Let the B Begin!

B-schools mean business! What better lesson can one learn on the first day at IIMK! I hadn’t even joined college and here I was submitting assignments and following deadlines. And the very first day – the registration day – was a clear indicator of how things worked here. The day had a proper itinerary from morning to night. Talk about an organized and systematic life! Continue reading Let the B Begin!

A Guide to Punakha – home to the most beautiful Dzong in Bhutan

The erstwhile capital of Bhutan, Punakha is one of the most beautiful regions of the Himalayan kingdom. Two of the main rivers of Bhutan – the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu (Chhu means river in Dzongkha – the language of Bhutan) converge here. There are more plains here and the temperatures moderate to warm – making it ideal for farming.

After our stop at Dochu La, we made our way to Punakha. The road snaked its way down the thick forests and opened up into paddy fields. We stopped at the side of the road and Karma asked us to join him as he walked onto a narrow path in between the fields. We were close to Chimi Lhakhang – the temple of the Divine Madman. Yup! The same one who created the national animal. We made our way through the village of Sopsokha and then the rice fields till we reached the old temple.

Now that we’re at the temple of the Divine Madman himself, who was he? Lama Drukpa Kunley was a Buddhist monk from Tibet and teacher who was known for his eccentric ways and unconventional teaching methods. It is said that a local demoness from Dochula used to harm the people there. The Divine Madman killed her while she had taken the form of a dog with a flaming thunderbolt of wisdom while shouting Chi Mi (meaning No Dog!). The thunderbolt was a reference to his phallus and from then on, it became a protective symbol. The temple has been built over the spot where the demoness was supposed to be buried.

This temple is known as the Fertility temple and it is said that childless couples visit here to be blessed with a baby. Inside the temple was a wooden phallus which women had to carry and walk around the temple thrice. We even saw a photo album of people who couldn’t conceive, visited the temple and had successfully borne children afterwards. We’d never been to a temple like this before and it was a unique story and experience.

It is common to see wall murals and paintings of phalluses in the buildings in this area. In fact, phalluses are worn as charms. You can pick up some souvenirs from the shops in the village on the way back.

We said goodbye to the Divine Madman and proceeded to the Punakha Dzong.

Punakha Dzong

This is easily the most majestic dzong we saw in Bhutan. Sitting right at the confluence of the rivers Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu, you can spend hours admiring the beauty of the dzong and its backdrop. We had to cross a wooden bridge to get to the dzong.

Punakha Dzong is the second oldest dzong in the kingdom and was the administrative centre till 1955 – that’s when Thimphu became the national capital. Karma told us about its legend – Guru Padmasambhava proclaimed a prophecy that a person named Namgyel would arrive at a hill shaped like an elephant. Ngawang Namgyel indeed arrived here and ordered an architect to build a palace for Guru Rinpoche. Namgyel went on the become the founder of a unified Bhutan (about whom you’ve already read in the blogs on Paro and Thimphu).

The dzong is six storeys high and has 3 huge courtyards. The first one is for administrative functions and has a bodhi tree as well.

The second one houses the quarters for the monks. The last one has a temple where the remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel are preserved. The area where the remains are preserved can be accessed only by the main monks and the king himself. Punakha Dzong is indeed a marvel and a must-visit in your trip to Bhutan.

It is one of those structures which you can never get enough of no matter how many times you look at it. Another such structure for me is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

The next morning, we proceeded for a trek to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten. We passed by Punakha Dzong and followed the Mo Chhu upstream till we arrived at a bridge to cross the river. The hike took us over a suspension bridge, along a creek, through rice fields and finally a steep climb up to the top.

The temple is dedicated to bringing peace and harmony to the kingdom. The temple has four storeys, each dedicated to certain deities, and we walked all the way up along a narrow staircase. We got a magnificent panoramic view of the valley from up there. Have a look!

The trek prepared us for the mega trek that was coming up for us the next day. Read all about it here. And that brings us to a wrap of our Punakha adventures. Punakha is definitely a do-not-miss if you’re visiting Bhutan. Check out our complete itinerary here.

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A Guide to Thimphu – Dzongs, Archers, Food and much more

Thimphu is the capital and the largest city in Bhutan. It is home to the Royal family and is the commercial centre of the country – it is a place where you can experience a blend of Bhutanese culture, tradition and modern lifestyle.

We arrived at Thimphu on Day 2 of our trip (check out the complete itinerary here). Our first stop was the Simtokha Dzong – the oldest dzong in Bhutan built in 1629.

We had arrived in time for a prayer session and got to experience it in one of the halls. The hall was decorated with beautiful multi-coloured victory flags hanging from the ceiling. Butter lamps were burning on one side of the hall in front of the 3 statues – Buddha Shakyamuni, Guru Padmasambhava and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (the founder of Bhutan). The chanting of the monks reverberated inside the hall and it was a truly mesmerizing experience. I had witnessed one such prayer session in a monastery in Ladakh and it was equally amazing. Karma, our guide, took us around explaining the legends and stories.

We then went to the gigantic Buddha Dordenma – the golden statue of Buddha stood on top of a hill overlooking the city.

It is likened to the image of Buddha Shakyamuni. The statue is over 50 metres tall and was opened in 2015. In 2018 when we visited, work was still happening in the complex surrounding it. You can visit the halls inside which has over 100,000 statues of Buddha!

Next up, we were off to visit the national animal of Bhutan – the Takin. Legend goes that the Takin was created by Lama Drukpa Kunley, aka the Divine Madman (more about him in the Punakha post) by placing the head of a goat on a cow’s skeleton. That is pretty much what it looks like as well.

We stopped at the National Textile Museum and the Changlimithang Archery Ground. Archery is the national sport of the country. If you see an archery match going on, do take out some time to watch – it is a spectacle! The targets are so far away that they are hardly visible to an average person. Teams celebrate bullseyes with dances and songs!

This guy hit the target by the way! It was followed with a fair bit of dance and song!

The grounds also have an important history – it stands at the site of the decisive battle from 1885 which led to the unification of Bhutan and ended years of wars.

In the evening, Karma informed us that the founder of Bhutan Travel Guru, Mr Tsheten, would be taking us out to dinner to a traditional Bhutanese place. We were super excited to try out the local delicacies! We were even more amazed at the amount of personal touch being added to our trip – a testament to the Bhutanese hospitality.

FOOOOOD!

Wow, where do I begin? Let’s start with the butter tea. As the night gets colder, this warm cup of happiness comes to your rescue. Enjoyed with crunchy rice either as a topping or a side, it is the perfect way to start. We also had some dumplings, pork and ara (locally brewed rice wine) as starters.

For the mains, we had a huge spread – almost all of them containing good amounts of chillies and cheese – both staples in Bhutan. Here are the dishes we had:

  • Mushroom soup
  • Ema Datshi – chilli with cheese
  • Phakshe Paa – Pork Bacon
  • Jasha Maru – Chicken curry
  • Shamu Datshi – Mushroom with cheese
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Khaktem – fried bitter gourd
  • Azey – chilli paste with a mixture of green chilli, onion, tomatoes, salt and cheese
  • Khuli – buckwheat pancakes
  • Red Rice
  • Druna Ghu – nine different grains found in Bhutan mixed together

Let’s see if you can identify them in the pics below!

As we found with other foods we ate in Bhutan, it was simple and delicious! My mouth waters as I attach these pics.

Dochu La

Early next morning, we started on our way to Punakha. On the way, we had to cross the mountain pass of Dochu La. On a clear day, you can see the snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas from here. But we were greeted by a thick sheet of fog. This gave the place a mystical other-worldly look!

Right in the middle of the road are 108 chortens (or stupas). These stupas were built as a memorial to Bhutanese soldiers who were killed in a battle with rebels.

Near the chortens, a short walk up will take you to the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang – a beautiful temple with flowers on both sides of the steps leading up.

On the other side of the road, we saw signs pointing towards hidden meditation caves. The mist added to the experience as we climbed up the slope looking for the caves.

We really enjoyed the experience here! After spending a little over an hour here, we proceeded to Punakha for the next leg of our Bhutan adventure.  

Tip: If you happen to be in Thimphu during the weekend, do check out the weekend market!

Read all our blogs on Bhutan here. Do leave us a comment if you enjoy reading our blogs. Check out all our latest travels and stories on our Instagram page @fridgemagnet.tales. Don’t miss out our Bhutan Highlights.

A Guide to Paro and the Legendary Tiger’s Nest Monastery

Our Bhutanese adventure started at Paro’s international airport. Landing here is, in itself, an adventure as it is considered one of the most dangerous airports in the world. The plane spirals into the valleys with no flat land in sight – it is almost like a video game! Finally, seconds before the actual landing, with the plane still tilted, we catch a glimpse of the runway. Before we know it, we touch down at the Paro airport. After we got down the plane, we could see tall mountains on both sides of the runway – no wonder it was considered to be one of the most dangerous airports in the world. In fact, only a handful of pilots in the world are certified to fly to this airport! Truly an adrenaline pumping start to the trip.

Our guide, Karma (we booked our trip with Bhutan Travel Guru), was waiting for us at the arrival hall. We checked into our hotel and took a power nap (much needed – we had started the trip from Bangalore with an overnight layover at the Kolkata airport!). We headed straight to a restaurant for lunch. We had some fried momos and buckwheat noodles – not recommended.

As soon as we were done, we asked Karma not to take us to any “tourist-friendly” restaurants. We wanted to eat local food at the places where they would go to eat – this is something we do wherever we go and have found it to be better tasting than anything else.

The Oldest Temple in Bhutan and the beautiful Paro Dzong

Our first stop was the oldest temple in Bhutan – Kyichu Lhakhang. The temple was built in the 7th century by the Tibetan king of the time, Songtsen Gampo. A beautiful structure surrounded by giant prayer wheels and ancient trees, it was a good place to start the trip.

We then drove to the Rinpung Dzong – the monastery we saw while landing in Paro. Perched at a height above the Paro valley, the monastery cannot be missed. The architecture here is amazing and the murals contain stories from legends. Karma never missed explaining any of these paintings and their relevance to Bhutanese culture and folklore. As we visited more places, we could identify some of the deities and stories from here – it was quite an immersive experience. Karma mentioned that everywhere we went in Bhutan, we would see the statues and paintings of the three most significant people – Buddha Shakyamuni, Guru Padmasambhava and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. While Buddha Shakyamuni is the founder of Buddhism, Guru Padmasambhava (or Rinpoche as he is known) was the one who brought the tantric form of Buddhism to Tibet and Bhutan. You can recognize him by his characteristic moustache. Zhabdrung is known as the founder of Bhutan and the one who originally unified the kingdom.

After going through the stories, we strolled along the corridors and out into the courtyard. We got some beautiful views of the valley from the Dzong and spent some more time in the courtyards.

We closed the day back at our hotel with some simple dinner and local peach wine.

The next morning, after breakfast, we proceeded to Thimphu.

We got back to Paro late in the evening on Day 4. The next day would be the grand finale of our trip – the Paro Taktsang, popularly known as the Tiger’s Nest monastery.

The Epic Trek to Tiger’s Nest

The morning view from our hotel was a beautiful panorama – the valley with the river winding through it, mist rising from the distance while the mountains towered all around.

I really enjoyed watching the morning planes emerge from the mist and swerve down towards the airport.

After a quick breakfast, we were on our way to the foothills of the mountain to begin our trek. We had just finished a trek the previous day in Punakha to visit the Khamsum Yulley Namgyel Chorten. We hoped that would serve as a warm-up for what was to come.

First up, the legend behind the monastery

It was built in 1692 around one of the caves where Buddhist master Guru Padmasambhava used to meditate. Guru Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, is said to have brought Vajrayana Buddhism (a tantric form of Buddhism) to Bhutan from Tibet. Legend has it that the Guru arrived here on the back of a flying tigress – hence the name, Tiger’s Nest.

The Trek Begins

Now, let’s get to the trek! When you get your first glimpse of the monastery, it seems almost impossible to get to – it looks like it has been etched into a steep cliff with no path visible. The monastery is perched at a height of over 10,000 feet (3000 feet from the valley). The total distance of the trek is estimated to be around 6km.

At the parking, you can find people handing out sticks for a nominal price (these came in handy at the steep parts of the trek especially on the way back!). We recommend you pick up one of these before heading out.

We first passed through a pine forest and some clearings to reach the base of the cliff. You can choose to take a horse to the halfway point – we chose to walk as the real satisfaction of completing a trek comes when you do it on your own.

The Real Trek Begins!

We were now getting into the steep part of the trek. The dirt trail wound its way up with boulders and roots of trees acting as footholds.

As we gained altitude, it got harder to climb. There were spots where the path was winding around the hill – some people had made steep shortcuts to cut across. While it is fun to pull yourself up a few of them, you end up huffing and puffing pretty soon. Our guide Karma, however, was skipping ahead with ease as this was routine for him. About an hour into the trek, we spotted the monastery and it seemed as far as ever! But the beautiful views, the prayer flags (and adrenaline) kept us going steadily.

In about an hour and 10 minutes, we reached the cafeteria – the rest stop midway into the trek. We re-fuelled with some tea and biscuits while enjoying the view. This is also the last point till which the horse/mule can carry you. After this, it is you and your legs all the way.

The climb continued and the monastery disappeared from view. We were starting to take more frequent breaks as our legs started protesting. Our biggest motivation was a group of elderly people who were making their way to the top – we were amazed by their stamina and how they consistently kept walking without taking any breaks. But even they stopped a bit ahead at the next turn. We understood why when we got there – the monastery was right in front of us! In fact, we were looking down at it from a height.

We were finally down to the last part of the trek. We were done with the trail and now, in front of us, stood Nam’s biggest enemies – STEPS! To make things more interesting, we had to climb DOWN before climbing back UP to the monastery. Thankfully, we spotted the elderly folks and the thought of giving up vanished quickly.

At the bottom of the stairs was a waterfall and a bridge covered in prayer flags. The ambience here literally injects energy into you – this is exactly what we needed to make our way up the final set of steps. It took about another hour and 10 mins from the cafeteria to get here.

We Made It!

At the entrance, we had to keep our shoes, cameras and phones with the security. The most powerful feeling you get as soon as you enter the monastery is PEACE! Karma took us on a tour of the temples here. We spent some time sitting on the cold floor next to the windows looking out towards the valley below. It was so quiet and peaceful – you have to experience it to know it! What’s even more striking is the fact that this was despite the place being full of monks and tourists. Being from cities with a busy lifestyle, we savoured every moment we spent in this ancient cave etched into the cliff of a remote mountain in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.

The way back was tougher as we struggled to find a grip on the slippery dirt. This is where that stick comes in handy – when your knees give way, the stick comes to the rescue! After a two-hour downhill trek, we were back at the parking! We made it!

We were glad it was November and that the sun didn’t beat us down. Check out more about the best time to visit Bhutan and our itinerary here.

Tip: Do not do this trek on the first day of your trip. Remember – you are at a high altitude and your body needs to get used to the oxygen levels. Even though you will manage to complete it, it might force you to take the next day off to rest and rejuvenate.

A Happy Ending to an Amazing Trip

We reached Paro, had lunch and went back to our hotel. Later in the evening, we went to a farmhouse for a traditional hot stone bath. Can’t ask for anything better after the Taktsang trek! The bath was made of wood and had a partition which led to the area outside where the stones were dropped. As the water got cooler, the operator (who was also the owner of the farmhouse) would drop a couple of red-hot stones into the water. The sizzle of the stones as they dropped in was as much a stress reliever as the herb-infused water.

We then went into the home and joined the family for dinner. They started us off with some butter tea – a pink tea which really warms you up from the inside! The food was a reflection of Bhutan itself – simple yet delicious. Rice, scrambled eggs, boiled potatoes, chillies, dried meat and some soup.

The warmth and hospitality of our hosts continued to make us feel at home. Karma helped translate our conversations as they told us about some of the photos hanging in their hall. It was a happy ending to our last full day in Bhutan.

We bid farewell to Karma and Bhutan on Day 6 at the Paro airport as we boarded our flight back home the next morning. Our expert pilot went round and round and brought us out of the valley and soon we had Mt Everest once again for company for the rest of the flight. It had been an unforgettable trip.

Check out our itinerary and tour details here. For more on the foods of Bhutan and the capital of Thimphu, click right here. Our other trek of the trip in Punakha can be found here. Do check out all the blogs to complete your virtual Bhutan experience.

Do leave a comment below if you liked this post! Do check out our Bhutan Highlights on Instagram to see the trip through our eyes @fridgemagnet.tales.

The Perfect Trip to Bhutan – THE Land of the Thunder Dragon

The country where Gross National Happiness ranks higher than GDP. The only country in the world that is carbon negative and has 70% of its area covered by forests. The mystical kingdom nestled high up in the Himalayas. Bhutan is these things and much more.

Bhutan had been on our travel list for some time. After our usual rounds of research, we figured out that planning a trip to Bhutan was very different from any other place we’d visited so far. Hiring a local tourist guide was mandatory and tourists had to pay a cover charge per day for visiting the country. While this makes it an expensive country to visit, it stays true to Bhutan tourism’s policy of “High Value, Low Impact”. It is a very good way to ensure that tourists come in manageable numbers – the tourism agencies can ensure that you have a great time experiencing the local culture and traditions while reducing the impact on the environment. More on this policy ahead.

Best Time to Visit

October to December is considered the best part of the year to visit Bhutan. The skies are clear, rain is less, and this is an important ingredient to a beautiful trip. March to May (the Spring season) is the best time to witness the valleys full of flowers in bloom. Avoid Jun-Aug which is the rainy season. December to February brings snowfall in many parts which can cause roads to be closed. We went in November and had beautiful weather throughout the trip.

Getting To Bhutan

There are two ways you can get to Bhutan – by road or by air.

Road – you can cross into Bhutan at Phuntsholing from India. The closest airport in India is Bagdogra which is a 4-hour drive from the border. There is usually a long wait time at the border town where you need to get your permits in place before proceeding. It takes another 6 hours to get from the border to the capital, Thimphu. This is the cheaper option, but you will need to add 2-3 days into your itinerary just for the travel.

Air – you can fly into the Paro airport from India, Thailand, Nepal, Bangladesh and Singapore. There are only two airlines available – Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines. While this is an expensive option, flying into Paro is one of the most spectacular flights you’ll take in your life! We took the Bhutan Airlines flight from Kolkata (we booked it on their website directly).

A few minutes after reaching the cruising altitude, we could clearly see Mt. Everest gleaming to our left.

The height of the mountain was astounding as it always remained in sight high above the clouds. The best part of the flight is the landing. The plane spirals into the valleys with no flat land in sight – it is almost like a video game! Finally, seconds before the actual landing, with the plane still tilted, we catch a glimpse of the runway. Before we know it, we touch down at the Paro airport. After we got down the plane, we could see tall mountains on both sides of the runway – no wonder it was considered to be one of the most dangerous airports in the world. In fact, only a handful of pilots in the world are certified to fly to this airport! Truly an adrenaline pumping start to the trip.

Bhutan’s Unique Travel Policy

As mentioned before, Bhutan has a levy of USD 250 per day per person in the peak season (USD 200 in the low season). If you are travelling solo, you will be charged USD 40 extra. At the time of our travel, only 3 countries were exempted from this – India, Bangladesh and Maldives. However, with increasing number of tourists from these countries, a levy of INR 1200 per day has been put into effect in 2020 – this is to continue tourism in a sustainable way. While this does increase the costs for a budget traveller, it is a good method to preserve the ecosystem and culture that Bhutan is famous for. Now comes the best part – this levy of $250 is not just an entry fee – it actually covers the costs of your accommodation, food, local transportation and a private guide!

There are a lot of travel agencies that you can pick from. Make sure you read sufficient online reviews before making the final decision. After our research, we booked our trip with Bhutan Travel Guru and we totally recommend them! The best part was that it didn’t feel like a trip organized by big tour companies (where they mechanically stick to the itinerary and take us from point A to B). We were made to feel right at home and there was a lot of care taken in the entire planning. They took the personal connect to another level – the owner of the company (Mr Tsheten) actually made time to meet us for dinner. He and his company ensured that we had an amazing time in Bhutan. (No, this is not sponsored. We genuinely recommend them! 😊)

Visa, Currency

You will need to apply for the tourist visa when you book your trip. The travel agency generally takes care of it as part of the package. Indians (and Bangladeshis and Maldivians) do not need a visa to visit Bhutan.

The Bhutanese currency is called the Ngultrum. Its value is almost the same as the Indian Rupee (1 USD = 72 BTN at the time of writing this). As mentioned earlier, you won’t need to take out cash too much during the trip as most of the travel expenses are covered in the charges you pay the agency.

How many days to spend in Bhutan

A minimum of 5-6 days (excluding travel) to really soak in the peace, enjoy nature and the local culture. This duration will ensure you have enough time to visit atleast 3 parts of the country – typically Paro, Thimphu and Punakha. If you have time to spare, you can visit Bumthang as well.

Our Itinerary

Day 1: Fly into Paro. Visit Kyichu Lhakhang, Rinpung Dzong. Read more about our time at Paro here.

Day 2: Drive to Thimphu. Visit textile museum, Buddha Dordenma, Takin reserve and Simtokha Dzong. More details about Thimphu here.

Day 3: Drive to Dochu La Pass. Hike through rice paddies and visit the Chimi Lhakhang temple. Visit the spectacular Punakha Dzong. The beauty of Punakha is captured in detail here.

Day 4: Hike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten. Drive to Thimphu and visit the weekend market. Drive back to Paro.

Day 5: Hike to Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) monastery. Visit the Paro museum. Enjoy a traditional hot stone bath and dinner with a local family at a farmhouse. More on the Tiger’s Nest here.

Day 6: Flight back to Kolkata

Bhutan was a very unique travel experience and far exceeded our expectations. Things that really stood out and left a lasting impact on us? The hospitality and warmth of the people, simplicity, living in harmony with nature, tasty food, beautiful sights. It is one of the few nations which hasn’t been swallowed by capitalism (and its inevitable impact on environment and culture). We hope this beautiful nation continues to grow and be a flagbearer of sustainable living and happiness.

If you enjoy reading our blog, do leave us a comment below – your support keeps us going! You can subscribe to our blog for all the updates and travel tips. For a lot more pics and stories about our latest travels, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales. Do check out our Insta story highlights to re-live the trip through our eyes!

The Beaches and Mountains of Seychelles – Part Two (Mahe)

Before we get started, don’t forget to check out Part One here.

Done? Let’s begin!

We took the morning ferry to Mahe (details on the boat and bookings here). We had booked a car with one of the rental agencies here and our Hyundai i10 was waiting for us at the parking.

To get you started, here is a map of Mahe and the routes we took.

Day 1: Explore the Beau Vallon area

Our homestay was close to the Beau Vallon beach. It was up a steep slope and we were glad we got a car. This also meant that we got a beautiful sunset view from our room!

After checking in, we headed straight to the beach. There are quite a few street food stalls here serving Creole food, coconuts, grilled seafood, banana fritters and cakes and many more. It was a beautiful beach, and we spent a lot of time in the water enjoying the waves. In fact, we spent the whole afternoon and evening here!

We picked up some pizza from Baobab pizzeria on the way back and called it a day.

Day 2: Visit Victoria, Hike to the peak of Morne Blanc, Have some amazing Creole food

Our first stop for the day was the capital city of Victoria. We parked our car in the parking area, collected a parking coupon from a nearby store (Sinnasamy Snack Shop) and put it on the dashboard. We visited the Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market, walked around the Little Ben clock tower and covered most of the city by foot in under an hour.

We grabbed some snacks and headed straight to the Morne Blanc trail. You need to take the Sans Soucis Road to the starting point of the trail – there are boards and maps along the way, so you won’t miss it. We wanted to make it to the top before noon – island weather can be very unpredictable especially with mountain-top viewpoints. The signboard at the beginning classified it as a hard trek which would take about an hour (Nam decided to skip this and went for the Tea Tavern Nature Trail instead). They weren’t kidding – the forest was dense and in some parts the trail went missing between fallen trees. Luckily, I could see a couple of people about 200 m ahead – all I had to do was ensure that I don’t lose sight of them!

In the end, it was worth it – the view was stunning!

We then drove down to the west coast, upto Port Launey and back down to Grand Anse beach. The beach was beautiful, and we spent some time here.

We drove back to Victoria along the La Misere road. Our lunch stop was Marie Antoinette, arguably the most popular place in Mahe for Creole cuisine. In fact, a sign on the wall claims that it was declared a national monument of Seychelles in 2011. They had a wide variety of dishes – fish, chicken and vegetarian.

Some of them we loved, a few did not appeal to our taste buds.

Maps told us that the road back to Beau Vallon had a lot of traffic. So, we decided to take the long path along the North Coast Road – it was a long drive but a very beautiful one!

We grabbed some food from one of the supermarkets on the way and headed back to our room.

Day 3: Drive along the coastal roads covering the south of the island

Our last day in Seychelles – we checked out of our room and drove straight up La Misere Road to the viewpoint of the east coast. This point is perfect to check out the city of Victoria, the port and the small islands on the sides.

Our drive then took us along the West Coast Road all the way down to Anse Intendance. Yet another stunning beach – we spent a good hour here!

We were lucky that most of the beaches we visited in Mahe did not have any annoying seaweed strewn all over the sand. For lunch, we stopped at Maison Marengo and had the most amazing seafood pizza and calamari!

Our last beach in the trip was Anse Royale – it was a beautiful one for snorkelling with many different types of fish swimming around.

Having covered the entire South and East Coast Roads, we headed up the Providence highway to Eden Island – the poshest area here.

It was too posh for our liking and we drove right out. We went back to Victoria to complete our loop all around the Mahe island! Our last stop – the airport for our flight back home!

Though we didn’t know at the time, Seychelles ended up being our only trip of 2020. Considering that, it was definitely worth it – it was relaxing, exciting and had some of the most beautiful scenery we had ever seen. Read all about our excursion to La Digue and our Seychelles itinerary in our other blogs.

If you like reading our blog, do drop in a comment and share with your friends – it will take us one step closer to inspiring more people to travel! Check out more pics and our latest travels on Instagram @fridgemagnettales

The Beaches and Mountains of Seychelles – Part One (Praslin)

Waking up to a sunrise on the beach, strolling along misty hills in the morning, spending the afternoon sighting birds in a tropical forest and finishing the day with the sun setting into the ocean. What if you can have a holiday where all of this happens on the same day? That holiday is Seychelles!

Seychelles is the only group of granitic islands in the world – in fact, it is considered to be among the oldest islands in the world – breaking off when the ancient continent of Gondwana split and shifted 80 million years ago. This also explains how this variety of flora and fauna and the tropical forests got here.

Our 5-day vacation in Seychelles started off in Praslin, the second largest island in the archipelago.

Praslin

We landed at the Praslin Airport and walked to our homestay which was on the Grand Anse beach.

If you have 2 days in Praslin, you can consider renting a car so that you don’t have to depend on the bus timings. There are 3 bus routes on the island – 61, 62 and 63. The bus fares are standard (SCR 7 per person for one trip when we visited in early 2020) – so it would help if you have change. Buses run every 30-45 mins and the frequency reduces in the weekend.

ROUTE 61: Mont Plaisir – Anse Boudin via Vallée de Mai

ROUTE 62: Mont Plaisir – Zimbabwe via Consolation

ROUTE 63: Mont Plaisir – Anse La Blague – Côte d’Or

Praslin has some really beautiful beaches – our first stop was Anse Lazio. To get to Anse Lazio, you can take Bus 61 or 62 till Anse Boudin and walk about 15-20 mins to the beach. The beach was beautiful – however, there was a lot of seaweed washed ashore which made it a bit messy.

Our next stop was the Cote d’Or beach or Anse Volbert. There are quite a few hotels and guesthouses here making it a good base location.

We picked up some food along the esplanade and got back to enjoy the sunset at our “private” beach stretch in Grand Anse.

We woke up and headed straight to the beach for the sunrise.

After a half day excursion to La Digue, we visited the Vallee de Mai reserve – home to the famous Coco de Mer – a rare species of palm tree which is only found here. The reserve is situated right in the middle of Praslin island on top of the mountain.

The male and female trees are very distinct in appearance. The nut is gigantic – the largest seed in the world. Local folklore says that the male tree uproots itself on stormy nights to mate with the female.

We also spotted the elusive Seychelles Black Parrot chomping on some fruit deep inside the reserve. If you are in Praslin, don’t miss visiting here – it may not be the biggest or most dense nature reserve in the world, but the fact that it is one of the best preserved remains of the ancient supercontinent, makes it a fascinating sight.

We took the next bus to Mt Plaisir in an attempt to go to Anse Georgette. There is a trail near the bus stop – look for a wooden signboard (look closely or else you will miss it).

The trail takes you through the thick jungle with some steep climbs. We walked for about 30 mins till we reach the point where the trail started descending towards the beach.

The trail easily takes about an hour one way, so we were roughly halfway there. There was, at best, an hour left before sunset and we didn’t want to risk being stuck there – so we headed back. Something for next time!

We ended the day with dinner at the Paradisier restaurant. Seychelles is not really a foodie’s paradise – there are few restaurants and they are quite expensive. This means you will mostly be looking for takeaways and supermarkets. There was a supermarket called Whole Foods (no relation to the US version) near our place where we got our breakfast. Another option is to buy supplies and cook it yourself – all homestays will have a kitchen that you can use.

Check out part 2 of this blog here.

A Day in La Digue – Home to the Iconic “Seychelles Wallpaper”

You may have seen a place many times on TV, desktop wallpapers and screensavers. You might think that you won’t be awestruck, and it will seem familiar when you visit there. However, when you do see it in real life, it still takes your breath away! La Digue in Seychelles is one such place.

La Digue is a 10 min boat ride away from Praslin (read about how you can book tickets here). We woke up at 6:45am and took a bus to the Praslin jetty for our Cat Cocos boat which would leave at 8:45am. If you were feeling a bit sleepy when you got on the bus, you would be wide awake by the time you reached the jetty – it is crazy how fast these buses go on such narrow roads! We reached well ahead of time – thankfully, the water was very clear, and the fish kept us entertained.

The ride was surprisingly smooth (like the ones we had in Croatia). At the La Digue jetty, we picked up a couple of bicycles – the preferred mode of transport to explore the island.

We headed straight to the L’Union Estate – a colonial-era plantation and farm – also, home to some giant tortoises and the Anse Source d’Argent beach. We grabbed some breakfast at the Old Pier Café while enjoying the beach views.

Next stop, the tortoise farm. The tortoises here were huge – some were older than 100 years! People who say that tortoises are slow are not exaggerating – we tried feeding them some leaves, and it looked like they were moving in slow motion! One of them was nice enough to pose for a photo!

We then rode through vanilla plantations and reached the main attraction – Anse Source d’Argent.

Any amount of time here would feel like less – I’ll let the pictures do the talking now.

You can also go snorkeling here – if you’re lucky, a few fish may come all the way up to the shore to say hello! Here’s one of them who was consistently photobombing everyone. It kept coming really close to our feet as we walked in the water!

We left rather reluctantly as we didn’t want to miss our boat. We cycled around to the north of the island till the point where the road started going down a steep slope – we were in no mood to push the cycle back up that slope!

With just about an hour left, we grabbed some lunch from Mi Mum’s takeaway (the juice was so fresh and delicious that we converted more currency just to have more of it!) and some ice-cream from Glorious Bakery.

The boat picked us up at 2:15pm and we headed back to explore more of Praslin. If we would pick one beach out of all the ones we visited in Seychelles, it would no doubt be Anse Source d’Argent in La Digue!

For more details on how you can plan your trip to Seychelles, check out our blog here.

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Five Days in Paradise – On A Budget!

Roughly a thousand kilometres off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean lies the island nation of Seychelles. With human occupation coming relatively late in the 16th century, Seychelles is a “young” country with a cultural mix of French, British, African and Indian influences. There are around 115 islands which consist Seychelles – these are home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world as well as really diverse landscapes and ecosystems.

As we scoured the map for possible “5-day trip” destinations, we didn’t think beyond a domestic location initially. We happened to stumble upon Seychelles while looking for flights. It ticked all our criteria for a short trip – can be covered properly in a 5-day trip, cannot be clubbed with any other country nearby, Visa on arrival, a 4-hour flight – it was perfect!

Some quick research and bookings later, we were on our way. We were planning to visit three of the main islands – Mahe (which has the airport and capital – Victoria), Praslin (home to the Coco de Mer) and La Digue. So, let’s get started on how you can plan your perfect holiday in Seychelles!

Best Time to Visit

Being very close to the equator, Seychelles experiences warm climates throughout the year. Peak tourist seasons are December-January and July-August. The best months which are generally recommended are the shoulder months between the switching of the trade winds – April-May and October-November. The trade winds can also determine the amount of seaweed washing up on the beaches – keep an eye out for this if your hotel is on the beach.

We visited in early March and the weather was pleasant and perfect for a beach holiday!

Getting Around Seychelles

There is a direct flight of Air Seychelles operating from Mumbai – which is the one we took. You can also find direct flights from Dubai, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, South Africa and London (and some more locations).

Once you are in Seychelles, you can choose any of the following four modes of travel: flight, boat, bus and car.

Domestic Flight: You can fly from Mahe to Praslin (and back) on one of the tiny Twin Otter 19-seater planes operated by Air Seychelles. The flying time is hardly 20 mins and is definitely a ride worth experiencing! To reach other more remote islands, you can opt for charter planes as well.

The last time I sat on a plane this small, I jumped right out at 13,000 feet.

Boat: There are ferries operating between all the main islands – you can easily book them online here. It takes about 60 mins to travel between Mahe and Praslin. Praslin to La Digue is about 15 mins – the ride is so smooth that it gets over before you realize it!

Bus: There are buses running in Mahe and Praslin which you can climb on and buy tickets. Praslin is very simple – you either go around the island or take the route which cuts through the hill in the middle. Mahe is relatively bigger – grab a route map and get started. Buses are sparse and run on limited frequency during weekends – you can beat that by taking a car!

Car: One of the more preferred options to explore the islands is by renting a car. You can easily get one at the point of arrival – ferry jetty or airport (advance booking would be good as we found that most agencies run out of cars on the travel date). We went with Scenic Car Rental. It was a good decision as we discovered that our homestay was on the top of a steep hill and we would have struggled to walk all the way up! A car also gives you the flexibility to stop wherever you find a nice spot and explore the island better. We recommend this!

Visa and Currency

Indians have Visa on arrival at Seychelles along with 140+ more countries. So, you don’t have to worry about the hassle of applying for visas! The currency of Seychelles is the Rupee (SCR). 1 SCR = 3.5 INR as of Dec 2020 (it was 5.25 INR in March 2020 when we travelled).

How many days to spend in Seychelles?

The BIG question when it comes to any itinerary – how many days is good enough? For Seychelles, it depends on how many islands you’d like to cover. For Mahe, we would recommend atleast 2 days – you can spend upto 4 days for a relaxed vacation. Praslin is more laid back – you can spend 1-2 days here and add one more day for an excursion to La Digue. Our itinerary covered these 3 islands over 5 days. If you have more days in hand, you can visit the giant tortoises at Curieuse Island (day trip from Praslin), the Bird Island or the Cousin Island.

Our Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive at Mahe. We flew in from Mumbai. Fly to Praslin. Explore the beaches – details in our blog on the beaches and hills of Praslin and Mahe.

Day 2: Morning boat to La Digue. Explore the island on bicycles – this is a must-visit island and a one-of-a-kind experience. Say hi to the giant tortoises and the most photographed beach in Seychelles.

Back to Praslin and bus to Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve (home of the Coco de Mer). Explore more of Praslin (bus to Mt. Plaisir) and back.

Day 3: Boat to Mahe. Spend the evening exploring the Beau Vallon beach area.

Day 4: Explore Victoria and the local markets. Hike to the top of Morne Blanc. Enjoy a swim at Grand Anse. Have an authentic Creole lunch. Drive around the northern roads of the island.

Day 5: Explore the beaches in the south of Mahe island – Anse Intendance, Anse Royale. Complete the drive along the entire periphery of the island. Fly back at night.

You can pay a visit to the Takamaka Rum Distillery or visit some of the art galleries if time permits. There is also the Victoria Botanical Garden – you can check out the tortoises and Coco de Mer if you missed them on the other islands.

This should help start your planning for that long-awaited trip to Seychelles. You can read more about each of the islands and the must-visit places in our other posts – Mahe and Praslin, La Digue.

If you have any questions on how to plan your trip, please leave a comment below and we’d love to help! You can subscribe to our blog for all the updates and travel tips. For a lot more pics and stories about our latest travels, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales

Magnificent Angkor

The Angkor Wat temple is synonymous with the country of Cambodia itself. The largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat was constructed in the 12th century by Khmer King Suryavarman II. It is so iconic that the national flag of Cambodia has the temple depicted in its centre! Our primary objective of this trip to Cambodia was this.

Angkor was the capital city of the Khmer Empire, and Angkor Wat is just one among many sites in the Angkor Archaeological Park. The park is spread across 400 square kilometres (including the forests)! You can easily spend an entire day exploring the park – if you are really into ancient temples and architecture, even 3 days can get by before you know it.

Entrance Fees and Ticket System

The ticket to the park – the Angkor Pass needs to be purchased at the official ticket counter. It is located about 4km away from the Siem Reap town. The counter opens at 4:30 am and you can buy tickets till 5:30 pm. You have the option of buying a 1-day, 3-day or 5-day pass. They accept USD, Riel and credit cards. If you buy a 1-day pass at 5:00 pm on a particular day, it remains valid for the next day as well – you can use this option if you want to avoid buying a ticket at 4:30 am!

We booked a tuk-tuk from our hotel and the driver, Nup, picked us up at 4:00 am.

The ticket counter was crowded even at that time – luckily, the lines moved fast, and we were quickly on our way to catch the sunrise! Also, we picked the 1-day pass and had made our plan for the day such that we covered all the main spots.

Angkor Wat

Our first stop was the main attraction – Angkor Wat. Our tuk-tuk rushed as fast as it could to one side of the moat (which outlines the temple) and we waited for the sunrise. It was very peaceful – even though we were accompanied by another 20-odd people who were also waiting for the sunrise, there was no sound as everyone was savouring the moment. A cool breeze was flowing – the temperature was at least a few degrees lower inside the park thanks to the dense forest cover. As the sky turned from dark purple to dark blue with shades of red and orange, we got our first glimpse of the silhouette of the temple. There were a lot of lotuses on the water. Oh yes, and the birds – with every minute, more birds of various kinds joined the morning chorus. It was a beautiful experience – worth waking up at 3:30 in the morning! We got some decent shots of the temple and once the sun was up, we proceeded to the temple.

Khmer King Suryavarman II dedicated this Hindu temple to Lord Vishnu and it depicts the mythical Mount Meru – the abode of the gods. There are 4 towers surrounding the central tower which are said to depict the peaks of the mountain.

You can find stories on bas reliefs throughout the temple – the battle of Kurukshetra and the churning of the Ocean of Milk (this one is truly epic!) are a few of them.

There are devatas and apsara motifs which still endure in their original splendor to this day.

We can only imagine the sense of wonder experienced by the French explorer, Henri Mouhot, who popularized this temple in the west. Think about it for a second – there you are, walking through dense forests, occasionally hacking through vines when – lo and behold – you come across this architectural wonder! Mind = Blown!

Pro Tip: there is a sunrise viewpoint inside the complex where you can see the temple in a reflecting pond. This place is insanely crowded, and you literally need to fight for space. Unless you are a professional photographer, we would recommend the view on the moat-side (where we went) instead so that you can enjoy the tranquil as well as the view.

What else to visit in Angkor / Planning your 1-day itinerary

There are many more spots which you can visit on the same day or split into multiple days. Some people prefer to leave once the sun gets too hot, chill at their hotel and get back for the evening. This totally depends on the amount of time you have. In our case, we had only 1 and we were on a 1-day pass. Here are some must-visits in the order that you should visit them:

Bayon Temple: As you leave the Angkor Wat area towards the Angkor Thom area, you will be greeted by a beautiful gate with enormous smiling faces and statues lining up the bridge over the moat. First stop – the Bayon temple. Located at the centre of this ancient city, the capital of King Jayavarman VII, this temple has 216 smiling faces of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (the king was Buddhist). Some people say that it is likened in an image of the king himself. Though it doesn’t look like much from afar, it is a splendid monument.

Baphuon: This temple is a three-tiered temple-mountain dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. It was almost entirely dismantled in the many years of religious upheavals (switching between Hinduism and Buddhism) and more recently the purge of the Khmer Rouge. Through the efforts and donations of multiple countries, sites like these are being restored to their original glory.

Terrace of the Elephants: This is a long terrace decorated with statues of elephants, lions and garudas.

Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda: Right outside the east gate, these temples are situated on opposite sides of the road. Worth taking a short stop to explore and take a few pics.

Ta Keo: Another temple-mountain depicting Mount Meru, it makes for a particularly steep climb up to the top tier.

Ta Prohm: This one is probably the most popular temple after Angkor Wat – the temple is completely overrun with trees. It made an appearance in the movie, Tomb Raider. The temple itself is in bad shape and is still in early stages of restoration.

Srah Srang: After a quick peek into Banteay Kdei, you can rest your tired feet at the Srah Srang lake. It is the prefect end to a long day of temple hopping and temple-mountain climbing.

Make sure you fix your itinerary with your tuk-tuk driver before you start the tour. Our driver skipped a few of these (we assumed we would cover it on the way back) but on reaching Srah Srang, he mentioned it was time to head back. But we insisted that it was part of the agreed tour plan and went back to cover the rest. And thanks to this, we got to redo our most favourite part of the trip – driving through the gates of Angkor Thom!

Time to head back to your hotel, have a nice hot shower and enjoy the nightlife at Siem Reap. For us, it was time to head back home to India after two amazing weeks spent in Vietnam and Cambodia.

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Cambodia – A Day in Siem Reap

The Kingdom of Cambodia is situated west of Vietnam in the Indochina peninsula of South-east Asia.

Our trip was a short and sweet one – we spent two days in the historical area of Siem Reap, home to the biggest temple complex in the world – Angkor Wat.

Getting There

You can fly into Siem Reap or come in by road from Phnom Penh. We took the Cambodia Angkor Air flight from HCMC, Vietnam (check out our Vietnam blogs here) – the airport was one-part resort, one-part temple and zero-parts airport.

Our tuk-tuk was waiting outside (the hotel had arranged a complimentary transfer for us as part of the stay).

Our plan was to spend the first day exploring the town and head out to the ancient city early morning on day 2.

Where to Stay

Cambodia is quite inexpensive, and you can easily find very good hotels for reasonable prices. With some bit of checking out websites and using coupon codes, you can get 5-star hotels for as low as US$ 85 per night. What this also means is that for US$ 35-50, you can get really good hotels as well. We stayed at Chheng Residence – it had nice rooms and was quite close to the Old French Quarter. Make sure you stay close enough to the Old Quarter so that it is easy to walk around and explore.

Weather

There are 2 broad seasons in Cambodia – dry (Oct-Apr) and wet (May-Sep). Oct-Dec is considered the best time to visit as the temperatures are moderate as compared to other times in the year. The moderate was not what we expected. After checking into our hotel, we stepped out to get some brunch. It was hot! After pleasant weather in Vietnam throughout, it felt like we had been dropped into a hot oven.

Most places were closed as it was past breakfast time and before lunch started. We found a cozy little place called Fresh Fruit Factory where we had smoothies and pancakes (a bit on the expensive side but very fresh and tasty stuff!). We also didn’t see many people around – this was the time of the day to enjoy the hotel and the pools and bathtubs. That’s exactly what we did – we headed back to the room and waited for the sun to go down.

Currency

Cambodian Riel is the local currency, but you can easily get by with USD. You will see price tags in supermarkets and menus in restaurants have USD mentioned and that’s what they prefer.

What to do in Siem Reap

The number one thing to do here is visit Angkor. But we’ll take that up in another post as it deserves one of its own. After sunset, we walked and explored the town. Here are some recommendations:

Walk/Jog along the bank of the Siem Reap river

Visit the night market (on the other side of the river – close to the Hard Rock Café) – really good place to pick up some souvenirs

Visit Pub Street – the place has a crazy party vibe

Get a massage – you could probably get one at your hotel too

Sample some Khmer cuisine – we ate at the Khmer Grill – the food was really good!

The insect eating frenzy is quite overhyped – try it out if you really want to, but not recommended.

Siem Reap is in many ways a signature “touristy” place and one day is enough to explore the city. You can make this a base location for a few day trips – the Angkor complex, Tonle Sap Lake and the Phnom Kulen National Park.

Check out our Angkor itinerary here.

If you have any questions on how to plan your trip, feel free to leave a comment! You can subscribe to our blog for all the updates and travel tips. For a lot more pics and stories about our latest travels, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales

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