All posts by Grace

About Grace

Once upon a time I was a backpacker, but these days a little more comfort is required and I'd like to share my journeys with you. I trust this blog will keep you informed and updated with the art of travel. May Grace be with you!

Kerala, India. Part Two.

Theyyam is a popular ritual form of dance worship in Kerala and Karnataka which consists of thousand-year-old traditions, rituals and customs. The people of these districts consider Theyyam itself as a channel to a God and thus seek blessings.

There are about 456 types of Theyyam and performed by males, except the Devakoothu theyyam; this is the only Theyyam ritual performed by women and only in the Kulom temple.

In Kerala, Theyyam is performed predominantly in the North Malabar area and a similar custom is followed in the Mangalore region of neighbouring Karnataka known as Bhuta Kola.

Source: Wikipedia Theyyam

On the other hand, when it comes to international visitors dancing in the streets, you can’t mistake Eric from Malaysia ‘letting his hair down’ and moving to the grooves of the local drummers. Way to go!
When you’ve finished all that dancing in the streets, perhaps sharing a plate of Halwa at the Harivihar property in Calicut with Dr Srikuma would be ideal in reviving your energy. Once you start your Ayurveda treatment program here you’ll be charged up and ready to take on just about anything …
You’ll find that Harivihar is a lifestyle wellness house offering its guests the unparalleled experience of staying in a heritage property with a delightful ambience, along with the benefits of Ayurveda, Panchakarma therapies and Yoga practices which are well established here.
Harivihar which literally means abode of the divine is a 170 year old painstakingly restored royal-heritage homestead and Ayurveda resort in Kerala. Situated in Calicut, it’s part of the historic Malabar province. Old-world charm giving a sense of being at peace with oneself whilst engaging in the disciplined practices on offer. See http://www.harivihar.com
The passion shown here at Harivihar is exceptional and one of the reasons it’s a sought-after therapeutic institute. And, of course with well-known doctors whose credentials are second to none in giving holistic advice and the services of their well-trained experienced staff members; especially in ensuring all matters of concern are taken into consideration for treatments through initial consultations.
On a slightly different note, it was interesting to watch Martial Arts being taught to youngsters at the Krishna Beach Resort and a great way in preparing them for the challenges they may face in the real world. Umm … wished I’d had the same opportunity instead of relying on big brothers!

Mangrove Kayaking with Kavvayi Stories is a fun day out and they also provide camping facilitation for those with an adventurous nature. See Rahulnarainn on Instagram.
We had the opportunity to visit the Collective Weaving Centre in Chirakkal which had been opened in May, 1965. It has a fully fledged dye house and only use permitted colours and chemicals which do not contain any harmful amines. 

Magnificent woven pieces were too good not to take advantage of and take home as a souvenir.

Art of cigarette making in a traditional way for those needing a break from the hum drum of life.
Phani my willing model for the day is from Bahrain having a well-earned smoko whilst on our tour. He’s sporting an Aussie Akubra hat, smoking Indian style looking relaxed and ready for the next stage of our Malabar sojourn.
Living in Australia, reptiles and snakes aren’t exactly my favourite creatures, but having a healthy respect for them, I was glad they were held respectfully in their parkland abodes. Here at Snake Park, Parassinikkadavu (which is near to Kannur), is a modern sculpture of Aussie legend Steve Irwin (deceased).

It was an incredible sight to see our very own local Australian zookeeper and conservationist nicknamed as ‘The Crocodile Hunter’ carved by famous local artist Mr. Shyju Kannar being immortalised. The sculpture had been erected as a tribute to Steve Irwin on his 10th Death Anniversary and it’s located in front of the Crocodile enclosure in the Snake Park.
In the amazing highlands of Wayanad, we traversed by road through bushland and the dizzying heights of the magnificent landscape made fantastic photo opportunities.
Travelling through Kerala by rail is a very real consideration for those who love trains. The possibilities are available if you choose to cut out traffic congestion and in return you’re not having to worry about flying to another destination whereby the taxi ride to an airport can sometimes be more than the actual airfare paid. Trains are quite inexpensive and a great way of chatting to others whilst rocking and rolling along.

Rail journeys do experience the same kinds of delays as airlines for sure, but they don’t have the same weight restrictions as such along with their astronomical fees for being a few kilos over.

Easy to disembark the train with your luggage in tow and just grab a taxi or Uber if needing to continue onto your final happy holiday place.

Bekla Beach is a popular spot in the north west corner of Kerala, here with friend Tali checking out the impending storm.

Although the state has rainfall year round, Kerala experiences two monsoon seasons: the main season from June – August and the second from October to November.

Vroom, vroom … our Tuk Tuk driver ready to take myself, Marius and Bartek out for the afternoon in one of Malabar’s cities being Calicut – eating, shopping and anything else we could find of interest.

These people movers are fast, readily available, easily connected from one place to another and a refreshing ride too with a wind-swept hair style thrown in. Well for most of us anyway …

Kerala is the melting pot of Indian destinations whereby you can enjoy a diverse range of activities; from beaut white sandy beaches fronting the Arabian Sea to magnificent highlands with geared-up resorts that offer manageable budgets that cater for all styles of travellers seeking a cultural getaway.

Go on, reward yourself with a humbling experience whereby you’ll return home with a sense of having mastered a few challenges along the way; after all why travel if there’s not a challenge involved?

Kerala your one-stop shop for harvesting and reaping unforgettable experiences.

Next stop is Gorkana in the southwestern Indian state of Karnataka.

Kerala, India. Part One.

Kerala, with the rightful slogan of ‘God’s Own Country’ can be found in the southern region of India with its balmy, temperate personality exuding a tropical freshness for those needing a change of pace. Here the diversity of the cultures intwined with beaches, backwaters and mountains whereby the slopes are awash with tea and coffee plantations.

Did someone say spices? Come with a half-empty suitcase and you’ll return home with a myriad of delicacies and a new way of making that chai latte.

To visit India ensure you fill out the relevant visa details and at the time of writing this blog post the correct website for an eVisa at a cost of USD80.00 plus credit card fee. The participating countries are listed within the website: www.indianvisaonline.gov.in

Additionally, a health self declaration being the Air Suvidha Self Declaration Form is to be mandatorily filled out online by all international arriving passengers into India.

https://www.newdelhiairport.in/airsuvidha/apho-registration

Welcoming local musicians upon our arrival – always makes you feel special – even if only a domestic flight on this occasion. Most Indian airlines fly into Kannur (CNN) with excellent connections to international flights and return.

Kannur International Airport (CNN) servicing the northern region of Kerala including North Malabar, Kodagu and Mysore districts of Karnataka and the Mahé district of Puducherry. Relatively new and only opened on 9th December, 2018 it’s easy to navigate, spotlessly clean with friendly staff to assist wherever possible.

Though not accessible directly from Australia, it has the ease of an international airport’s arrival and departure areas like no other in India – adding to a stress-free holiday.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has modified the Visa Manual to include Kannur in the list of Integrated Check Posts (ICP) and is now the 29th airport in India to accept eVisas for foreigners who are permitted to attain them. Updated 7th June, 2022.

Read more at:
https://travel.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/visas-and-passports/keralas-kannur-international-airport-included-in-the-icp-for-e-visa-facilitation/92051943

The Incredible landscape of northern Kerala makes it an attractive getaway for those seeking a quieter less intrusive holiday than say, that of a beach location. Plenty of resorts here with natural surroundings of lush forestation and fauna make it an ideal location for nature lovers.
Kingfisher Beer from Kerala has qualities that make it a superb accompaniment to any occasion. According to Google, its name is synonymous with beer in India and stands for excitement, youth and camaraderie. “Cheers, I’ll drink to that!”
India has a long-standing tradition of serving food on banana leaves and is offered with an assortment of vegetables, pickles, appalam and other regional condiments (usually sour, salty or spicy). The banana leaf acts as a disposable plate and it in itself is not consumed – which is far more admirable than throw-away plastics and can be composted as well.

Especially popular in areas such as Kerala, eating food by hand off the banana leaves is considered quite healthy and acceptable. Serving an authentic south Indian spread at festivals and family get-togethers is a common tradition.

Recognise these? This photo is only showing a small portion of delectable spices available and the list is far more comprehensive of what I’ve captured here.

  • Pepper is called the ‘king of spices’ and is the most commercial crop produced in India.
  • Cardamom. The queen of aromatic spices as it is generally known as this spice is mainly used for medicinal purposes and for flavouring. (Yum always add these into my own chai tea and is my favourite beverage each afternoon.)
  • Chilies
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric
  • Coriander
  • Fenugreek
  • Mustard
Some kinds of herbs and other goodies for those wishing to improve their immune system.
Read all about it! Ayurveda’s healthy living is an old traditional way in India and a new way in modern times such as in Australia, which are seeking new methods of trying to change inherent lifestyles addicted to preservatives and other food additives.
(More about Ayurveda in my later blogs …)
Abida Rasheed is one of the finest home-based chefs – not just in Kerala, but she is gaining international recognition for her incredibly easy style in cooking great, wholesome cuisine suitable for any food lover.

My travel mates and I had the absolute pleasure of spending a Saturday afternoon with Abida who lovingly cooked up a magnificent Chicken Bryani. And, let me tell you we devoured it with gusto.

Abida is based in Calicut and she can be found on https://www.facesplacesandplates.com/abida-rasheed/ should you wish to book. Also, check her out on You Tube, Instagram and Facebook in case you can’t make it to Kerala in a hurry.

Happy to see signage wherever possible advocating the upkeep and disposal of throw-away plastics and the like being demonised for the want of a cleaner, greener environment for all concerned and of course future generations to enjoy.

When the environment is being cared for, then you have time to enjoy real forestation in a natural setting such as this one. Relaxing at the stunning rainforest within the Vythiri Resort Lakkidi, this is definitely one to ear mark for your next holiday to destress and go back to an essential winding down of your overworked senses. It’s an exquisite jungle getaway located in Wayanad, a largely mountainous district in northern Kerala and worthwhile checking out, especially when temperatures are predicted to be extremely high in other parts of India.
How about this? You might even have the pleasure of staying at the Vythiri Resort in a Tree House. Just to make all your friends envious and unless they bring the right beverages and food, they won’t be invited in because you can have it all to yourself listening to the birdlife and soft music …

Well, if you can’t manage a lofty Tree House? Don’t panic, we all settled for a fantastic pool party at the Vythiri Resort’s Pool Villa. Kerala enjoys a relaxed lifestyle and friends from all walks of life are easily made here and wherever there is water, upbeat music and a sense of fun then this is the place to be.
No stopping these new-found mates. Party Central!

Not to worry, if you don’t have a tree house or pool in your package deal, then you can relax in a superb room which is charming with a massive floor space, coupled with a jacuzzi and walk-in shower.

At the Vythiri, meals are included and mostly buffet style. No extra charges are incurred.

P.S. The Vythiri review was based on a two night stay and with no vested interest from me. For bookings contact me for quotes.

More of Kerala to follow in the next blog post.

Korcula, Croatian Island Cruising with Katarina Lines.

Next stop on the Split to Dubrovnik coastal voyage with Markan MV is the island of Korcula. Unlike its rock-star island brother of Hvar, it’s perhaps not as frequented by visitors alike. However, it’s quietness and low-key status is really appealing, far more intimate and again the locals are incredibly friendly.

Once inside the medieval walls, narrow streets are indicative of the antiquity Korcula has embraced in the past for its strategic location within the Adriatic Sea. Over many centuries, transient wanderers became settlers and of course, war became part of its history as many wanted to secure the island of Korcula for its own purposes. The imposing towers and architecture upon first sight, is a reminder the island wouldn’t be a pushover in the event of an attack.

A plethora of locally-made handicrafts are exquisite and of the highest quality. Umm, a small souvenir shouldn’t be too much to carry back home … surely?

It’s easily seen here upon arrival how the pecking order needs all watercraft to adhere to strict protocol,  particularly while docking in smaller harbours. Sidling up to one another for space saving in the harbour is common place along the Dalmatian Coast.

With the island of Korčula being the sixth-largest Adriatic island, stretching nearly 47 km in length, it’s easy to see why there needs to be a system due to the heavy demand in peak seasons.  Passengers walk between the open spaces of each ship to go onshore and enjoy the activities, food and surroundings.

Marco Polo’s birthplace is considered to be Venice but, according to some Croatian sources the exact date and place of birth are “archivally” unknown. The same sources also claimed the island of Curzola (today Korčula) as his possible birthplace.  Well, wherever he was born he certainly clocked up some kilometres in travelling the world whilst dealing with all kinds of merchandise.

An authoritative version of Marco Polo’s book The Travels of Marco Polo does not and cannot exist, for the early manuscripts differ significantly. The published editions of his book either rely on single manuscripts, blend multiple versions together.

Source: Wikipedia

Quiet coves and small sandy beaches dot the steep southern coast while the northern shore is flatter and more pebbly on the island. Its serenity is coupled with a time to reflect and here a need to keep an eye on the future – not too much happening at anytime which is a good thing. And if anything, I’d say Korcula is in excellent hands as mass tourism is not really evident here … yet.

People call the island ‘Little Dubrovnik’ because of its medieval squares, churches and palaces. There are numerous old stone buildings and fortresses (gradine) left behind by the Illyrians around 1,000 BC.

Shown here is St Peter’s Church (Crkva Svetog Petra) – This small Gothic church, dating from the 14th century, is one of the oldest in the Old Town.  The simple main facade is embellished with St Peter’s relief made by Bonino da Milano.

Bike riding and hiking are activities any visitor to the island might contemplate due to its quieter nature and beauty within the forestation and the island’s pathways.

Interestingly, Korkyra is connected to the legend of the beautiful nymph Kerkyra, daughter of Asop, God of Rivers. Poseidon the God of the Sea fell in love with her, kidnapped her and held her in captivity on the island.

Anyway, if it’s good enough for the Gods and Poseidon, I’ll be back for another visit without doubt!

Sunset at the end of the day is quite spectacular along the Dalmatian Coast and while cocktails are being set up on the Markan MV for our overnight sailing, we’re all savoring the idea of what could possibly top this off?

Next stop Tristenik and Dubrovnik.

Hvar, Croatian Island Cruising with Katarina Lines.


Meet our crew of Markan MV. They looked after us over the few days we were sailing around some of the most beautiful islands in the Adriatic. The wonderful thing about small ship cruising is that we had the opportunity to acquaint ourselves with the people who matter the most whilst onboard – the crew. For safety, service and of course divine food and beverages. Beware! They know how to party as well…


First stop from Split with Katarina Line’s Markan MV is the sun-drenched island of Hvar, Croatia. It’s the longest island in the Adriatic and one of the sunniest which makes it a favourite for locals and international travellers throughout the year.

Whether you’ve been to Hvar once, twice or several times, it has a plausible view one cannot become tired of, especially if you intend staying on to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere rather than a day trip over from the mainland.

Local guides are instrumental in delivering first-hand knowledge of their beloved island. A tour around allows us an insight into the day-to-day livelihood of past and present inhabitants, as well as some historical sights and activities for all ages.

And yes, there’s lots to see and do here and we have our running shoes on to either take in as much of the island in the allowable time frame, or simply enjoy a cuppa and admire what the cafe set come here for – a sedentary break from the ho-hum daily grind.

A quickie prayer? Many diverse cultural groups visit the local religious establishments in Hvar for some reflective time out, which is not only for the die hards, but tourists arrive in droves to marvel the many historical edifices which are dotted around the island.

The most impressive building in Hvar is definitely the Cathedral of St. Stephen (in the distance), standing on the eastern side of the town square, at the far end of the Pjaca, where two parts of the town meet.  Here at the plaza where visitors and locals congregate for their daily intake of a coffee extraction or cuisine with an abundance of fish-inspired dishes, freshly caught on the day for consumption by the ever-hungry visitors.


Hvar is best known for being a party island and don’t be a dummy when it comes to being a fashionista in Hvar. Make sure you are comfortable and wear garments geared up for sun-soaked activities along with a good sun screen. Australians know what it’s like to be burnt to a crisp after being out in the sun – even for a very short time, so slip, slop, slap as we say, with a zinc-like safe guard and drink lots of water, not just grog when out having a fun time.


See that fantastic castle on the hill? A trek up there will satisfy your kilojoule/calorie intake for the day.

It’s actually the Spanish Fortress, or its local name Španjola and was built in the early 16th century. It holds a rich historical collection and is built on a 2,000-year-old remains of an Illyrian fortress. Still, the most memorable part of the walk around its walls is the view expanding over the city of Hvar and Pakleni islands.


The hill overlooking the town of Hvar is a magnificent viewpoint. From this point, you can look down on the town itself, watch the comings and goings in the harbour and pretend it’s your dosage of meditation for the day.

Photo courtesy of Erik Drien, Norway.


Start walking and take your time as it’s a long hike up past the beautiful park and further on up the hill.

Oh Erik, you’re coming back? Have a rest mate – water, coffee or a beer? Oh ok, beer of course! You’re Norwegian right?

Photo courtesy of Erik Drien, Norway.


And when you do catch your breath, have a seat and relax in the quaint surrounds of Hvar, you won’t be disappointed with the local hospitality either. Plants are always friendly too.


Every budding sleuth, crime novelist, detective and TV police drama writer – pay homage.

Ivan Vučetić, born July 20, 1858, is one of the lesser-known native sons of a country that produced the likes of Nikola Tesla. Yet he is the father of modern dactyloscopy — the analysis and classification of fingerprints. Vučetić’s legacy is honored in Croatia primarily with a bust in Hvar’s eponymous city, his birthplace.

So off we go onto the next stop which will be Korcula Island. Think a nana nap is in order.

Love surprises and fresh fish arrived in a parcel which looked very much like a dumpling. But, this delicious and tasty portion of melt-in-your-mouth marvel is to be savoured and washed down with an excellent Croatian wine.

Cruising the Croatia Coast from Split. Part One

When you fly into Split in Croatia and you see the coastline from above, you instantly know the bucket-list cruise you’ve been wanting to do is about to become a reality. Resnik Airport being the international airport serves the city of Split 19 km away on the west side of Kaštela Bay.

Travelling by bus from the airport to the city centre costs about 40 Kunas (approximately A$8.50 one way per adult). It’s easy enough as the buses wait outside to the left after exiting the airport doors. Taxis are about 250 Kuna and private transfers are also available for about 35-45 Euro. Ensure you ask for the right bus in the direction you’re wanting to travel. The airport bus, (if that’s your choice) will take you directly to the main bus station in Split – which is next to the train station and right there at the port. Perfect if the first thing you intend to do is catch a ferry or bus to somewhere else.

It’s a small facility and the growing number of visitors each year has the authorities on notice to consider establishing a larger and more modern airport.

Now, meet my small luxury ship – MV Markan of which I’m going to share my trip over the next couple blog posts of this unforgettable voyage from Split to Dubrovnik – via some of the most scenic areas along the Dalmatian coastline. MV Markan was built in 2018 and is so shiny and new!

Various categories of small vessels including the MV Markan are bookable with Katarina Lines which happen to be the most well-known operator in Croatia. They can also organise land tours to coincide with the cruise options available.

Looking quite swish and comfy with a small number of cabins making the journey so much more intimate with other guests – knowing them much better than say an ocean liner. MV Marken has a maximum of 19 guests onboard whereby the service on offer is second to none.

MV Markan’s maiden voyage was in 2018. Some features include:
48.5 m length
8.8 m width
Sun deck 250 m2
7 to 9 crew members
19 guest cabins
9 VIP cabins with
Private balconies
2 double/twin
8 double/twin

Wifi being available throughout the ship makes it easy to connect with others, allowing them to be envious of your every port call along the way. Depending on the areas once out to sea, it may be a little touch and go on occasion. But that’s fine with me when you are wanting to disconnect for a while and simply enjoy the facilities, food and not to mention the views!

But, before we all head off for a marvellous expedition, it’s time to explore some more of Split with a city tour and a local guide – it’s always a must-do activity. Learning and understanding the history and architecture of this picturesque small city will have you surprised with just how much history is attached to its resume.

The promenade of Split is the main focal point when it comes to visitors wanting a sea view and seeking culinary delights to enhance that experience.

This view from the main thoroughfare and foreshore, the  main facade of the Palace’s intended use as the retirement residence of Diocletian, was built at the turn of the fourth century AD. Today it forms about half the old town and there’s numerous small boutique shops offering all kinds of goodies.

Anyway, you don’t always have to sit with hundreds of other tourists along the seaside, you can sometimes find a quaint family-owned business such as Kuharica (with their own Cook Book) who make traditional cuisine such as seafood and gnocchi. Here’s Lucy (Manager) and I inside the walls of the ‘palace’ and away from the hustle and bustle of the main-stream areas.

So many of the younger people particularly now in hospitality and tourism in Croatia speak superb fluent English … and  I’m truly grateful to them for their efforts. Lovely experiences such as being able to have a coffee here and a lively chat with Lucy divulging to me, what makes Split tick along as a destination.

Among the European cathedrals this one in Split finds its seat in the oldest building – the Mausoleum of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Inside the cathedral, at the end of the second millennium, the history reconciles ancient pagan Christian Medieval and modern heritage. Mausoleum of the Emperor – persecutor of Christians becomes a cathedral in the 7th century where altars with relics of St Domnius and St Anastasius, martyrs were executed in the nearby Solin take an honorary place.

The Cathedral today is primarily a place of liturgy, with a millennium long continuity, best reflected in the Sunday mass and the renewed splendor of the procession on the St Domnius’s day – the day of Split’s patron saint.
Source: Split Tourism Board.

Anyway, there’s another ‘religion’ happening in Croatia. Game of Thrones has just opened its new store in Split for all those cult followers to make haste and grab some souvenirs.

Dubrovnik was the main filming location in Croatia for the King’s Landing, a fictional city in Game of Thrones, the famous television series based on the series of fantasy novels “A Song of Ice and Fire” and distributed by HBO.

At one of the entrances to the Palace, don’t miss testing your luck of making your wishes come true by touching the big toe of the grandiose statue of the Gregory of Nin, the work of the great Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović.

The big toe of this towering monument to the Croatian national hero has been worn down from years of superstitious rubbing I’m told. Umm I assumed it was good luck.

Anyway, I’m just hanging around in the warmth of the beaut sunlight on the far side of the promenade waiting for our departure on MV Markan later on. I didn’t have anyone rubbing my toes for luck!

Next blog post, cruising from Split to Hvar, part two.

Ladakh, North India

Flying into Leh the Capital of Ladakh in the northern region of India is so spectacular and breath taking with terrific aerial views of the mountainous landscape. One of the main reasons to fly is that many of the roads are closed in the winter, also saving you a couple of days driving, therefore more time to enjoy in the surrounds of Ladakh.

There’s a plethora of airlines in India which fly to Leh from Delhi and it’s approximately 90 minutes flying time. When the weather is not ideal, you can expect delays and disruptions, ensure you go prepared and check your onward schedules/connections as they may be affected.

Ideally, include a side trip with the same carrier as your international ticket – this usually includes the same luggage allowance as a through fare and any delays should be re-accommodated by the ticketing airline.

Coming from Sydney, Air India with a stopover/transit in Delhi was ideal as this airline has the accessibility to fly into India’s International Terminals, even when travelling domestically within India – making a transfer onto other destinations seamless with a generous weight limit in economy class.

On the up side, driving allows you to acclimatise more easily to the higher altitudes of which you will encounter along the way.

After an early breakfast, we headed towards the Nubra Valley. The 140 kilometre trip takes  approximately 4 to 5 hours in a small tourist bus. Via Khardungla (18,380 feet), it’s best known as the Highest Motorable road in the World – perhaps not for the faint-hearted tourist, but it’s an experience you won’t regret… or forget.

This is the way to one of the most exciting and adventurous  destinations to visit in India.

We traversed the winding passage ways and it was comforting to come across an Oxygen Cafe-cum-Medical Centre which was opened by the Ladakh Rescue Centre in recent times.  It’s definitely a recommended stop en-route to recharge your batteries, toilet and cafe break. A great opportunity where you can exchange stories with other excited travellers.

The Nubra Valley which is not too far by distance from the Rescue Centre, is still some time away before our arrival there considering it’s an unsealed roadway. It’s obvious the roads are somewhat ‘one way’ in most parts and difficult to negotiate when passing oncoming vehicles – or worse – taking over!

No explanation needed … thanks Giovanni for keeping us on top of things!

Introducing you to the Nubra Valley.  A jaw-dropping spectacle of geographical magnificence.

Nubra is a tri-armed valley located to the north east of Ladakh Valley and Diskit is the capital which is about 150 kilometres north from Leh town. It’s a high-altitude cold desert with rare precipitation and scant vegetation. Needless to say, it’s quite a display of parched fascination.

If you’ve not seen a real live yak before, then understandably you might be just as frantic as us to secure a photo of this mammoth beast with the shag-pile coat.

Happy to have stayed at The Grand Dragon Ladakh, which is the only five-star property in this area boasting fabulous views of the mountains from almost every room.  A relaxed outdoor setting finished off each day of sightseeing with a few well-earned bevvies in hand.

Local markets are filled with fresh goodies with many seasonal vegetables available. All organic here.

Donkeys in the main tourist areas are immune to impatient drivers. After all, it’s been a hard day scouting for a bite to eat when there’s no one else to give you a hand out.

The way to the temples you ask? There’s no shortage of monasteries and temples in Ladakh, in fact I was starting to wonder if I was mistakenly in Tibet.

Thikse Gompa or Thikse Monastery is a gompa affiliated with the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It’s located on top of a hill in Thiksey approximately 19 kilometres east of Leh.

The impressive complex has 12 stories and is built at an altitude of 3,600 metres (11,800 ft). A spiritual retreat with amazing natural surrounds and traditional Buddhist architecture.

Temples and monasteries are found in the most remote places like this one; perched up on a hill and many others which can be found are built on the side of a mountain.

Monks at the temples also take pleasure in spinning the prayer wheels.

A very international group we were and it’s always a treat when everyone’s a good sport.

Some Benefits of Travelling in a Tour Group
  • Someone to show you the way and given an in-depth commentary
  • Instant friends (well hopefully)
  • Safety if anything should go wrong
  • Combine a trip with friends/family and share costs
  • Reassurance for your family when away
  • Group discounts
  • See things you wouldn’t be able to usually

Looking through the window at the old Summer Palace, a 12 foot statue of Buddha oversees the valley.

At the end of the day, it was rewarding to have had the opportunity to visit one of the most interesting and humble destinations I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing – not just in India but on an international scale.  And yes, I’d return to Ladakh in a heartbeat!

Some good advice!

  • Information was correct at time of posting this blog and our visit took place at the end of September and early October, 2018. However, the weather can change overnight as seen in this photo of the Pass on our return.

Season (Months) Best Time and Way to Visit Leh (Ladakh) 1st April to Mid-May
  • Mid May to July. During this time, only the Srinagar-Leh highway opens up, this is just not the right occasion to visit
  • August to Mid-September
  • Mid-September to Mid-October
  • Mid October to Mid-November
  • Mid-November to March

Mumbai, India

Republic Day in India is the same date as Australia Day and I was a little astounded so many Indians actually knew this and wished me a happy day for my own country’s festivities.

Mumbai formerly known as Bombay is the capital city of the Indian state of Maharashtra. It’s the most populous city in India with an estimated city population of 22 million – the whole population of Australia could almost fit into it …

A group of worshippers graciously allowed me a photo of their routine. Republic Day is a festivity of religion, food and happiness for a nation which is so diverse in its own culture and independence.

So here I am back in Mumbai and as you can see the pedestrian is saying his daily prayers for religious purposes, only I’m about to say a prayer to cross the road safely.

Mumbai’s traffic is still the same as my last visit in 2005.  New infrastructure is being implemented slowly; mostly overhead due to the fact the city was built on reclaimed land and is difficult to negotiate. With a view to improve transportation and communication, the Government of Maharashtra and the Railway Ministry – along with financial assistance from the World Bank – they took on the Mumbai Urban Transport Project.

Victoria Terminus is an area with a thriving market which attracts locals and international visitors by the bus and train load.

The Terminus is walking distance to CMTS which offers only a handful of local areas a train service.

Traditional Indian cuisine is offered to the masses at a fraction of restaurant prices and perhaps better quality and flavour. To date,  I’ve yet to be ill from street food – incredibly I’ve had ‘Delhi Belly’ from eating in top-class establishments.

One piece of advice I’d been given years ago and before travelling to India, was to start eating yoghurt and food produced by bacterial fermentation of milk prior to arriving. The bacteria used to make yogurt known as yogurt cultures, allows the fermentation of lactose by these bacteria which produces lactic acid, it then acts on milk protein to give its texture and characteristic tart flavour. It assists in settling a tummy which may not be used to spicy hot foods.

Sometimes it’s a difficult choice when there’s so much variety on hand and it’s a sensory overload of wafting exotic aromas, bright colours and sounds of excitement abound.

Haircut anyone? Handy to know you can head off to the market and come go home looking cleaned up, refreshed and ready to watch the cricket.

Take your pick – chicken, beef or whatever? Vegetarians move on please.

Nothing like a free food waste collector to call by. A win/win for everyone. Cows are considered sacred by Hindus in India and the favourite animal of Lord Krishna. They serve as a symbol of wealth, strength and abundance. But, people who want to protect these creatures have to deal with those who think cows are a nuisance.

Do I want a smooch? You better watch out you’re not the next one on the menu.

Time to go back to the hotel after a day’s outing which also included Linking Road and Kurla. Certainly don’t think I’ll take the train again; even with a dedicated carriage for ‘Ladies’ I’d already been dumped onto the platform from the avalanche of passengers trying to alight the train. Yeah, yeah I know, stupid tourists always in the way.

At Kurla Station in east Mumbai, the market was a myriad of stall holders and there’s no shortage of food and goods on sale. Obviously, plenty of tuk tuks to take me home – rates vary and always pays to be a decent kind of negotiator in India.

While waiting for my ride, thought it’d be great to have a chat with a Police Officer about the area, only to receive more kick-ass comments about India thrashing Australia in the cricket at home just recently.

Better do some work whilst in Mumbai and who better to cross paths with but my mate Firoz of Perth Aussie Tours in Western Australia.

Direct flights from Australia are from Sydney and Melbourne to Delhi with Air India (AI). Connections are generally seamless as it’s only Air India and Jet Airways which have flights arriving/deparing into the international terminals of Delhi (main hub of AI) and Mumbai. Both airlines have a myriad of domestic flights throughout the countrry. Air India also allow a generous 30 kg on an international ticket issued with connecting domestic flights.

Stay tuned for some more blog posts of Incredible India!

Odisha, India


If travelling from Australia, the International Airport in Calcutta is the nearest gateway for your connection onto the state of Odisha (also called Orissa) and is one of the 29 states of India.

Known as ‘The City of Temples’, Bhubaneswar is one of the most culturally effervescent cities in India – being the state capital of Odisha, it’s a sprawling metropolis that very ably preserves the balance between upholding olden values and cultural heritage on one hand and being able to conform to changing modern times on the other.

Bhubaneswar is home to some of the finest temples including the Lingaraja Temple and Mukteswar Temple. Nearby places of interest include the sacred pilgrimage town of Puri and the quiet ocean-side village of Gopalpur-on-Sea. Other tourist attractions include the State Museum, Bindu Sarovara and Nandan Kanan.


First stop after a quick and easy transfer from the airport (by Indian standards), our hotel of choice is the Mayfair Lagoon which is one of the best luxury hotels in Bhubaneswar and spread out across ten acres in the heart of the capital city of Odisha.

If you’re after authentic spicy food and don’t mind a kick starter at breakfast, then this hotel provides some of the best offerings – especially with all those dragon-breathing accompaniments!


Once on the way with our group, we realise the north-east area of India is not as well known as other states which makes it all the more interesting; to dig deep and find out what’s intriguing about the region and it’s point of difference.


One of our first stops is at a market place along the way. With smiley faces and willing models for the morning’s photos, it sets the mood for the remainder of the day – easy going and relaxed.


No shortage of fresh vegies and fruit – can’t imagine anything other than organic here.


Marsala chai? Yes please. Cost? About twenty cents.

One very happy fat cat …
Dhauli is a historical place associated with famous Kalinga War and Peace (3rdcentury BC). The great Mauran King Asoka had written here in his Edicts about the people of Kalinga with an elephant gure atop. In the year 1972 a Shatni Stupa – the reminiscence of Buddhism is constructed here to spread the message of peace and brotherhood.


Moving on, passing fields of buffalo, it’s great to be in a region without all the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities.


River Rushikulya originates at an elevation of about 1,000 metres from the Daringbadi hills of the Eastern Ghats range. The region from where the river originates, Daringbadi is called the ‘ Kashmir of Odisha ‘.

The basin is rich in mineral wealth with the major economic ones being clay, lime stone, manganese, sand talc, black sand and other grinding materials.


Puri: Jagannatha Temple is an important pilgrimage destination, built with the help of Tamil Chola King Kulothunga Chola. The present temple was rebuilt from the 10th century onwards on the site of an earlier temple.

This temple is famous for its annual Ratha Yatra, or chariot festival in which the three principal deities partake.

“Vidyapati was a Maithili poet and a Sanskrit writer. He dropped mustard seeds on the ground on the way to Jagannath. The seeds germinated after a few days, which enabled him to find the cave later on. On hearing from him, King Indradyumna proceeded immediately to Odra desha (Odisha) on a pilgrimage to see and worship the Deity. But the deity had disappeared. The king was disappointed. The Deity was hidden in sand. The king was determined not to return without having a darshan of the deity and observed fast unto death at Mount Neela. Then a celestial voice cried ‘thou shalt see him.’ Afterward, the king performed a horse sacrifice and built a magnificent temple for Vishnu.”
Source: Wikipedia


Heading towards the Sun Temple and as always – rain, hail or shine conveniently, there’s a market nearby to any major tourist site. Sacred cows take precedence in having the right or way and obviously not in any hurry for anyone.

Conceived as the cosmic chariot of the sun god Surya, this massive, breathtakingly splendid sculpture was constructed in the mid-13th century, probably by Odishan king Narashimhadev I to celebrate his military victory over the Muslims. Seven rearing horses (representing the days of the week) move this stone leviathan on 24 stone cartwheels (representing the hours of the day) around the base. The temple was positioned so that dawn light would illuminate the deul (temple sanctuary) interior and the presiding deity.


The Konark Sun Temple has been undergoing restoration for some time but, still worthy of a visit as it’s a world heritage monument known worldwide for its grandeur and intricate architectural  detail.


Train travel? Just like any other  state of India, Odisha too is very well linked with the means of rail with the incredible Indian Railway Network.  I’d recommend booking directly with a booking office or a travel agency due to the complexity of the Indian network.


Southeastern Odisha hugs the coast of the Bay of Bengal and is home to the state’s most visited spots. Great to see a sign advocating what none of us want to see near any waterway! Should be more notices like this one.

The nearby lonely virgin Beach Chandrabhaga is another attraction; calm, smooth waters makes it a family-friendly bathing area during the hot and steamy days.


Odisha has 485 kilometres (301 miles) of coastline along the Bay of Bengal on its east, from Balasore to Ganjam. Although, we were meant to sail off for a boat ride, you can tell by the smiley faces of the locals they were just as happy to meet with us – regardless of the inclement weather on the day.

Travel Agent Vivian who was part of our original group had the opportunity to visit some more remote areas of Odisha with many tribes who inhabit these regions. Colourful, inquisitive and interesting people who live a quiet but productive way of life whereby less is more in a materialistic world.
Photo: Courtesy of Vivian from Ruby Travel, Italy.

“Of all the states of India, Odisha (Orissa) has the largest number of tribes, as many as 62 that constitute an impressive 24 percent of the total population of the state. These tribes mainly inhabit the Eastern Ghats hill range that runs in the north-south direction. More than half of their population is concentrated in the three districts of Koraput (undivided), Sundergarh and Mayurbhanj.”
Source: Odisha Tourism
Photo: Courtesy of Vivian from Ruby Travel, Italy.


There’s a myriad of airlines flying into Calcutta with excellent connections onto Bhubaneswar (BBI). Book your domestic flight all the way through from Australia  to BBI via another hub and you’ll be allowed the same weight restrictions all the way –  however, must be issued on the same international ticket.

Odisha experiences four meteorological seasons: winter (January to February) being the best time to visit, pre-monsoon season (March to May), south-west monsoon (June to September) and north-east monsoon season (October–December).

Darjeeling – West Bengal, India


Tourism plays a major part in the economy of any country. But, before mass tourism becomes a problem, development needs to be carefully considered with thought-provoking concepts of how to solve it before any damage to the landscape becomes evident and problematic.

Before leaving Kalimpong for Darjeeling, we all appreciated the beauty and serenity of the Teesta River basin, while still in its infancy of being converted into a major tourist region.


On our way to Darjeeling, there certainly was no shortage of hair-pin bends. From Bagdogra, the road distance to Darjeeling hill town is 94 kms (if you take the national highway NH-55, also known as Hill Cart Road). It takes about 3.5 hours to reach Darjeeling by car on that route. However, the drivers from Bagdogra airport take a shorter route via Rohini or sometimes via Pankhabari if the Rohini road is closed for some reason. You save 30 minutes and a distance of 12 kms. These roads are quite narrow, steep and winding. But this is the stipulated route for pre-paid taxis from the airport unless you are part of a tour of which we are on this journey.


A stop along the way we basked in the natural beauty of the Gorumara National Park and with its super thick forestation, let’s hope it stays that way …


We visited a nursery with all kinds of plants and fauna. With a coffee in hand, it’s a delight to absorb all the love and care that goes into these beauties.


Travelling along Hill Cart Road, beautiful scenery is evident most of the way and make sure you give yourself plenty of time to have a break as there’ll be quite a few breath-taking excuses to take that precious photo.


Spices galore. Now you’ll be salivating for a taste test and bargain away for some more unusual goodies.

Darjeeling known as a hill town was originally set up as a sanitarium or health resort by the British in the mid 1800s. But over the years, it earned its name for its world famous aromatic tea. Then with the opening up of roads and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway for tourism, it’s become a drawcard with travellers from all over the world.


Ghum Himalyan Railway being the highest heritage-listed station in the world is a must see – and to experience yourself!

Ghum is the highest altitude station on the Darjeeling Himalayan Rail track at 2,225.7 metres (7,407 ft). Here the toy train stops for 30 minutes where it’s possible to visit to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Museum as well.


Affectionately known as the Toy Train, only few would let go an opportunity such as this whilst in Darjeeling; to ride on one of the world’s favourite and very cute trains. For me personally, it was the most pressing of all sites/attractions to visit and definitely on my to-do list. After all, this Toy Train has been accorded the UNESCO World Heritage status.

Operating on narrow gauge tracks since the 1880s, it provided an important transport link to various parts of the Darjeeling hills and lower plains, the train is still unmatched when it comes to occasioning the magnificent beauty of the mountains.


The Toy Train’s joy rides operate from the main Darjeeling Railway Station. It’s a 2-hour round trip from Darjeeling up to Ghum and back covering a total distance of 14 kms. There are several such round trips during the day starting in the morning. Number of rides per day depends on the demand during the month or season. The train stops for 10 minutes at the Batasia Loop.

At Batasia the train makes a loop around a wonderful manicured garden. The view of Darjeeling town and the snow peaks of Kanchenjunga from here are unparalleled. The War Memorial was built in honour of the Gorkha soldiers who sacrificed their lives and is located at the centre of the Garden.
Interestingly, the Gorkhas came from this region and were renown for their fighting ability and courage. “Better to die than be a coward” is the motto of the world-famous Nepalese Gorkha soldiers who are an integral part of the British Army. It’s said they still carry into battle their traditional weapon – an 18-inch long curved knife known as the kukri. Nowadays, the Gorkhas say say it’s used mainly for cooking!


Early in the morning and yes, long before sunrise we had to secure our spot at Tiger Hill, and yes, it was worth the wake-up call to enjoy the view of the colossal Kanchenjunga with many other snow-clad eastern Himalayan peaks which  can be seen from here.

Locals know there are many visitors who relish the smell of a good coffee, regardless of the alarm clock’s timing and there weren’t any shortage of offers – and cheap too.


Later in the day we had the chance to experience an original tea plantation in the near to Darjeeling.


The Ginger Tea House is an established Bed and Breakfast style stay giving guests first-hand experience of how a tea plantation operates, along with a tour of the  in-house operational aspects.


We were greeted with exquisite food and welcoming beverages for a delightful afternoon tea service.


So when it’s a National Holiday and your driver can’t pass by the students and workers dancing in the middle of the roadway of the plantation, what do you do?


Easy, you all jump out of the van,  join in with them and simply have fun!


The centre of Darjeeling is quite busy, but some of the most interesting heritage sites are high above with magnificent views sweeping back over the valley.


View of the Himalayan Mountains from the township which is a  gem and known for its youthful vibe combined with a colonial charm throughout the area.


Final resting place for Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. His historic ascent of Mt. Everest along with Edmund Hillary inspired and guided the country to set up the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling. This is the first of its kind in India where the climbing legend served as Director of Field Training since its inception and a must-see.

Kalimpong – West Bengal, India


The nearest airport to Kalimpong is Bagdogra in Siliguri and it’s a quick flight from Calcutta. All major domestic airlines from various Indian cities offer good connectivity between Bagdogra and the rest of India. Direct flights to Bagdogra are available from Delhi, Calcutta and Guwahati.


Enroute to Kalimpong , we drove through the Teesta Barrage Project, where we witnessed one of the largest irrigation operations – not only in West Bengal, but also in the entire eastern region of India.


Travelling along the Teesta River’s banks showed very peaceful, yet captivating scenery – this is where some of us would’ve loved to have stepped out of the vehicle and happily walked for some time to admire the charming waterway’s tranquillity.

Kalimpong is well connected by road with Siliguri, Gangtok, Kolkata and Darjeeling and regular buses operate from these areas to the township. Two beautiful tourist places, Darjeeling and Gangtok are just 50 and 75 km away respectively.


River Teesta originates at Tso Lamo, Sikkim, it flows through West Bengal and then enters the Rangpur division in Bangladesh. It’s the fourth largest among 54 rivers shared by India and Bangladesh.


Upon arrival our Hotel the Silveroaks revealed a charisma reserved for the discerning travelling guest who is either on their way to Darjeeling, or returning as Kalimpong  (which by the way), is a reasonable stretch by road from Bagdogra Airport for our first overnight stay.


Next day, we started off in the thick of a small traffic jam with sacred cows always having the right of way. Lorries, motor bikes and any other mode of transport you can think of goes about its daily livelihood.


Kalimpong was earlier a subdivision of the Darjeeling district, but now it’s a separate district of West Bengal effective 14th Feb 2017 with an area of 1,056 square kilometers and inhabiting 49,403 people (as per 2011 census). All around, the mountain ranges are snow capped and include Deolo Hill with Sikkim and Bhutan being in the near.


How to reach Kalimpong by rail? The bordering rail line is New Jalpaiguri, which is almost 77 km away. This is an important railway station in the northern Bengal and also serves as a gateway to the remote northeastern India. You can easily take trains from different Indian cities to this region.


Jang Dong Palriffo Brang is a beautiful monastery which is located in the majestic hill station of Kalimpong. It’s the  ideal place for meditation and the Buddhist monks everyday offer prayers within for spiritually inclined people.

Model for this day was an unknown little doggie who was happy to sit and have his photo taken. A reminder that pets make the best mates.


Elisa who is our travelling companion from Spain, is testing out the prayer wheels. Luckily for us all, we travelled safely and had a great time in West Bengal.


A fitting memorial for the best-known Sherpa. Tenzing Norgay GM OSN, a Nepali-Indian Sherpa mountaineer from this region, He was one of the first two individuals known to reach the summit of Mount Everest in Nepal, which he accomplished with New Zealander Edmund Hillary on 29th May, 1953.

P.S. If you happen to ever be in Aoraki  Mt Cook, New Zealand there’s The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre of which a large part of the exhibition is a tribute to Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.


Outlook from the Monastery shows the mountain ranges stretching across West Bengal for all to enjoy its beauty and serenity outside of the larger cities of India.


Along the way to Darjeeling, we had the opportunity to enjoy a break at a lovely garden estate and flower nursery.


Not too long to go (and not as long as it might take this worker), we’ll arrive at our next stop of Darjeeling.

Might only be approximately a three-hour’s drive from Kalimpong, but it’s an extremely winding road one which will keep you seated.

For group booking enquiries, you can contact me directly through this website.