladakh: 15. December 2020



Before I tell you why I can recommend Kyrgyzstan, here are some reasons why some people should not travel to this Central Asian country.

 

You should not travel to Kyrgyzstan:

1) If you prefer the comfort of an ostentatious all-inclusive 5-star-hotel to a simple yurt without running water and an earth closet.

Yurts under construction with open-air bathrooms

2) if you are vegan or vegetarian, and the thought of having horse and mutton meat makes you sick, as well as if you are generally averse to new culinary experiences.

Meat and sausage from all sorts of animals, preferably thrice a day, yes, that’s what the Kyrgyz people love

3) If any risk you take induces a headache and adventurousness is a foreign term to you.

Things can go wrong quickly in a country, where the infrastructure – e.g. roads – are only sporadically developed. This requires a thirst for adventure.

4) If you get back pain from bumpy roads and/or get sick easily during car rides.

5) If you are in favour of a strict alcohol ban.

Although most Kyrgyz are Muslims, alcohol (especially vodka), and the slightly alcoholic fermented mare’s milk (Kymyz), are their favourite beverages.

6) If you love splendid historic 19th century buildings above all else and find the often very cool simplicity of communist architecture absolutely ugly

Not everybody likes the somewhat dull communist architecture, which is only slowly being replaced by more modern buildings (which one does not necessarily have to find beautiful neither)

7) If you have a fear of deserted natural landscapes.

… and completely empty landscapes again and again

8) If you have a horse allergy or you fear these four-legged friends. They are everywhere.

Even on the road you are constantly surrounded by horses.

9) If you are a hygiene freak. This does not mean that the Kyrgyz people do not care about cleanliness, but sometimes the standard is far lower than what we know in the West, for example when it comes to public or restaurant toilets.

10) If you always like tropical warmth and you do not like abrupt temperature changes.

While it can get very hot in lower valleys in the Summer, there are also places that experience unpleasant cold in July and August, for example on the Song Kul (lake) at 3000m altitude.

If several of these points applied to you, don’t travel to Kyrgyzstan. If you answered most or all of the conditions with a ‘no’, Kyrgyzstan will be your dream destination!

 

Why I can recommend Kyrgyzstan as a travel destination

Now, I could simply reverse state all the points mentioned above, but I won’t do that; instead I want to just reveal what makes Kyrgyzstan so special to me.

1. The nomadic culture

Although most of the Kyrgyz are now more semi-nomadic or shepherds with only biannual changes of location, they have remained largely nomadic in their hearts: they are extremely hospitable and helpful people, they love their freedom more than anything, they don’t have a problem with the simplicity of nomadic lifestyle (anyone sleeping in yurts or wagons has to make do with less), they  feel a deep bond with nature and ride their horses just like the proud Genghis Khan once did.

The Kyrgyz people, like all nomadic cultures, are extremely hospitable

2. The landscapes

Kyrgyzstan has a low population density, as its terrain is largely mountainous. Thus, there are vast tracts of land that are hardly inhabited. Here it is particularly easy to reconnect with nature and feel as its part again, especially if you have to spend the rest of your life in a big city. At the same time, Kyrgyzstan’s nature provides just about anything: there are Swiss alpine landscapes, dry barren high mountain deserts, snowy mountain giants, Mediterranean regions reminiscent of Italian Tuscany, though without the vineyards, and lakes and river landscapes, sometimes small, sometimes large, sometimes icy cold, sometimes perfect to swim in.

Surreal beautiful river landscape on the Naryn river

3. Hikeable Kyrgyzstan

Sure, if a landscape consists mostly of mountains, it would seem obvious that you get your money’s worth if you enjoy travelling on foot. The wonderful thing about Kyrgyzstan, though, is that few tourists have discovered the paths beyond the two main trekking routes, so that you are often alone for days, only ever meeting shepherds, their herds, and the animals of Kyrgyzstan’s mountains.

Though this may look like Austria or Switzerland, it is in fact Kyrgyzstan.

4. Communist flair and ruination

It may not be for everyone, but I personally am very interested in the history of the Soviet Union. Not, because I am communist, but because I find life in the Soviet Union, their visions, plans, and all the consequences, really exciting. No less exciting, of course, is how the shift from communism to the free-market economy has changed the people and their culture. I also like the juxtaposition of the old communist buildings and modern, often quickly constructed concrete blocks. And as a fan of ruins, I get my money’s worth in Kyrgyzstan, because abandoned buildings can be found everywhere. Usually these aren’t locked and are great to explore.

At the old port area of Balyktschy on Issy Kul, cranes and boats from the Soviet era slowly rust away.

5. Tourism as hope

Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest Stans (next to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan), because it lacks notable industries or large raw material deposits. Most of the population lives on the livestock industry. When Kyrgyzstan was still part of the Soviet Union, a large amount of meat and milk products were exported, but with the fall of the Soviet Union, the demand for these products sank and Kyrgyzstan since has been increasingly turning to tourism as the great opportunity. Despite all the criticism directed at tourism, it is a great opportunity, particularly for an economically weak country like Kyrgyzstan, to pull itself out of economic misery, especially if the focus is put on sustainable and fair tourism. Thus, you can also travel to this wonderful country with a clear conscience.

Livestock farming is the main pillar of the Kyrgyz economy. For now.

6. So much to do: Horseback-riding, hiking, mountaineering, rafting, swimming … Kökörü

It’s not very easy to get bored in Kyrgyzstan. There is so much to do: wherever there are mountains, you can hike, even climb up one or the other. Many rivers are ideal for rafting or canoeing, and the pleasantly warm Issyk Kul, the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan, is a wonderful swim spot. Countless horses invite you to explore the country on their backs. If that all gets too boring, you can also play with some dead goats in the national sport, Kökbörü. Read more on this blog post.

Kökbörü, an equestrian sport where you play with a dead goat.

7. A country of great stories and strong men and women

The Kyrgyz are great storytellers, they love their legends and there is hardly a place that does not tell of heroes and heroines who shaped Kyrgyzstan and its people in a rather mystical way. The national hero Mannas is omnipresent, hardly any place does not have a statute of the historically unverified man, who is said to have once unified the Kyrgyz tribes. To honour him, the world’s longest epic was created, which has been handed down orally for centuries and has only recently become written. Your guide can tell you not only stories from the life of the national hero, but also many others – often associated with the pre-Islamic animist belief in nature. Just ask him about it.

Kotschumgul is another Kyrgyz hero, he is said to have been over 2m tall and was even able to carry his own horse.

These and many other reasons are why I count Kyrgyzstan as one of the greatest travel experiences of our time. If you feel like discovering it, simply contact me, I’ll tell you more or work on your travel plan for Kyrgyzstan: daniela@gesar-travel.com




When you think of Iran, you often associate with it veiled women and a female image that is not equal to that of men. As a European woman, who wants to travel to Iran, one should deal with a few things in advance.

 How safe is Iran for women?

 

In general, Iran is considered a fairly safe country to travel, and many women even travel alone without any problems through Iran. Most women who travelled alone report that Iran has been experienced by them to be one of the safest travel destinations.

As a Western woman, one has to expect to be stared at in public. Mostly, this gaze has to do with interest and curiosity. We advise you to ignore the stare and, above all, not to pay too much attention to it.

Iranian cities have their own tourist police stations, which you can contact if you need help or information. In larger cities the sight of foreign women traveling alone or in groups is more common and you are greeted by locals and families friendly. Nevertheless, one should abide by a few rules.

 

Not all women in Iran cover themselves so much

 

How to dress

According to the present Islamic rules, women have to cover all body parts (and hair) except face and hands. Religious women in Iran usually wear a chador, a black robe that covers the body from head to toe. Most women, however, prefer to wear a kind of coat, the manteau, which can be long, short, tight, loose, and in different colors (but not too short or too tight). In any case, the manteau must not be shorter than 10cm above the knee. The shawl women use to cover their head can also be colorful. In fact, the clothing of women in Iran has a great variety of shape and color. Many women prefer to wear black because it is more formal, especially at work.

Foreign women need to cover their hair with a scarf or cloth and should wear long and loose blouses with long sleeves. Pants and skirts must cover the body to the ankles. Modern Iranian girls prefer to wear jeans. Both sandals, boots and other shoes are okay.

No body contact with men

Men and women do not shake hands when greeting each other, they only greet each other verbally. In the bus, the woman is sitting next to another woman, her husband or alone. In the subways there are compartments for women, which you don’t have to use.

Any physical contact between a man and a woman is forbidden in public and should not be done even as a foreigner.

 




When visiting a family home in Bhutan

By Ulrike Čokl

Ulli has lived in Bhutan on and off for many years. She has
conducted ethnographic research on traditional hospitality practices,
travelling & gift-exchange in rural communities. Thus she is very
familiar with village livelihoods all over the little kingdom. She loves
developing unique itineraries that offer a glimpse into the rich
cultural traditions and practices of Bhutanese society.

Photo: Marina Beck Photography

The load of merit that is accumulated through pleasing a single guest cannot be carried by a horse.
(Bhutanese saying)

“Come in, come in!” This is how I am usually ushered into a village home in Bhutan. Depending on where I am regionally, ara (local moonshine) or tea will be served together with snacks. Usually a meal will be prepared or at least offered. The reception, donglen, and the way guests are managed, goemgi shongzhag, depends on the type of guest one hosts. From official visits and high level guests to a neighborly stop by, a good host must always be generous and compassionate. However, there are variations in regard to etiquette depending on the degree of familiarity and status of the guest. Lamas and high level officials for instance, will often be met on the way and given offerings of ara and snacks sometimes accompanied by the sound of trumpets. They will be directly escorted to the choesham (altar room) and seated on a soft mattress. However, here I want to talk about how you, a tourist from a foreign country, will be received and treated, so as to help you understand some basics about Bhutanese hospitality.

Ara – the welcome drink. Photo: Wulff Hoerbe

Taking a meal at a Bhutanese home

When you arrive at a village house, your guide will approach the door and call the nangi aum’s (housewife’s) name, or, in case he or she has called the family in advance, they will come and greet you outside. We usually arrange for you to be seated in the kitchen area as you will be able to observe the family going about their chores. Additionally it is the warmest room in the house due to the mud or metal ovens where, in many places, the fire is kept going throughout the year. There are no chairs or tables in traditional homes and you will be seated on the floor on flat cushions or carpets. Some wealthier families do have separate rooms with sofas and low tables to accommodate guests. Nevertheless it is nicer for tourists to sit in the kitchen where the family is always engaged in some activities such as butter churning, food preparation or other tasks. We encourage our guides to properly introduce the family by name but this doesn’t seem to be a tradition in Bhutan. Don’t hesitate to remind your guides in case they forget. While taking a seat do not worry if you cannot sit cross-legged. Again, just ask you guide or, if the family speaks English, ask them which direction to stretch your legs without offending anyone. Usually the soles are not shown towards the alter room or towards other people. However, Bhutanese are flexible and understand that sitting on the floor in such a position is tough for most foreign guests and they will be happy to make you feel comfortable. Ultimately, treating guests with compassion is more important than being fundamentalist about traditional etiquette. In general you should always feel free to ask your guide about anything that you might feel doubtful or insecure about.

Prior to your arrival, our guide will have organized a gift, chom, to offer to your hosts upon arrival. It usually is something that is needed and depends on the time of the year and location of the home. From oil, sugar, salt, biscuits, vegetables, candles and meat to incense and oil for butter lamps, it can be a variety of items. Of course you can bring your own gift from your home country which will be highly appreciated. Gifts must not be handed over the threshold of the house as this is considered bad luck and will turn you into enemies. Wait until you are seated and ara or tea has been served before handing over your present. Most likely the family will take it and put it aside, not showing much interest in front of you as this would be considered immodest. One should not show too much excitement about gifts or else it might seem greedy. Of course in contemporary Bhutan such rules are not written in stone, as they may have been in the past. So, in case you experience such behavior it has nothing to do with your hosts not being happy about your souvenir. On the contrary, once you have left, they will look at it with curiosity.

When food is being served you will encounter your next surprise. The variety and amount of dishes are amazing but moreover the family will not join in and share lunch or dinner with you. This has nothing to do with your hosts feeling inferior as is often assumed by guests. It is strictly in accordance with local traditional etiquette and ideas of politeness. No need to feel bad or weird. You can make it a point that the family join in during your next meal in the same house, in case you stay overnight. Bhutanese eat with their hands, and you, too, can have a try with your fingers if you want but you can also use a spoon or a fork which is available in most households.

It is a very important aspect of Bhutanese hospitality that the host encourages, even forces, guests to eat more. However, most homestay hosts have noticed that many tourists cannot eat as much as the average Bhutanese, especially rice and chilies. Nevertheless they might still insist on re-filling your plate and cup. True, the more you eat the happier the hosts are but they also will understand if you eat less. I personally would recommend taking less the first time and going for a re-fill as that makes them happy. Similarly with drinks one or two re-fills are a must. The trick is not to empty your cup completely before your host offers the re-fill. Just take a little sip instead and don’t do bottoms up.

After you have completed your meal some guests feel the urge to jump up and help clean the dishes, but don’t do it! It might make the family feel awkward as you are the guest and not supposed to help with such tasks when newly arrived. This will be different for the guide and driver as they are not new to the householders and are familiar to them. As mentioned above things might be different after you have stayed a night or two and etiquette will loosen up a bit. But during your first meal, just go with the flow.

Whilst in many European societies, people relax after food and continue with drinks and chatting, this was never really a tradition in Bhutan. There you would chat and drink before dinner or lunch is being served and bid your farewell rather quickly after the meal is completed. However, this is also slowly changing.

The traditional farewell gift, soera, is usually a tip to the householders for the received hospitality. In your case the guide will handle this but if you wish you can tip the family directly while squeezing a bill or two into the nangi aum’s hand during good byes. She might refuse but you have to insist, that is the game. In return they might present you with some local produce such as cheese, butter or fruits.




Ulli’s bucket list of the 10 things you have to do / see in Bhutan

By Ulrike Čokl

Ulli has lived in Bhutan on and off for many years. She has
conducted ethnographic research on traditional hospitality practices,
travelling & gift-exchange in rural communities. Thus she is very
familiar with village livelihoods all over the little kingdom. She loves
developing unique itineraries that offer a glimpse into the rich
cultural traditions and practices of Bhutanese society.

It is truly difficult for me to think of only 10 must-see places and attractions in Bhutan where I have spent so much time over the past 18 years. However, I will try and choose from my long list of things, places and activities that I love, keeping in mind that it is for people who have not been to the Himalayan Kingdom before.

 

1 Taktsang Gonpa

Tigernest monastery

There is no way around it, Tigernest monastery is undoubtedly one of the best known attractions in the Himalayan kingdom and for many first time visitors impossible to skip. I was lucky enough to hike up to Taktsang several times before it became a highly frequented tourist spot during high season. Nevertheless, the first close up glimpse of Taktsang monastery, perched on a steep cliff, never ceases to enchant me. One recommendation though: Try to hike up as early as possible, maybe start around 6 o’clock in the morning or even earlier! That way you will more likely be able to enjoy the place for what it was intended to be: a remote recluse for peaceful and quiet contemplation and meditation.


 

2 Dzongs – Fortresses with ancient history

Punakha Dzong

I love Bhutanese Dzongs, they are great architectural masterpieces, embellishing the landscape. They were built in ancient times without the use of metal nails mainly from wood, stone and mud. Dzongs tower over every one of the 20 districts, some very historic, some rather recent. Landing in Paro and spotting Rinpung Dzong from the plane always makes me feel sentimental. Wangdue Phodrang Dzong, one of my favorites, unfortunately burned down a few years ago. It was a very authentic example of these fortresses and is now under restoration. Visiting Punakha Dzong is also impressive and offers wonderful opportunities for walks in the surrounding areas, such as to the longest suspension bridge and even further to an idyllic homestay amidst the fields and near the river. Jakar Dzong in Bumthang, as well as Lhuentse Dzong and Trashigang Dzong in the East are equally stunning and worth visiting.


 

3 Hike to a mountain pass

Photo: Marina Beck Photography

If you don’t have time to go on a serious trek, there are still plenty of opportunities to hike up to mountain passes from where you can spot the Himalayan snow giants. Most Bhutanese believe that the peaks are the dwelling places of birth and protector deities, the kyelha. Hiking to such passes can take from a few hours to a full day. The passes are often marked by a chorten (Buddhist shrine) decorated with prayer flags, and a latshe (stone pile) where you can offer a twig, flower or leaf to the local deity. When Bhutanese travelers reach a mountain pass, they will shout “lha gyelo” (“the victorious gods” or “may good win over evil”), and offer a cup of ara (local moonshine) to the local deity before drinking some themselves. Along the way you might come across cow herders, mostly the grandparents of village householders whose job it is to look after the cattle. If you are lucky you will be invited for butter tea and snacks in one of their makeshift huts!


 

4 Spending time in a local home

A Bhutanese saying goes: “The guest of one night is like a god.” I am convinced that you have not truly experienced Bhutan without having spent some time in a non-commercialized farmhouse. Enjoying local hospitality in a Bhutanese home is simply fantastic! Furthermore, food in homestays is much better than in the hotels and guesthouses.  You can observe the nangi aum (woman of the house) going about her chores and even join in yourself and learn how to prepare local dishes. Or you can meditate in the choesham (altar room) and have a look around the house and surroundings. Make sure to find a real farmstay and not one that has been meddled with and commercialized for tourists. There are plenty of genuine village homes who occasionally host foreign guests from far away, keeping in line with ancient Bhutanese hospitality traditions.


 

5 A village festival

Masked dances are grand, especially in the Dzongs where they are performed annually at auspicious dates to celebrate the victory of good over evil. They re-enact the story of how the Buddhist dharma was introduced by famous lamas and saints in previous times, leading to the subduing of demons and evil beings. I personally prefer small village festivals where you can get an idea of how such events involve the entire community and shape the relationships of humans in daily life. I know this can be tricky as the village folks often keep festival dates tentative till last minute. However, if you manage to participate in one of the smaller local festivals, you will get insights into how such community festivals reinforce community cohesion and cooperation, a sense of belonging and communal identity. Such important local socio-cultural aspects are vulnerable to a fast changing society where rural-urban migration is a huge issue.

An insider’s tip: Travel to East Bhutan in the winter months (December, January and February) and you will most likely stumble into festivals every now and then. You might also be the first foreigner to ever have witnessed one!


 

6 Trekking in Bhutan

Photo: Marina Beck Photography

It goes without saying that trekking in Bhutan is a stunning experience. The trekking routes are unique and you will not meet many fellow travellers. On ancient footpaths, you will hike through rhododendron and conifer forests, juniper shrubs and bamboo bushes, passing by chortens, mani walls and beautiful gonpas. On some treks you will encounter yak herders whose yaks graze on pastures covered with medicinal plants. Meet with villagers of distant valleys such as the Layaps during Lingshi-Laya-Gasa or Jomolhari treks, and share a cup of tea or ara with them. The flora and fauna are amazing and you will most certainly also come across wild deer and blue sheep. On a final note, in Bhutan, your luggage will be carried by mules, not humans, and overnights will be in tents.


 

7 A Crafts workshop

Photo: Marina Beck Photography

If you have time and visit the right places, take part in a crafts workshop such as bamboo or textile weaving in Central and East Bhutan, and thangka painting in the West, to mention just a few. It is a wonderful way of getting closer to local Bhutanese and you will learn more about the role of handicrafts within communities in the past and present. You will develop an appreciation for the hard work that goes into such crafts. The harvest and collection of the wild or cultivated raw materials and the further processing of the latter are tedious and labor intensive. Imagine for example the raw material for nettle weaving, a thread made of stinging nettle, difficult to harvest and peel. Similarly it takes a while to collect and process bamboo into the raw material needed to weave the beautiful bangchung (woven bowls), famous in Bhutan and available in every souvenir shop in Thimphu.

By participating in such local workshops you benefit the artisans directly. No better way to support them and at the same time immerse in local culture!


 

8 Zhemgang

Photo: Marina Beck Photography

I simply love Zhemgang. It is remote, hardly visited and sub-tropical in the lower parts with opportunities to visit the jungle of the Royal Manas National Park. There is an abundance of birds, which even I can take good pictures of by simply using my cell phone camera – the great hornbill just being one of many! The locals are lovely, reserved but very hospitable, and jolly when the ice has broken. Many houses are still in traditional style, made of bamboo and sitting on stilts. If you are adventurous at heart and not picky when it comes to accommodation, Zhemgang is the perfect place to explore! Visit some of the farmer cooperatives, venture into the jungle for bird watching or enjoy the rafting opportunities. Try the delicious local food, some ingredients come directly from the forest, and visit the bamboo basket weaving community in Bjoka.


 

9 East Bhutan

Photo: Marina Beck Photography

The East is great for those who want to enjoy less touristy places and experience more immersion in local culture and tradition. The valleys are steep and cliffy in some places and the slopes are terraced for rice cultivation. The climate is mild due to the lower altitude. Banana trees and plenty of fruits grow all over the place and throughout the year. In winter the orange tangerines dotting the trees look beautiful among the brownish dry landscape. The East has many local crafts to show, mostly located in remote areas such as Trashiyangtse, Trashigang and Lhuentse. You can use Lingkhar lodge as your “base camp” and periodically venture out to the surrounding villages. Or stay at some of the lovely homes in the region and enjoy local hospitality. In spring and autumn, visit the Brokpa communities in Merak and Sakteng, and in winter observe the Black Necked Cranes in Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary.  There are many places in Bhutan that are still rather unexplored. If you have the mind of a pioneer, you might even enjoy being our “guniea pig”, a pioneer exploring new routes, places and homes!


 

10 Food – picnics and cooking classes

I really like chili and cheese (=ema datshi) but there is so much more to Bhutanese food. Forget about ema datshi; if you travel to remote places at the right time of the year you will get to taste greeneries from the forest and fields, mushrooms and tasty herbs, homemade bread made from buckwheat, wheat rolls stuffed with a mix of garlic leaves, cheese and chili; home grown vegetables and potatoes and very traditional dishes such as “rice-pizza” (only prepared on special occasions), red rice and fried wild fern, the list goes on. Bhutanese cuisine also includes plenty of meat items such as sikam (dried pork), dried yak-meat and beef; beef bone soup and porridge as well as fried chicken, vegetarian sausages and homemade buckwheat noodles. Not to forget the popular momos with a variety of stuffings! Bumthang is a particular culinary hot spot but there are also places in Zhemgang and East Bhutan and wherever you move a bit off the beaten track or where plenty of produce is supplied from the forests.


 

Some final words for Bhutan travelers

My bucket list of highlights in Bhutan can never be complete.  Some aspects are worth mentioning in addition: Gesar Travel can arrange specialized tours where you can choose a particular focus during your travels. This can be anything from remote village visits and farmstays to textiles, pilgrimages, bird watching or traditional medicine, Sowa Rigpa. Let us know what interests you most and lectures and guided tours with experts can be arranged. Admittedly, additional activities may incur extra fees, but you will support local specialists and communities directly and non-bureaucratically.

 

Travelling off the beaten track

In Bhutan there is still a lot to be discovered. Hence it is always good to keep an open mind and remain flexible during your journey. It can be tedious to travel along unpaved roads to reach often times very remote villages. But at the end you encounter interesting activities such as cotton cultivation and cotton weaving in Chimoong, Pemagatshel. Sometimes ad-hoc changes might be necessary due to unforeseeable circumstances but you can consider that to be part of your authentic Bhutanese experience!

 

My insider’s tip:

Last but not least, I will share an insider’s tip with you:  the Monpa communities in Trongsa, along the Nabji-Korphu trek, have incredibly rich local knowledge on medicinal plants and edibles from the forest! From leafs to roots, the selection is vast and very tasty. While normally guests stay in designated camp grounds, we put you up in the homes of the Monpa communities! They are considered the aboriginal people of Bhutan with their own language and customs. Together with a Monpa guide, you will gain insights into the rich ethnobotanical knowledge of these interesting people and at the same time support them in their endeavor to preserve their local knowledge and culture.




By Ulrike Čokl

Ulli has lived in Bhutan on and off for many years. She has
conducted ethnographic research on traditional hospitality practices,
travelling & gift-exchange in rural communities. Thus she is very
familiar with village livelihoods all over the little kingdom. She loves
developing unique itineraries that offer a glimpse into the rich
cultural traditions and practices of Bhutanese society.

Are tourists
to Bhutan restricted by numbers?

Since the number of tourists
allowed to enter Bhutan is not limited by the government, tourism is instead
restricted through a daily tariff system. So, the good news is that you
can visit Bhutan anytime as an individual or in a group.

When you book a tour with a
travel agent in your country who partners with a licensed tour operator in Bhutan,
they will broker this tariff on your behalf. The tariff amounts to a minimum of
250 USD in high season and 200 USD in low season, per person per night (not per
day, actually!)[1].
This fee covers all your basic expenses, including standard 3-star hotels,
entry fees and necessary permits, as well as transport, a driver, an English
speaking guide, and three meals a day. Special activities such as river
rafting, weaving classes, cooking classes, hot stone baths and saunas, thangka
painting or meditation classes, and specialist guides e.g. for textile tours,
birding or music tours, will likely incur additional fees. Furthermore, the
tariff does not include alcohol, tips, or donations.

Please beware that any agent that offers to charge less than these minimum fees is likely undercutting the mandatory tariff, which is not only unethical, but also means they are not adequately paying local Bhutanese providers for their services. This results in substandard services in Bhutan, such as subpar accommodations, less knowledgeable and unqualified guides, and cookie-cutter itineraries that herd guests on busses from one site to the next.  The key to a successful trip is to have a reliable and ethical local partner to work with. We pride ourselves on our ability to both customize trips to our guests’ interests while respecting and adequately paying the skilled Bhutanese hosts and providers with whom we work.

Photo: Marina Beck Photography

Why the
tariff system?

Bhutanese tour industry insiders
say that the daily tariff prevents mass tourism and mitigates the negative
impacts tourism poses to the local culture and environment.

The tourism industry in Bhutan began in 1974 after the coronation of the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuk. During that time, some of the first guesthouses were built for foreign dignitaries who were invited as guests to the event. In order to make use of this new infrastructure, the government decided to allow the first tourists to visit the kingdom to generate revenue, to publicize the country’s unique culture and traditions to the outside world, and to stimulate socio-economic development. From the beginning a “middle path” approach has been the ideological and strategic foundation to development in Bhutan. The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) states that the tourism industry in Bhutan is founded on the principles of sustainability, meaning that tourism must be environmentally and ecologically friendly, socially and culturally acceptable, and economically viable. Low budget backpackers did not seem to fit these criteria and were considered to be a threat to such principles. The Bhutanese government also worries about what sort of influence uncontrolled travelers might have on local culture and traditions. The central slogan of the Bhutanese approach to tourism became “High Value, Low Impact”.

Issues and
Controversies

There is a lot to be said about why the tariff system is a good strategy and general effects are positive, although some aspects of the foundation are flawed. One aspect emerges in the contemporary situation of major economic transformations in the wider region: Tourists from India, Bangladesh and Maledives are exempt from the daily tariff. Because it is more affordable, in the last 10 years, these regional guests now constitute the majority of tourists, exceeding tariff paying guests, especially during low season. Whilst the tariff system is largely supported by Bhutanese, this development begets the question: are regional, often times low budget tourists considered less “damaging” to the local culture and environment than other foreigners? The Bhutanese government is in the process of developing solutions to this paradox.

Why the
tariff system works

Despite these caveats, the
daily tariff system has many benefits. The government deducts a Sustainable
Development Fee (SDF)
of $ 65 from the daily tariff which is used for
social welfare of the country. Basic healthcare, for example, is free for
Bhutanese citizens and long-term residents, meaning that whenever they go to
the hospital for a check-up, they will be treated at no cost. This also applies
to people like me who reside in Bhutan over longer periods of time! Also, the
tariff empowers small scale Bhutanese tour agents, whose guests look for
quality, immersion and ethics in traveling rather than the cheapest option. Such
small companies would otherwise hardly survive in a harsh competitive
liberalized setting. Ultimately the Bhutanese themselves decide which direction
tourism shall go in the kingdom. It is up to them whether to take their own
cultural and traditional repertoire and people seriously, and to work as
ethically and sustainably as possible by including approaches that distribute
tourist revenues fairly to rural folks without exploiting them. One of such
approaches is to occasionally host interested tourists in farm/homestays. There
is no better way to experience local hospitality than in a Bhutanese home.

Bhutan is a fantastic place to
visit and it is distinct from other places, also thanks to the tariff system. Unless
you have booked a standard cookie cutter tour, you will most likely not bump
into other travelers all the time. Hence you will enjoy some real quality time
with local folks in the villages and towns. There are many Bhutanese tour
operators working to provide just this, and we at Gesar travel make sure to
cooperate with them.


[1] Tourists travelling in a group of two (2) persons
or less are subject to a surcharge, in addition to the minimum daily
package rates.




Why the East of Bhutan is a “Hidden Gem” for Travelers


By Ulrike Čokl
Ulli has lived in Bhutan on and off for many years. She has conducted ethnographic research on traditional hospitality practices, travelling & gift-exchange in rural communities. Thus she is very familiar with village livelihoods all over the little kingdom. She loves developing unique itineraries that offer a glimpse into the rich cultural traditions and practices of Bhutanese society.

 

Why East

Have you been to Bhutan before and want to return for an off the beaten track tour? Or is this your first visit but you want to book a trip that is not cookie cutter just to tick off the usual sights? If yes to either, then Eastern Bhutan is perfect for you. It is an insider’s tip if you know where to go. The East offers stunning nature and day-hikes, traditional homestays, immersion in everyday village life and charming encounters with local Bhutanese, including traditional artisans. For the adventurous, traveling in the East can have pioneering character when you attend remote village festivals where you might very well be the first foreign guest ever to have participated. Oh, and not to be forgotten, in 2018 the Bhutanese government reduced the daily tariffs for visitors to the East to support local village communities who are often overlooked by many tourists. This means you can now affordably travel to this part of the kingdom, especially in the mild winter months during low season. The weather is chilly in the evenings and mornings, but warm during the usually clear and sunny daytimes.

 

 

Which Counties Delineate East Bhutan

East Bhutan refers to Samdrup Jongkhar, Pemagatshel, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Mongar and Lhuentse regions. It is possible to enter and exit by land through Samdrup Jongkhar. From there, you will ascend through a subtropical climate—with its bamboo, banana and broad-leaf trees—to higher areas in Trashigang. All the while you will be rewarded with great views of the Indian plains and Bhutanese foothills that you leave behind. The sightseeing possibilities include Dzongs, monasteries and temples, most notably, Gom Kora, Chorten Kora, Drametse and Mukazor. However, the real charm of the East lies in its natural beauty and the remote village culture, local hospitality, community festivals, and of course meeting with all sorts of Bhutanese locals and artisans.

 

Traveling while Supporting Local Communities

There is an interesting traditional crafts school in Yangtse that is worth a stop, but why not also spend a few days at an artisan’s home and participate in a workshop? Eastern Bhutan boasts a concentration of a number of traditional Bhutanese crafts (zorig chusum), including paper making (dezo) and wood turning (shagzo) in Trashiyangtse; weaving (thagzo), pottery (jinzo) and wood carving (parzo) in Pemagatsel, Trashigang and Lhuentse; and carpentry (shingzo) throughout the region.

In your homestays, your hosts will treat you to organic home cookedmeals. If you are adventuresome, a tshogchang can be arranged—a truly authentic welcome ritual in which  villagers come to greet a guest with alcohol and snacks, and song and dance, all in return for a monetary gift (soerat) from the visitor. While visiting the East, you support villagers directly and help countering rural-urban migration, a big issue in Bhutan, through sustainable and ethical tourism.

 

Foto: Marina Beck Photography

 What to Do Where

Let me inspire you with some glimpses into the East: In Pemagatshel, the women of remote Chimoon village cultivate and process cotton into thread which they weave into beautiful textiles! Further to the north in Kangpara, a very remote region in Trashigang, you will find sleepy villages nestled amidst of rice fields. Here, some of the best quality bangchung (woven bowls) and baskets are made and you can join a bamboo weaving workshop. Later, enjoy a cup of ara (local moonshine) and a homecooked meal with your host family. In Trashigang, hike through fairy tale forests to remote hermitages that belong to hereditary religious lineages and dine with the families. Specialized trips allow for deeper immersion in the life of the Brokpa, semi-nomadic yak herders of Merak and Sakteng. From milking and butter churning, to wool production, spinning and weaving, the life of the Brokpa is fascinating! The beautiful Lingkhar lodge offers a perfect “base camp” to those who like amenities after an adventurous day, whilst others can thrive in traditional homestays. Day excursions are possible to places such as Trashigang town with Trashigang Dzong (fortress), Rhadi village, the ‘rice bowl of the East,’ with its raw silk weavers (bura), Rangjung monastery, and Rangshikhar, a charming village with a great heritage homestay and a little gonpa on top of the mountain. Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary in Trashiyangtse offers ample opportunity for nature lovers to pioneer hikes and short treks. Here you will also come across the black necked cranes in winter. They gather in the fields just waiting to be photographed.

My personal favorite is Lhuentse valley. Perhaps you may have heard of Khoma, the famous kishutara weavers’ village. Pilgrims can hike to hidden hermitages and enjoy some contemplation near the meditation huts of the monks, conversing with the head lama. The Guru Rinpoche statue at Takila is impressive and Tangmachu offers scenic hikes in the vicinity. A daytrip away, in Ney village, you will find women processing nettle into thread, a tedious job that results in gorgeous nettle weavings! The little pottery in Gangzur is one of the last where the traditional earthen pots are produced. The famous national dish, ema datshi (chili and cheese), is supposed to taste best if cooked in one of those pots. In Lhuentse you can also participate in weaving and wood carving workshops and if you don’t mind homestays, it is a great place to explore for a few days.

 

Get Ready…

Feeling inspired? I have only scratched the surface! If you want to discover more of the hidden gems in East Bhutan, please get in touch with us. And check out our very special East-Bhutan-Tour.

 

 




Wherever you travel, there are local rules and customs that you should research and know in advance. At least rudimentary. It is not necessary to become an expert in the local culture. But striving for correct behavior is something that should be in the list of priorities when traveling. Of course, small faux pas can always happen, but the Mongols are a hospitable people and are quick to overlook unintentional mistakes.

18 for Mongolia

 

  • Give presents with both hands. It is considered polite to use both hands when handing over or accepting gifts, money or anything else.
  • Always climb on a horse from the left side.
  • Do not step onto the threshold. Always step over it and to the other side. This applies to monasteries, houses and gers (yurts).

  • Never whistle when inside houses and gers.
  • Always accept offered drink and food. Even if you are not hungry or thirsty at the time, accept it and at least taste it.
  • Throw no milk, no water and no garbage into the fire. The fire is sacred to the Mongols.

  • Never touch the head of a person. Not even a child’s. Patting children’s heads is a widespread custom in the Western World, but it is not welcome in Mongolia.
  • Never point at someone with an outstretched forefinger, and especially not at a Buddha statue or an altar. If needed, you can use the entire palm to point to something.
  • Never urinate in water (streams, rivers, lakes). For Mongols, water is sacred and alive.

  • Never pour milk nor milk products into rivers, streams or lakes.
  • Even if you think it is important, do not ask drivers and locals about driving, riding and in general traveling times. Doing this is to bring misfortune and put the journey in danger. Alternatively you can ask your travel guide. They are already familiar with this western “bad habit”. 😉
  • Always move around a stupa in a clockwise manner.
  • Take off your shoes when entering a yurt or a house. This is especially true for monasteries.
  • Never step over the outstretched legs of a Mongol.
  • Never stretch your legs in the direction of people, altars or Buddha statues.

  • When eating, use your right hand or both hands.
  • Never turn your back on an altar or a Buddha statue.
  • Never go in front of an older person.

 

 




Foreign countries, foreign customs. Whenever you travel, always try to research in advance about the local customs at your destination. This will help you avoid awkward or unpleasant situations, and make friends quickly. Kyrgyzstan is no exception, and it has a few rules worth knowing. Of course, small faux pas and unintentional mistakes can happen, but the hospitable Kyrgyz are quick to forgive them. So don’t worry too much.

1o Rules for Kyrgyzstan

1 Gifts make friends

If you are invited to a Kyrgyz house, it is a nice touch to bring a small gift. Fruits and/or sweets from your home country are always well received.

2 Proper handling of bread

Bread is the most important food for the nomads. Never put it upside down on the table; that is especially disliked. Bread is preferably hand-torn, not cut with a knife, and it is usually put on the center of the table so it can be shared among all diners. Above all, do not throw bread away! If you are satisfied or consider it no longer edible, at least give it to the animals. There is an ominous saying whenever bread is thrown away: “kesir bolot”, which means “famine comes”.

3 Accepting and tasting

If you are invited to dinner with a Kyrgyz family, try tasting a little bit of everything. This shows that you appreciate their hospitality. Besides the bread, the butter is especially important. So try them (if you can). Often, a family member will offer you something from his or her own plate. Take it. It would be rude to refuse. This is especially true when coming from the elders, because it is a sign of affection.

4 Eating with the right hand

Even though nowadays cutlery is widely used, many Kyrgyz still eat with their hands. It is important to eat only with the right one!

5 Empty plates are refilled

If you eat everything on your plate, your Kyrgyz host will give you more food. So, if you’re satisfied and don’t want anything else to eat, it’s good to leave something on your plate.

6 Shoes off!

In Kyrgyzstan you take off your shoes before entering a house. Take them off, put them nicely next to each other and never with the soles up! Superstitious Kyrgyz assume that upside down shoes bring bad luck into the house.

7 Spit

Sometimes an elderly woman will greet you with a bowl of water and ask you to spit in it. Then she’ll move the bowl over your head and empty it or put it in front of the house. Water has a purifying effect and when you spit into it, evil spirits and their negative aura are chased away and dissipated. This is a custom in Kyrgyzstan with people who come from a long journey.

8 Alcohol

The Kyrgyz people like to drink. A lot. As a guest, this is also expected of you. The most common drinks served are vodka and Kymyz (fermented mare’s milk). If you don’t want to drink, it’s better to say so from the beginning and not accept a single glass. As soon as you accept a shot, it will become harder to refuse the following. A “no” coming from a woman will be easier to accept than the denial of a man. And if you are the one serving, always fill the others’ glasses first, before pouring yourself something.

9 Toasts

When Kyrgyz people sit together to drink, they also toast. The longer the toast, the more respected the speaker. It signals the desire to express big, deep wishes. So try to come up with a long speech!

10 Offer and insist

If you offer food to Kyrgyz people, they will usually politely refuse at first, even if they really feel like tasting what you have to offer. If so, insist. Only then will they accept it and enjoy it.




We proudly present our two new promotional videos showing what our trekking tours in Ladakh looks like.

Videos by Patrick Haderer 

 

This is trekking in Ladakh

 

When you step out of the plane in Leh, you already are at 3500 m of altitude. That’s no small thing. The plane is (hopefully!) pressurized to around sea level values, so regardless if you came down from the sky or drove up from a lower area, your body has to first get used to the thin air of Ladakh. Not for nothing we take great care to start slow, giving you time to adapt before carrying on with the trip program. After arriving, put your feet up and take a deep breath. The flight (or drive) is usually quite exhausting, the altitude makes it worse, and you usually need some time to shed the stress of the trip. On the first day, therefore, we typically do nothing but rest. The day after that we start slowly, get to know Leh, stroll around and take the city in. There is a lot to see in the colorful and chaotic capital of Ladakh. The following day we focus on its cultural highlights, visiting some of the most beautiful Buddhist monasteries, listening to the vibrant voices of the monks while they sing Buddhist prayers, marveling at the extraordinary sounds of Tibetan musical instruments, delving into the mystical Tibetan Buddhist mythology and wandering around a bit. The body has now finally caught up and we have regained our strength. Breathing is still a bit harder than what we are used to at home, but we can manage. We get accustomed to the slowness of this place in the Himalayas, and learn to appreciate it.

This is how your first days in Ladakh can look like:

 

 

But the day comes when it is time to leave. Off to the mountains, out into freedom, into happiness, into the silence. Where we can become one with nature, find the essence of our being. Discover a simpler, slower way of living. In walking, the most basic form of locomotion, we return to ourselves. We leave behind the complexity of everyday life. The head is free of polluting thought-clouds. Breathing and walking become one single action, the mind placidly and unobtrusively tags along. It’s not always easy to climb a mountain pass. It’s exhausting, it’s demanding, it makes us think about giving up, we quarrel with each other, with ourselves: why are you doing this when you could be lying on a floating bed on the Adriatic instead… But then you’re up there, among the colorful prayer flags, looking at the majestic, otherworldly expanse of the Tibetan plateau and realize that it was worth the effort. Pushing to the limit, stepping out of our comfort zone lets us discover new worlds, new meanings, new aspects of ourselves. They are worth it. Absolutely. And they stay with us. Forever.

And this is how this journey of self discovery can look like:

 

 

Eager Feet?

 

Would you like to know more about this tour? Patrick Haderer and his friends took part in our popular trekking tour “Classic Tsomoriri Trek”.

This impressive journey leads across the Tibetan Plateau, past the Salt Lake Tsokar, through traditional nomadic summer camps and to the deep blue shimmering waters of Lake Tsomoriri.

High mountain passes, wide plains and breathtaking panoramas determine the character of this tour. We find wild donkeys, rare black-necked cranes, and huge herds of yak and sheep. Walking under the seemingly endless horizon acts as a balm for stress-laden souls.

 

>>To the tour>>




Monastery festivals and buddhist celebrations in Ladakh

The dates 2019

Colorful robes, scary masks, unusual musical sounds for western ears, never seen dance steps, these are monastery festivals in Ladakh, where monks in incredible dance performances try to impart stories and philosophies of Tibetan Buddhism. If you feel like it, plan your trip so that you can include one (or two) in the program. Incidentally, we’re happy to help you, so that the rest of the program fits perfectly as well 😉

 

Need an example? This is a short video of Matho-Nagrang

 


3-4. January Spituk Gustor in Spituk


2.-3. February Dosmoche in Leh und Likir


14.-15. February Stok Guru Tsechu in Stok


18.-19. February Matho Ngagrang in Matho


17. June Saka Dawa in whole of Ladakh


29.-30. June Yuru Kabgyad in Lamayuru


11.-12. July Hemis Tsechu in Hemis


19.-20. July Shachukul Gustor in Shachukul


20.-21. July Stongde Gustor in Stongde/Zanskar


30.-31. July Karsha Gustor in Karsha/Zanskar


30.-31. July Phyang Tserup in Phyang


3.-4. August Korzok Gustor in Korzok


10.-11. August Thakthok Tsechu in Sakti


14.-15. August Sani Naro Nasjal in Sani/Zanskar


26.-27. October Diskit Gustor in Diskit/Nubra


15.-16. November Thiksey Gustor in Thiksey


24.-25. November Chemde Angchok in Chemde


21. December Galdan Namchot in whole of Ladakh


27. December Losar (New Year) in whole of Ladakh




Sain bain-uu?

Сайн байна уу?

Learning a few words in Mongolian makes it easier for you to get in touch with the people of Mongolia while traveling. Even though the younger Mongolians speak English quite well today and the older generation mostly speak Russian and even some German, you can still make friends faster with a few phrases in the local language. Mongolian is written in the Cyrillic alphabet in Mongolia, which has to do with the long association with the former Soviet Union, but there has been a revival of Mongolian script since independence.

 

The Mongolian script was created in 1208 by the Uighur writer Tatar-Tonga. He was captured by the Mongols during a campaign, and commissioned by Genghis Khan to write a script for the Mongolian language. For this purpose, he adapted the Uighur alphabet to the new requirements. Its greatest feature is the writing direction, which runs vertically from top to bottom and column by column from left to right (all other vertical fonts go from right to left).

 

 

Especially with people on countryside you get in contact with people faster, if you speak und understand a few words Mongolian. Photo: Roland Amon

Greeting

Sain bainuu? – Hello [lit. meaning “are you being well?”]

Sain uu? – Hi

Tanii bie sainuu? – How are you?

Bi sain. – I am fine.

Ugluunii mend! – Good morning!

Udriin mend! – Good afternoon!

Oroin mend! – Good evening!

Saihan amraarai! – Good night!

Bayartai! – Goodbye!

 

Helpful words

Uuchlaarai! – Sorry!

Bayarlalaa – Thank you

Zugeer! – You’re welcome

tiim – yes

ugui – no

za – ok

 

Questions

Yamar unetei ve? – How much is it?

Ta hen be? – Who are you?

Ene yu ve? – What is it?

Heden tsag bolj baina? – What time is it?

Bid hezee yawah ve? – When will we go?

Tanai geriinhen sainuu? – How is your family?

 

Introduction

Tanii ner hen be? – What is your name?

Minii ner … – My name is

Ta heden nastai ve? – How old are you?

Bi … nastai. – I am … years old.

Ta heden huuhedtei ve? – How many children do you have?

Bi … huuhedtei. – I have … children.

Ta haanaas irsen be? – Where are you from?

Bi … -aas irsen. – I am from …

Amerik – America

German – Germany

Franz – France

Golland – Netherlands

Avstr – Austria

Ital – Italy

Spani – Spain

Oros – Russia

Hytad – China

Yopon – Japan

 

Numbers

0 teg

1 neg

2 hoyor

3 gurav

4 duruv

5 tav

6 zurgaa

7 doloo

8 naim

9 yus

10 arav

11 arvan neg

12 arvan hoyor

20 gori

30 guch

40 duch

50 tavi

60 jar

70 dal

80 naya

90 yer

100 tsuu

200 hoyor tsuu

1000 myanga

 

Weekdays

Monday – Davaa garig

Tuesday – Myagmar garig

Wednesday – Lkhagva garig

Thursday – Purev garig

Friday – Baasan garig

Saturday – Byamba garig

Sunday – Nyam garig

 




When traveling, you can’t and you shouldn’t try to completely behave as a local, but you should check out the customs and rules of your destination before each trip. This saves you and the locals many uncomfortable moments. The people in Sri Lanka are very friendly and you are always welcome as a traveler, but if you want to make friends, here are some important things to keep in mind.

 

 

Sri Lankan etiquette: what to avoid

 

1 No Selfies in front of Buddha statues

For many travelers, selfies come almost automatically – they naturally want to be part of each captured memory, and share every new sight, landscape, building or event with their friends via social media. BUT please take care when taking pictures of Buddha statues: turning your back to a Buddha statue is a sign of disrespect. Better yet, keep your distance and save (and savor) the moment in your heart and your mind.

 

Photos – also selfies – are of course ok. Just not in front of Buddha statues.

2 Dress properly on beaches

Sri Lanka has many wonderful beaches perfect for sunbathing. But keep something on! Full nudity or even topless bathing is not a welcome practice and can turn problematic. Back on the streets, or anywhere that is not a bathing place, try to wear more modest clothes: ideally, shoulders and knees should be covered! However, you will find that many young Sri Lankans, especially in larger cities, are already a bit more liberal. It is not that important anymore. But try to adhere to this rule always anyway, and especially when travelling through rural areas.

 

3 Correct clothes in the temple

When visiting a temple, you should take off your shoes and keep your shoulders and legs covered. In many Buddhist temples, it would be nice if you also can wear white (or at least light-colored) clothes – for example, in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy or in Anuradhapura. You will also see that most locals done their whitest clothes! Many temples can have stricter or additional rules and check at the entrance whether one dresses correctly.

 

White clothes are the perfect choice when visiting Buddhist temples!

4 No public display of affection

Traveling with a loved partner is wonderful, but not all countries like to see couples kissing in public. Dial back a bit and save it for later: kisses, hugs and other gestures of romantic affection are better left for private moments behind locked doors! Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka homosexuality is still a punishable offense… therefore same-sex couples should for their own good be especially careful and avoid public displays of affection.

 

5 Greeting properly

In Sri Lanka one traditionally greets with folded hands at about chin height and a slightly bowed head. The Sinhalese greet each other with the word Ayubowan, and the Tamils with the word Vanakkam. Young men greet each other with the usual western handshake, but women are a bit more reserved still.

 

6 Legs away from Buddha

While not as rigorous as Thailand or other Buddhist countries, it would be nice if you could avoid putting your legs pointing at a Buddha statue. Whenever sitting in front of a Buddha statue, if possible, sit cross-legged or in a position where your feet don’t point towards the statue.

 

7 Stay polite

Western concepts of privacy are not well understood or appreciated in Sri Lanka. In effect, one is often suddenly asked by complete strangers personal questions like “Where are you going?”, “Where do you come from?” or “What’s your name?” This may annoy you after a while, but please try to stay polite! A smile and short answers are more than enough.

 

The people or Sri Lanka are usually polite and curious.

 

8 Asking before taking a picture

Most people in Sri Lanka like to be photographed. But out of politeness and because you wouldn’t want it for yourself, we recommend you to get an OK in advance (especially for close-ups). A bit of body language, facial expressions and a friendly smile are often enough.

 

9 Keep a right hand or use both hands

Sri Lankans use no cutlery and eat with the right hand (the left one is considered unclean). You do not have to do without cutlery (which is offered almost everywhere), but you should avoid using your left hand when handshaking or handing over things or money. If you want to do it correctly, hand over money and smaller objects with the right hand while touching the right forearm with your left hand.

 

10 Don’t make a big deal of it

The Sri Lankans are very welcoming hosts. If a faux pas happens to you, apologize but don’t worry, people aren’t going to get mad over a candid mistake.

 

Hast du Lust auf Sri Lanka bekommen? Weitere Infos zu Sri Lanka findest du hier: Destination Sri Lanka

Gerne arbeiten wir an deiner maßgeschneiderten Traumreise nach Sri Lanka. Ein Mail genügt.




To know a few phrases when going to a foreign country is always useful. There are more than just one language that are spoken in Sri Lanka but most of the Srilankan know Sinhala (only in the north where mostly Tamils live it might get tougher with only Sinhala). We think you should know these 21 phrases in Sinhala, the language of the Singhalese people of Sri Lanka.  

 

Helpful phrases in Sinhala

 

Meet & Greet

How are you?

My name is [Daniela].

What is your name?

Where are you from?

Ko-ho-ma-dha?

Ma-gé na-ma [Daniela].

O-yaa-gé na-ma mo-kak-dha?

O-yaa ko-hén-dha?

 

Foods and Drinks

I am hungry.

I want/need water.

Ma-ta ba-da gi-ni.

Ma-ta va-thu-ra o-né.

 

Important words

Yes

No

This

That

owu

nae

mé-ka

é-ka

 

Health & Emergency

I’m not feeling fine.

I need a doctor.

Help me!

Where is the toilet?

Ma-ta sa-ni-pa nae.

Ma-ta dhos-tha-ra ké-nék-va o-né.

Ma-ta u-dhauw ka-ran-na!

Vae-si-ki-li-ya thi-yén-né ko-hé-dha?

 

Language related

Do you speak english?

I don’t understand.

O-yaa in-gri-si ka-thaa ka-ra-na-vadha?

Ma-ta thé-rén-né nae.

 

Shopping

How much?

(It’s) too expensive.

Ki-ya-dha?

Ga-nang vae-di.

 

Traveling

Let’s go!

I want to go here!

Are there any rooms available?

Ya-mu?

Ma-ta mé-hé-ta yan-na o-né.

Kaa-ma-ra thi-yé-na-va-dha?

 

Polite Expressions

Please

Sorry / Excuse me

Thank you (very much)

No, thank you

kar-ru-naa ka-ra-la

sa-maa vén-na

bo-ho-ma-is-thu-thi

é-paa, bo-ho-ma-is-thu-thi

 

Special Expressions

Happy Birthday!

I love you!

Su-ba u-pan dhi-na-yak vé-va!

Ma-ma o-yaa-ta aa-dha-réyi.

 

If you want to learn how to pronounce these Phrases check out Dilshan’s great Youtube-Video:

 

 

Would you like to visit Sri Lanka? You can find additional information about Sri Lanka here: Destination Sri Lanka

We can also prepare a personalized trip adapted to your needs and wishes. Just write us: Mail

 




Sri Lanka is an ideal destination that you can visit almost all year round. All you have to know is where and when will it be raining, and adjust your trip accordingly. The rain moves from west to east; when the rainclouds sweep the west coast, you should focus on the east of the island, and vice versa. This is the only way to stay dry (more or less, of course… regarding the weather nothing can ever be 100% guaranteed).

 

 

When is the best time to travel to Sri Lanka?

 

In a nutshell …

…you can generally follow these rules:

  1. The best time to visit the west and south coasts are the months from December to April.
  2. The best time to travel along the east and north coasts are the months from April to September.
  3. You should avoid traveling during the months of October and November, which usually bring bad weather to the entire island.

 

 

In focus: The East

The beaches on Sri Lanka’s east shore are just as wonderful and breathtaking as the ones on the west and south coasts, but they are somewhat less known and visited. Surfers in particular should definitely visit the beach of Arugambay. You should avoid the eastern side of Sri Lanka during its rainy season, from October to January. Between February and September the weather is rather warm and dry.

+:         April May June July August September
~:         February March
-:          October November December January

 

The Skyline of Colombo.

In focus: The West

The capital of the island, Colombo, and more than a few very nice beaches and fascinating villages are located in the western half of Sri Lanka. The average temperature in this region is 25 degrees Celsius, making it a very attractive destination. The rainy season lasts from May to November, with a curious exception: September, which is usually a bit drier.

+:         December January February March
~:         April September
-:          May June July August October November

 

In focus: The North

The north of Sri Lanka is different to the rest of the island: the Tamils are the predominant ethnic group in this area, and the language and culinary traditions are two of the most obvious aspects where the contrast with the Sinhalese regions can be noticed. Just a handful of tourists have discovered the north so far, which is surprising, considering the astonishing beauty of the Jaffna peninsula and surrounding land. The rains are most intense during the Northeast Monsoon, which lasts from October to January.

+:         April May June July August September
~:         February March
-:          October November December January

 

The library of Jaffna

 

In focus: The South

The south of Sri Lanka attracts mainly diving, surfing and bathing enthusiasts. But also animal-lovers come here to visit the beautiful (and enormous) Yala National Park. From a cultural-historical perspective the old town of Galle is particularly interesting. To get your money’s worth here, remember that the monsoon season extends from May to August, and the months of October and November can be also very stormy.

+:         December January February March
~:         April September
-:          May June July August October November

 

In focus: The Highlands – Cultural Triangle and the Mountains

Kandy is the center of the highlands, and also the cultural and spiritual capital of the Sinhalese portion of the island. In these fertile regions you can visit and marvel at tea plantations, forest reserves and national parks, hike extensively and even climb mountains. For the more culturally-inclined the interior of the island also has much to offer: old royal cities and former capitals, ruins, countless temples and sanctuaries. An absolute must is the visit of the Cultural Triangle formed by Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy. You should however stay away from May to August and in the months of October and November, to avoid the heavy rains.

+:         December January February March
~:         April September
-:          May June July August October November

 

Rock Sigiriya

 

Would you like to visit Sri Lanka? You can find additional information about Sri Lanka here: Destination Sri Lanka

We can also prepare a personalized trip adapted to your needs and wishes. Just write us: Mail




A trip needs planning, especially when the destination is a remote and exotic country, like for example Sri Lanka. The two most relevant questions are of course: do you need a visa? And do you need special vaccinations? Here you will find the most important information to consider before your trip to the beautiful island of Sri Lanka.

 

You should prepare some things before enjoying the beaches of Sri Lanka. But don’t worry, it’s nothing complicated …

 

Before flying to Sri Lanka:

Health and entry requirements

Entry & Visa

Citizens of the European Union, Switzerland and Canada planning a trip to Sri Lanka need evidently a passport valid for at least 6 months. A classic travel visa is not required to enter Sri Lanka, but you must apply for an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA), which in effect is almost the same. The online application is short and simple, and you can find it here: https://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/. All you have to do is fill out the form in the website and pay 35 USD with a credit card (Visa, Mastercard or American Express). Within 24 hours you will receive a confirmation email with the approval of your ETA for Sri Lanka. This visa-like permit is valid for 30 days, starting from the date of arrival in Sri Lanka.

If you forgot your ETA at home and land in Sri Lanka without it, don’t panic! You can also apply for it directly at the airport. It just costs a few dollars more than before. You must of course also have a valid return ticket. If you enjoy your holidays in Sri Lanka so much that you want to extend your stay, once you have reached the 30-day deadline, then this is also possible: you will need to go to the Immigration Office, located in Colombo. There you can get a permit for up to 90 days. But beware: you have to go to the office at least eight days before the end of your ETA.

 

 

Health & Vaccinations

There are no compulsory vaccinations required by law (as long as you are not arriving from a yellow fever endemic country). However, we would recommend you to at least consider vaccinating against hepatitis A + B, diphtheria and tetanus. For people in a risk group additional vaccinations against typhoid fever, rabies, measles and Japanese encephalitis might be recommended. It is always a good idea to get direct advice from a doctor or ask at your local Institute of Tropical Medicine.

 

 

The annoying mosquitoes: Malaria & Dengue

Sri Lanka is officially malaria free since 2016, so you don’t have to worry about that. However, mosquitoes can also transmit dengue fever. Therefore, you should try to protect yourself from mosquito bites with repellents and mosquito nets.

Other important health rules

Those who travel far and away and find themselves trying exotic new dishes and spices should always pay close attention to their reactions and digestion, especially in tropical climates. Those with sensitive stomachs should be especially careful when eating, and drink only water from safe sources or that has been cooked.

New food colors, shapes and aromas can be very seductive, but you shouldn’t eat everything you see!

 

Therefore:

  • Drink only bottled mineral water with an intact cap, or boiled, filtered or otherwise sterilized water
  • No ice cubes!
  • Observe a basic rule: cook it, fry it, peel it… or forget it!

 

HIV / AIDS is common in Sri Lanka. As you know, it can be transmitted through blood contact and sexual intercourse, so please always make sure to use condoms and sterile disposable syringes and needles.

 

The sun shines intensely in Sri Lanka. Take care of your eyes and skin: use good quality sunglasses and sunscreen with an appropriate protection factor.

 

 

Would you like to visit Sri Lanka? You can find additional information about Sri Lanka here: Destination Sri Lanka

We can also prepare a personalized trip adapted to your needs and wishes. Just write us: Mail

 

 




Despite its name, the Ladakhi “Baby trek” is not a trail on which you can see little diaper-wearing babies hiking with miniature backpacks, quenching their thirst by drinking milk from feeding bottles, sitting by cozy streams and talking about the beauty of the Himalayas. But then, how the hell did this popular short trek in Sham come to be called like this? Well, let us tell you.

 

The Baby Trek in Ladakh

Reasons for its Name

1. Short daily walking distances

The daily stages are quite a good fit for people with average physical condition. Most hikers go from Likir to Tingmosgang or Ang (or vice versa) in 3 days time. The leg from Likir to Yangthang takes about 4 hours, depending on where you start. The next day is up to Hemis Shukpachan and the hike is 3 hours long at the most. The last stretch to Ang takes another 4 hours. Of course, there are many options to make the trip longer if you want: continue to Balukhar, near Khaltse, or hike up to Ulley or Saspotse, or walk to Ridzong from Hemis Shukpachan or Yangthang. All these choices are more or less baby-friendly, right?

2. “Low” passes

The mountain passes in this trail are relatively low. For Ladakh, that is. In fact, they are of course higher than most mountains in Europe. Between Likir and Yangthang, the trek crosses the two “baby” passes of Phobe La and Chagatse La – at barely 3,600 m of altitude each. A day after, the Tsermänchen La with its record-breaking 3,750 vertical meters stands ahead. And then on the last day two more passes to conquer for the already experienced Baby Trekker: first the Hemis Shukpachan, hardly noticeable due to a very gentle ascent, and then a final pass at “just” 3,720 m.

3. Logistically simple

In principle, you can walk the Baby trek alone. There are more or less nice homestays along the way, meaning that there’s no need for heavy tents and provisions to carry along. Wearing little and light also makes things easier. The trail is usually easy to spot. Only in winter, when the snow covers the paths, you can get lost. That happened already to this writer, who instead of reaching Ang ended up in a military camp, completely confused and facing many comically surprised soldiers just out of laundry duty. Tip: Book the homestays in advance, especially if you are traveling in the high season.

4. Easy to quit

Those who feel that the trek is too much to deal with and want to quit earlier can easily do so. The nearest road is always within reach. There is a continuous road from Likir to Hemis Shukpachan (although traffic is scarce and you don’t have to walk on it anyway, since there are still many old trails to hike on).

5. Gentle acclimatization

This hike is an ideal preparation for anybody planning a bigger trek (one that includes “adult” mountain passes over 4,000 m). On the Baby trek you can play it safe and acclimatize properly.

Honestly, the Baby trek does not really deserve its name. Any height above 3,000 m can be challenging for people not acclimatized. This trail includes several points over that altitude. You will feel it. Every single step up to the Baby Passes.

Now if you paid attention, you probably noticed that we haven’t answered the second question in the title: why aren’t babies hiking the Baby trek? Well, by definition, a baby is a child in the 1st year of life… There’s not much going on at such an age, not to mention hiking. Granted, the joke could have been better. 😉

(c) Josef Reifenauer

By the way, there is one way in which you can see (or even bring!) a baby in this trek: inside a baby carrier!




Top 10 Places and activities in Delhi

Delhi is huge, noisy, and for many people also a bit scary. But Delhi is more than just the ever-growing and always busy capital of India, constantly threatening with bursting from its seams. Indeed, there are countless charming and exciting facets to discover here: monuments and forts that tell sad and adventurous stories, and speak of the tragic fate of many heroes and heroines; vibrant places full of joy and color, where the old and the modern go hand in hand; and people (so many people!) from all the corners of India and the whole world. Delhi is and offers so much, that it can be overwhelming in its complexity.

We chose 10 of our most favorite places and activities to make it easier for you to chose which place is right for you.

1. Humayun’s Tomb

The Humayun’s tomb is one of the most interesting sites of the Mogul’s time. The construction of Delhi’s first Mogul’s grave was begun in 1564 after the death of the second Mughal ruler. Haji Begum, Humayun’s widow and mother of Akbar (1542-1605), kept a watchful eye on the works and even moved to its vicinity to better manage its construction. It served as a refuge for the last emperor, Bahadur Shah II (1775-1862), whom the British captured here in 1857. Due to its elegant Persian style, the grave is considered one of the most magnificent historical buildings in Delhi.


2. Qutab Minar

The first buildings of Muslim India are known today as the Qutb Complex. They were built on the ruins of Lal Kot, a fortress built in the 8th century by the Tomara Rajputs and expanded further in the 12th century by the Chauhans. Today one of Delhi’s most famous landmarks is found here: the pointed red sandstone tower of the Qutb Minar. A dominating presence amidst the ruins, the over-70-meters-high Qutb Minar is decorated with beautiful ornaments and verses of the Quran. The minaret was built in 1199 as a siege tower in conjunction with the ancient mosque of Qutb-ud-Din Aibak (1150-1210), founder of the Sultanate of Delhi. This marked the beginning of the Muslim supremacy over Delhi and a large part of the Indian subcontinent.


3. Hauz Khas Complex

The Hauz Khas complex in the south of Delhi encompassed a water reservoir, a mosque, a mausoleum and several pavilions around an urbanized medieval village with a story dating back to the 13th century of the Sultanate of Delhi. It was part of Siri, the second medieval city of India in the Sultanate of the Allauddin Dhilji Dynasty. The name Hauz Khas is Farsi in origin and means “royal water tank” or “royal lake”. The reservoir was built by Khilji to supply the inhabitants of Siri with water. In the time of Firuz Shah Tughlaq, the tank was decontaminated. Various religious buildings surround and guard the lake. Today’s Hauz Khas complex also includes a modern area with galleries, boutiques and restaurants.


4. Akshardam Temple Complex

The Akshardam Temple, also called Swamirayan Temple, is the world’s largest Hindu temple complex. It is one of the most recent temples of Delhi – the opening took place in 2005 – and in many ways it reminds of a religious theme park. A visit to this contemporary architectural wonder is undoubtedly recommended, but you have to remember to save enough time for it. One can spend easily a whole day in the complex.


5. Lotus Temple

The Lotus Temple is the newest of the world’s seven Bahá’í temples. The name derives from the shape of the building, which is reminiscent of a lotus flower. The building was opened on December 24, 1986, and since then has won numerous architectural awards and has been pictured in countless magazines and newspapers. The sacred building is one of the most famous of the Bahá’í faith and is visited annually by about three million people. The building is an outstanding example of modern architecture in India.


6. Chhatarpur Temple

The Chhatarpur Temple – or Shri Aadya Katyayani Shakti Peetham – is also located in South Delhi. It is considered the second largest temple in India, and third in the world, and is dedicated to the goddess Katyayani. The temple was founded in 1974 by Baba Sant Nagpal Ji, who died in 1998. This temple is totally constructed with marble in what is classified as a Vessara style of architecture.


7. Dilli Haat

Dilli Haat is THE market by definition: an open-air food-and-handicrafts market in southern Delhi. Merchants from all over India sell their products here: wood carvings, textiles, jewelry, pearls, metalwork, silk, clay works, paintings… in short, everything that makes the heart of a souvenir hunter beat faster. The dealers change every 15 days, so it is important to try and seize as much of Dilli Haat’s diversity as possible. If you get hungry while shopping here, there is no need to leave the area: there are many excellent restaurants and food stands next to the selling booths and huts.


8. Janpath Markt

The Janpath Market has a long history. It takes its name from the street that connects Connaught Place to Lodhi Road, and along which the market extends from beginning to end. The Janpath market is particularly popular with those who like to buy cheap – and this doesn’t only apply to tourists, but it’s true especially among the inhabitants of the big city. From the trendy to the modern to the classic and exotic, everything can be found here, making this market a frantic paradise for bargain hunters of all sorts.


9. Fab India

Fab India is an Indian shopping chain focused on textiles, furniture and fair trade products. All goods are made by craftsmen and artists from rural India. The first shop was opened in 1976 in Delhi. Today, there are more than 250 branches throughout India and abroad. The products of Fab India are especially great, because a part of the earnings are destined to improve the village infrastructures and support the development of the countryside. A total of more than 40,000 artists and craftsmen distribute their goods through Fab India.


10. Eat like a Mughal Emporer

Sightseeing can be as interesting as exhausting, so either between visits or at the end of the tour we will need to recover our energies with a meal in a restaurant. In this case, one that serves typical Mughlai-Food. The cuisine of the Moguls has strongly influenced the North Indian cuisine. It includes both very mild and spicy dishes, with a distinctive aroma and the taste of grated and whole spices. Debashree will take you to a Mughlai restaurant and enjoy lunch (or early dinner) with you.


 

If you want to discover Delhi in a special way, you can do this with our great Debashree.

Debashree is actually a journalist, but she’s grateful for every chance to leave the desk and show her city with fervent enthusiasm.

The tours with Debashree may be slightly more expensive than regular sightseeing tours in Delhi, but they are absolutely worth it because you get to see the city through her eyes. Nothing could be more personal and authentic!

 

Our tours in Delhi with Debashree


The historic Delhi
Meet the Moguls
The Moguls have influenced Delhi in many ways. Discover their history with Debashree and visit the Lodhi Gardens, the Tomb of Humayun, the Qutab Minar, the Hauz Khas Village and Purana Qila. Lunch is served in a Mogul restaurant.
Best Time: October-April (but can be taken all year-round)

from 58 EUR


The religious Delhi
The Temple Path
This tour focuses on the spiritual side of Delhi and includes visits to a selection of the following temples: Iskcon, Lotus, Jagannath, Chhatarpur and Askhardham. Lunch is served in a vegetarian restaurant.
Best Time: Oktober-April (but can be taken all year-round)

from 38 EUR


Shopping in Delhi
Trading and Bargaining
Wanna go on a hunt for souvenirs? Debashree takes you to the best markets and helps you deal with the (in)famous and persistent Indian haggling culture: Janpath Market, Lajpat Market, Dilli Haat and / or Paharganj Market. No commission!
Best Time: October-April (but can be taken all year-round)

from 35 EUR


Shopping without Sweating
Shopping with Air Conditioning
During the (pre) monsoon season, especially between May and September, shopping is considerably more pleasant in AC-equipped shops and malls. Debashree takes you to the shops at the Khan Market, the Hauz Khas Village, the Greater Kailash Market and the Janpath Emporium.
Best Time: all year long

from 32 EUR


 




We are often asked by our guests whether they should bring small (or sometimes larger) presents with them on their journeys, and if so what would be the best kind of gift. This isn’t a question with a simple answer, so we have written this post to look at the most important aspects.

 

Should you give presents to people in the host country?

We don’t think that arbitrarily giving stuff away is such a good idea. Of course, the intention is good, but receiving a present from an unknown, non-related person, almost as if it were a blessing from heaven, can seem and feel more than a bit strange. It is a loaded gesture that reminds of the patriarchal “rich white”, who acts as a savior and helps the “poor” while at the same time denies them the chance to help themselves.

Carelessly giving things to children has a negative effect!

No matter how good the intentions, random gifts – especially among children – often have the effect of inducing them to beg. Too frequently, even in remote mountain villages, one can hear little kids of preschool age asking for “one pen”, “one chocolate”, “one rupee” or “one bonbon”. Obviously someone in the past (maybe even the very recent past), passed through the region giving away pens, chocolate and other sweets (or simply money) to the children along the way, inadvertently sending the wrong message. In the short term sure, the children are happy, but in the long term this may not have a positive learning effect on the youngsters. On the contrary, their motto becomes a sad one: “I just have to look cute and beg a bit, then I will get presents.” (Not to mention the fact that many children barely brush their teeth, and too many sweets are not exactly beneficial for their dental health… but this is another issue.)

So… no presents?

Well, not necessarily. Gifts are ok, and a very nice gesture to show gratitude. So why not? When we are invited to someone’s house back in our home country, we usually also bring something for the host, or at least something to share with them. You can also do this abroad. Traveling in India often results in spontaneous invitations to tea, dinner or even a big feast. When this happens, one usually has already established some kind of relationship with the host, and so a small gift feels natural. A visit to a school is another appropriate ocassion for this: you can give for example crayons or football balls as a thank you.

Spontaneous invitations while traveling are memorable experiences. A small gift for the host is a nice gesture, but there are no expectations.

In the course of a trip, our guests often develop feelings of camaraderie and gratitude for the team members who support them, and many want to thank them in the end with something more than the customary tip. This is all totally ok, and will certainly bring joy to all parties involved. No need to worry about making a faux pas!

 

But what present to give?

This is a difficult question, because the answer always depends a lot on who you want to give the present to. In most cases you don’t know in advance who you will meet on the way – many encounters are spontaneous  and unplanned. But it is not necessary to bring something all the way from home: in case of need, you can also quickly get small gifts on the spot. This has the extra benefit of strengthening the local economy, and on the other hand it is usually much cheaper than in the home country. In situ, you will know more about what might happen the next day, and your guide will be happy to help you deciding what you could give to the hosts. If you are invited, for example, to a meal with a nomad family, he will advise you to get some fresh fruits and vegetables, as the nomads don’t have easy access to such foods.

As far as children’s gifts are concerned, we find balls, coloring pens, puzzles or other games and far more sensible than sweets. But if the idea is to give something typical from the home country, things like the Mozartkugeln from Austria or Finnish licorice are two good examples. Not only the children but also the parents will be happy to taste them!

 

A ball is a better and more lasting gift for children than chocolate and other sweets.

If you don’t want to bring certain things back home at the end of a trip, you can leave them in the host country too, especially if you think this will make someone happy. A good pair of sunglasses, which you would rather change for a new one, can be given for example to a horse handler in Ladakh, who often suffers from eye irritation due to the intense sun exposure. An old used (but not broken) fleece jacket or hiking pants may also find a very happy new owner. Such gifts are usually extremely well received, because high-quality trekking equipment is, in general, more expensive and harder to get in the host country.

And now the big BUT

Do not worry now about the big gift questions: What should I bring? How much should I bring? Should I plan in advance? There is absolutely no need to worry about it. Planning a trip is in itself already exhausting enough. Gifts are not a must and are usually not expected. If something spontaneous happens and there’s no material token available to give away, a well-intentioned thank-you with a sincere smile is worth at least as much. Because:

The best things about traveling are the unplanned experiences and unexpected situations, and finding new friendships that are not based on gifts and convenience.

The best things about traveling are unexpected, spontaneous encounters. Gifts and presents for the new friends are not necessary.

The best things about traveling are unexpected, spontaneous encounters. Gifts and presents for the new friends are not necessary.




3 changes for the Online-Visa for India

 

The indian government has further liberalised its visa regime aimed at bringing more tourists and business travellers to the country. The new changes came to effect on 1st April 2017. No it is not an april fool 😉 Here are the 3 most important changes regarding the Online-Visa.

 

With the e-Visa it is even easier getting to see the Taj.

 

1. 2 new Visa-categories for travelers

With effect from April 1, e-visa has been sub-divided into 3 categories: e-tourist visa, e-business visa and e-medical visa. Till now, e-visa was only for tourists

 

2. More nationalities & more (air-)ports

E-visa facility has been extended to nationals of 161 countries for entry through 24 airports (Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bagdogra, Bengaluru, Calicut, Chennai, Chandigarh,Cochin, Coimbatore, Delhi, Gaya, Goa, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mangalore, Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, Tiruchirapalli, Trivandrum & Varanasi). and three ports: Cochin, Goa and Mangalore.

 

3. More time for application & longer duration

The window for application under e-visa scheme has been increased from 30 days to 120 days and duration of stay on e-visa has been increased from 30 days to 60 days with double entry on e-tourist and e-business visa and triple entry on e-medical visa.

 

So what’s keeping you from going to India? Now it is even easier. Go to application for your e-visa: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html




Bhutan has a lot of monastery and not-religious festivals to offer. It is difficult to choose among them all. Our advice: If you have the time/possibility, visit festivals in the off-season. They are very special because they have less foreign visitors. Also travelling in off-season is more cheap than in high season. If you want to travel in high season be prepared to book early as flights and hotelrooms are quickly sold out during that time. Anyhow: The monastery festivals are a special highlight and if you go to Bhutan you should see at least one. 

Bhutan Monastery Festival

Overview: Festivals in Bhutan 2018

 

22.-24. February 2018
Punkha Drubchen in Punakha


25.-27. February 2018
Punakha Tshechu in Punakha


2.-17. March 2018
Chhorten Kora
in Trashiyangtshe


24.-26. March 2018
Gomphukora 
in Trashigang


27.-31. March 2018
Paro Tshechu 
in Paro


27.-29. April 2018
Ura Yakchoe
in Ura (Bumthang)


21.-23. June 2018
Nimalung Tshechu
in Chumey (Bumthang)


23. June 2018
Kurjey Tshechu 
in Choekhor (Bumthang)


15.-18. September 2018
Thimphu Drubchen
in Thimphu


17.-19. September 2018
Wangdue Tshechu in Wangdue Phodrang


19.-21. September 2018
Tamshing Phala Chhoepa in Choekhor (Bumthang)


19.-21. September 2018
Thimphu Tshechu in Thimphu


23.-25. September 2018
Thangbi Mani in Choekhor (Bumthang)


17.-19. October 2018
Chhukha Tshechu in Chhukha


24.-27. October 2018
Jambay Lhakhang Drup in Choekhor (Bumthang)


25.-27. October 2018
Prakhar Duchhoed in Chummey (Bumthang)


11. November 2018
Black Necked Crane Festival in Phobjikha


16.-18. November 2018
Monggar Tshechu in Monggar


16-18. November 2018
Pemagatshel Tshechu in Pemagatshel


6.-9. November 2018
Shingkhar Rabney in Bumthang


7.-9. November 2018
Chhukha Tshechu in Chhukha


17.-19. November 2018
Trashigang Tshechu in Trashigang


23.-25. November 2018
Nalakhar Tshechu in Choekhor (Bumthang)


13. December 2018
Druk Wangyel Tshechu at Dochu La, Thimphu


15.-17. December 2018
Trongsa Tshechu in Trongsa


15.-17. December 2018
Lhuentse Tshechu
in Lhuentse


 

Attention: Please reconfirm all dates – these dates are still tentative!