Umkar Living Root Bridge: Marvel of Meghalaya

What a natural wonder it truly is ! Bridges made by the local tribes in Meghalaya by entwining the strong secondary roots of the Ficus elastica tree. Whenever and wherever the need arose, they simply grew their bridges. Helping the tribals to get past rivers and streams, these trees helped sustain life yet again.

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The most famous one is the Double Root Tree Bridge of Umshiang located in the village of Nongriat. But its quite and arduous trek, 2500 steps to reach Nongriat and this takes about 1.5 – 2 hours each way easily (maybe bit more depending on your fitness).So thats more than half a day gone. My friends who have been here say its definitely worth the visit. Don’t forget, you need a lot of energy to get there.

But if you are pressed for time, like us and yet didn’t want to leave Meghalaya without witnessing this marvelous phenomenon, here is another easy but lesser-known option: Umkar Living Root Bridge. I had a been in my bonnet to see any bridge in the short span of 4 hours that I had (6am to 10 am to be precise after which we had to leave Cherrapunjee for Guwahati airport for our flight). The local drivers and Hotel guys surprisingly didn’t have much information to offer. But extensive Google searches revealed bits of information that I put together to set off on our quest of Umkar Living Root Bridge.

A morning cup of tea in the clouds with a view of the sunrise and Bangladesh border like this from our room at The Polo Orchid Resort really gives a new meaning to life! It energizes you to get out and seize the day.

Our group of enthusiastic doctors boarded the jeep and it was a beautiful downhill drive from our resort to Siej village though thick tropical rainforest on either side. The wettest place is also definitely blessed with nature’s bounty. Just before Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort, it’s another 3km drive by taking a left turn. Its not well sign-posted so one has to ask for directions to Umkar Living Root Bridge.

Once you see this sign, walk through the Betel grove for about 10 minutes, past gushing waterfalls to reach the bridge. This 40 year old bridge is now considered to be “under construction” as it was washed away due to massive floods. Hence the the villagers are actually now rebuilding it.

The roots are light brown and green compared to older bridges and Umkar Living Root Bridge is a perfect example to learn the process of building living root bridges.

The bridge was strong enough for us to walk across it already. See how the floor has been formed with entwining branches around the scaffolding of the hollow betel nut tree trunks. Since this region gets heavy rainfall which results in innumerable streams and flowing rivers, the trees are well adapted to the soil erosion and the roots grow down towards the water. This one will take maybe another 15 years to be ready.

We were back in time to shower, have a delicious breakfast and check out of the Polo Orchid Resort with a heavy heart. A final “Adieu” to the Seven sisters waterfall, unmistakable seen from the resort all day. The next 5 hour we drove back to the airport through mountains and waterfalls, and it was such a pleasurable drive. We echoed the words of E.E. Cummings in our hearts “I thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”

Mesmerising Meghalaya: Beyond Shillong

More unchartered destinations get added to our travel map on a wondrous discovery of our country that has unsurpassed beauty as we travelled to Shillong in September 2018. I haven’t yet seen the famed rainforests of South America, but the more I’ve travelled in the North east of India, I’m convinced we can give them a run for their money. And so the journey to the wettest place in the world begins…

You can’t take your eyes off the ubiquitous rain-washed terrain from Guwahati airport towards Umiam lake. As we ascended up the green Khasi hills, overcast grey skies above and the serenity of the lake imbues a new energy that only culminates into pure bliss when we reached “Ri Kynjai” for lunch.

The resort and especially the restaurant with its unique location offering majestic views of the lake and should be the place to stay, instead of Shillong city, for that perfect getaway. Placid and tranquil as its name implies.

The delectable local food, rustic cottages and ambiance in the midst of nature really took my heart away. But we were headed to Shillong for the night and had to move on.

Shillong really has nothing exciting to offer, especially the traffic can be a huge nuisance. Living in Mumbai and waiting in bumper to bumper traffic-borne misery is not something I enjoyed on a holiday.

Tripura Castle hotel built in the early 1920’s by the then Maharaja of Tripura boasts of the grandiosity of the Colonial era. It houses such an amazing collection of historical memorabilia, prompting a journey to a by-gone era.

What adds to the uniqueness of this a hotel is the room Rabindranath Tagore used to spend his time while visiting Shillong and one can be in unison with the thoughts behind why the the state Meghalaya was named “the abode of clouds” 

A morning walk along the flowering blossoms was followed by a flavourful breakfast in the garden. We then jostled through narrow lanes to get out of the city towards Laitlum gorge.

It was not the ideal day to visit the gorge for the views, but definitely to frolic with the clouds and in the rain.

We got some sun on our was back as we headed south towards Cherrapunjee. The landscape has a distinct resemblance to the Tuscan countryside, don’t you agree?

Pit stop for a local lunch thali ….food coma again !

 

We reached Cherrapunjee by tea time, just enough time to explore the underground world of caves. The hills of Garo, Khasi, and Jaintia have a labyrinth of more than 750 caves in Meghalaya, out of which only 150 have been explored. The Mawsmai Cave is open to visitors and the lime and sandstone patterns and formations due to erosion by water will leave you awestruck.

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We reached our resort the Polo Orchid , just in time to catch last rays of the sun and unwind. The rooms are pleasantly decorated in wood, with a distressed blue finish.

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All the three hotels described in this blog are truly unique in their location, decor and ambience and we would recommend none other if you visit this part of the world.

” We are all travellers in a way” – George Whitman

Exploring Georgia: Borjomi, Uplistsikhe,Mtskheta

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The Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park is a treasure trove of nature’s bounty. Astoundingly beautiful in this month as the foliage changes color, the coniferous park is also famous for its mineral water from springs in the Borjomi Gorge. 

I was particularly mesmerised by the charms of the autumn season as various shades of red, yellow, orange and brown could be appreciated here
CAble car ride to the top

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An
“What a joy it is to feel the soft, springy earth under my feet once more,
to follow grassy roads that lead to ferny brooks….” Helen Keller

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.  Kahlil Gibran

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes  e.e. cummings

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.  Edna Jaques

 

 

I am in love with this world . . . I have climbed its mountains, roamed its forests, sailed its waters, crossed its deserts, felt the sting of its frosts, the oppression of its heats, the drench of its rains, the fury of its winds, and always have beauty and joy waited upon my goings and comings.  John Burroughs

Serenity in Sikkim

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My visit to Sikkim, the first to a Buddhist state is still etched in my mind. The land of monks and monasteries where one is greeted by fluttering prayer flags all along the mountainous route that give tranquility a whole new meaning. The name of Sikkim is derived from the term “Sukhim” meaning new “house” or “place” and the wanderbug in me was only delighted to discover surprises at every bend.

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The journey from Bagdogra airport to Gangtok winds through verdant green valleys and mesmerising vistas of the Eastern range of the Himalayas. One could just spend the day rejuvenating in the fresh mountain air and discovering amazing local food options on M G road> Must include places in your itineray without which no visit is complete

 

Rumtek monastery

 

 

 

The Dharma Chakra Centre is the largest monastery in Sikkim exemplifying the great Tibetan architecture and is almost a replica of the original one in Tibet.

 

 

The blizzarding snow and yaks at Nathula pass

 

 

 

The frozen lake of Gurudongmar

 

 

Lachung Valley

 

 

 

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Beyond sushi; Foodie trail in Japan discovering okonomiyaki, gyozas and more

Japan really has a treasure trove of food options to explore, each town has some culinary specialities of its own. Let me take you on a gastronomic journey, sampling some authentic fare that was really a feast for the senses at pocket-friendly prices.

Vegetarians, hang on, there is a lot for you here too. Just make sure that you download this very useful picture and save it on your phone so you can show it as soon as you enter an restaurant and they will guide you with appropriate options on their menu. This is an important part of your survival kit, then life is sorted !

Hiroshima

Hiroshima-style onomiyaki actually a delicious layered Japanese savoury noodle dish topped with cabbage, green onion, bean sprouts and seafood with pork. Vegetarian options also available. The chef will make it in front of you and the traditional way is to eat it is with a spatula.

Quaff off with some Kirin beer. Crunch on some kaki fry (deep-fried) oysters fresh from the sea that Hiroshima is famous for. There are many food joints to chose from. We had our lunch at Nagata-ya restaurant, not to far from the Hiroshima Peace Park. You will leave satiated, smacking your lips. Trust me.

MIYAJIMA

The island of Miyajima is a short ferry ride from Hiroshima, a picturesque spot to spend the evening.

It has a reputation for the best seafood (for obvious reasons). Strolling along the waterfront, snack on some scrumptious oyster curry bread here.

Vegetarians can relish the Miyajima croissant rusk with a hot coffee. Many sake shops and other local Japanese souvenirs here to buy as well

BULLET TRAIN BENTO BOXES

Whilst dashing from one city to the other on the super fast bullet trains, don’t forget to try the ekibens.

You can grab one at stands on the station platform or on the train itself. Vegetarian show your sign but chances are you will be declined and you may have to settle for a beverage and chips instead.

KYOTO

Wagyu (Japanese cow) beef

This is the star of gastronomy of Kyoto.There are different varieties, all so delicious and come with step-by-step instruction card on how to eat them. Food court at the top of Kyoto station or Yodabashi store has many eateries with hearty meals.( Vegetarians have other options !)

Osaka

An evening in Osaka isn’t complete if you are not in Dotonbori. The electric streets with neon lights has a lot of food options, especially for crab lovers.

We chose to get away from the glitter and glow to amble along the canal that gives you a bit of a Europe-like feel. Dinner at this family run restaurant was a real treat and the hosts made you feel at home. Even though their English wasn’t so good, the smiles and hospitality made up for it.

Top places to see Cherry Blossoms in Japan in Spring

The cherry blossom flowering in spring or the Sakura season is dependent on the snowfall, temperatures of the preceding winter and the geographical location. Generally, the milder the climate, the earlier the blossoms open. In most of the major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, the cherry blossom season typically takes place from the last week of March to early April and that is really the time to be in these cities for Hanami (cherry blossom festival).

TOKYO

Imperial castle:

The grounds and the moats surrounding the grand palace is the most grandiose setting for Hanami. There are more sakura trees in the inner parts of the gardens as well where the former Edo Castle was present.

Chidorigafuchi Moat:

Memorise this tongue-twisting name as you cant afford to miss the mind blowing sight of the bowers of flowers and their reflections in the waters of the moat to the west of the Imperial Palace. Especially pretty here at sunset.

OSAKA

Osaka Castle:

The symbol of Osaka is undoubtedly the best Hanami spot in this bustling city. There are more than 4000 cherry trees on the spacious grounds surrounding Osaka Castle. Take leisurely walk here or ride the road train up to the castle for the best selfie spots. Nishinomaru Park in the castle’s western part with green lawns and views of the castle tower that light up in the evening is a great place to have a picnic. There is also a plum grove here with over a 100 varieties of plum blooms to admire.

HIROSHIMA

When you visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and the Atomic Park dome, the woebegone symbols of war and destruction and the whole saga of 6th August 1945 unfolds itself before your eyes and leaves you in a very melancholy mood. Stroll down the riverside and you be comforted to see families of the local people of this city having a picnic underneath the cherry blossoms. Join them or go across the river for the “soul food” of Hiroshima or the piping hot Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki for lunch.

KYOTO

Maruyama Park

In the heart of Gion lies the Yasaka Shrine. The park behind offers a green solace and it is the city’s most popular place for cherry blossom viewing. A pleasant place to stroll in the morning as well when there is a cool nip in the air.

Riverside:


The banks of the Kamo River are a favorite place for Kyotoites to relax, stroll, cycle, play ball games, picnic and of course pose for a picture beneath the cherry blossoms. All the tourists don rented kimonos and hairpieces to strike a pose here.

Shijo Dori:

The main street of Gion has many interesting cafes, eateries and of course cherry blossom spots for all the Instagram queens! Some had even hired a professional photographer for an exclusive shoot. Now that’s a good way to preserve these priceless memories forever.

Higashi Hongan-ji or the Eastern Temple :

The grandest head temple in Kyoto is just a ten minute walk from Kyoto Station and the entire boulevard is full of cherry blossoms. Grab some food from the food courts around and have a picnic underneath the trees.

Fushimi Inari :

The pink and white blossoms offset against the bright red of colors of the shrine and the toriis paint a pretty picture. Rendezvous with some more as you stroll along the romantic riverside behind.

HAKONE

The entire route from Odawara station to Hakone is embellished with cherry trees in full bloom.However if you take the Limited Express Romancecar or the scenic mountain railway, as the name suggests, the journey is even more ethereal

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Kodak zen moment: Plum blossoms in a zen garden….

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Spring time is the time for other flowers too…here are some bright yellow daffodils that said “Konichiwa” to me outside my hotel every day !

 

Around Kyoto with Taichi

The red, green and gold tour of must-visit locations around Kyoto was most interesting because of our friendly guide for the day Taichi Asami. A university student, who volunteers with Kyoto greeters to show foreign tourists his city, his way..

A lot of emails had gone back and forth between us to chose these three most popular spots around Kyoto. Yet Taichi had promised we would break free from the stereotype tours here and do the different on his local food tours.

We were excited to met him at the Yamadaya ryokan where we were staying close to the station and he helped us navigate the crowds to reach the platform of the suburban trains we were to board for our tour of the surrounding areas of the city

First stop : Gimme Red : Fushimi inari shrine

A truly remarkable shrine that boasts of 10,000 vermilion red Torii’s (traditional Japanese red gates) that snake it’s way up the hill.At the summit is the shrine in honour of Inari, the god of rice, sake, and prosperity. Hence visited by devotees from the business community and individuals thankful for their prosperity.

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Each torii has the name of the donor inscribed on its left.There is a feeling of bliss as you walk through this long tunnel of torii which is truly one of the most iconic visions of Kyoto.

All that energetic climbing up and down (albeit half way) the hill had left us ravenous for food and it was sheer delight to exit into the food alley. Taichi helped us chose the right food (Vegetarian mochi rice cakes on a stick for Jaydeep). Lots of grilled meaty delights topped with mayonnaise here. Munching on the sticks we walked back to the station to board the train to our next site.

Second stop : Go green : Arashiyama bamboo forest

 

 

 

Third stop : Golden temple : Kinkakuji 

 

Soul trip to the southern land’s end of India

We had visited the Westernmost point of Europe in Portugal (Cabo de Roca) a couple of years ago where there is an inscription of a quote “Where the land ends and the sea begins.” ….that reminded me that we have a similar “Land’s end” of the Indian peninsula thats more unique because its where a sea, a bay and an ocean meet….Kanyakumari.

We planned a trip here in the midst of the monsoon of July 2018. The great coastal drive from Trivandrum airport was very pleasant through the rain-blessed verdant coconut and banana groves and estuaries with birds, sometimes with a glimpse of the rugged sea.

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We were greeted by a small shower in the morning as is typical in July and the sky was heavily overcast with clouds. When we reached Kanyakumari in afternoon, the waves were lashing, the ocean roaring in a fury and the waters so turbulent around us. All the fishing boats were safely docked on the shore.

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As we boarded the ferry to the Vivekananda rock and I looked back at the shoreline, the words of the Great Swami spoken at the Parliament of Religions reverberated in my ears “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world tolerance & universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religion as true.”

Can you spot a church, a mosque and a temple in this picture that together reiterate even to this day his beliefs of 1893.

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The Vivekananda Rock Memorial was built in 1970 in memory of Swami Vivekananda who is said to have attained enlightenment here. The Living memorial and the mandapams are worth visiting. The most interesting is the sundial and sunrise calendar (although we were totally devoid of any rays of the sun here that day !)

Just sitting by the sea and listening to the sound of the waves is a truly immersive experience here….Smell the sea and feel the sky. Let your soul and spirit fly…

The Thiruvalluvar Statue in the memory of the the greatest poet of South India looms large at 40 metres and one can see people bathing in the Triveni Sangam or the holy confluence of the three great water bodies.

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The billowing clouds engulfed the sky in the evening too so we really could not witness the sun set and the moon rise over three seas (Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean) simultaneously. A morning walk to the pier in the hope of seeing the sunrise revealed just a streak of light at the horizon but a wonderful photo opportunity to capture the fishermen and fishing boats not really in a mood to brave the stormy waters around.

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Based on the reviews we went to Sarvana restaurant for lunch looking for an authentic south Indian thali but found it very bland and not up to the mark especially the rassam. Dinner was a more satisfying fare at a smaller family run restaurant opposite Hotel Sangam called South Food Center and would recommend it. We stayed at the Seashore Hotel which definitely had the best view and a scrumptious breakfast.

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Its a great feeling to have visited this “V” tip and southernmost point of the Indian Subcontinent which was definitely on my bucket list and I hope to visit more such iconic land’s ends as we wander the globe..Cape of Good Hope or Land’s End, Cornwall maybe….

Top 5 things to do in the heart of Naples

The old historic centre of Naples is traversed by Spaccanapoli and as the name suggests the mile long street literally “splits” old Naples into two parts.

1.Eat some Napolitano Babà
Taking a leisurely walk on this street that has so many places to eat, I noticed something in the window of this unique Patisserie Giovanni Scaturchio, Mount Vesuvius is certainly the star attraction of the region but a dessert made in its shape, surrounded by these small mushroom-shaped sweets intrigued me further and I entered the cafe to sample one !Um baba or baba au rhum is a small cake saturated in syrup and rum and they have ones filled with whipped cream and custard too ! They are so scrumptious and just melt in your mouth !!!!!

18403007_10155202158887744_6399133767156656815_nCertainly started my morning on a sweet note! No worries as there is plenty of walking to do to burn all those calories !

2. The Church of Gesu Nuovo in Piazza del Gesù Nuovo

This 16th Century Church is unique because it is the final resting place of local saint Giuseppe Moscati, a doctor who served the city’s poor. Also when a bomb was dropped on the site in 1943 failed to explode.(Its shell is aptly displayed inside). The pyramidal structures on the external facade are made of ashlar stone and have esoteric symbols. A great example of Renaissance architecture. Must visit !

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3. Santa Chiara Convent and Cloister.

Across the street is the Santa Chiara church and you can’t miss this masterpiece of Provençal-Gothic architecture. You must visit peaceful cloister behind.Walking around this monumental cloister, you can see the elaborate and well-preserved fresco paintings . and the alluring colorful majolica tiles in the center. Take a selfie underneath the orange trees for sure!

 

4. Walk through all the little alleys, lots of street shopping to do here. Especially on Via San Gregorio Armeno you will find the souvenirs with scenes of the Nativity and interesting tambourines.The face of Diego Maradona is unmistakably seen on several different souvenirs because he played for the Napoli football club !

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5. Some Me Time to rest your feet, have a gelato or a coffee and watch the world go by at Piazza Dante. Lots of cafes, bars, eateries and bookshops here for you to browse through or just do nothing and soak in the local atmosphere

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P.S. Naples was considered very unsafe in the past but the new Mayor Luigi De Magistris has cleaned up the city and made it safer as well for tourists.Military vehicles with armed guards are seen in every big square!

 

Why Me Time?

Forget the laundry,  go paint your nails, 
switch off the alarm & wake up late ; read a book, take a nap; and for a few moments, give a break to all crap! 
 
Sit by a brook and listen to the breeze, for some time, lady, let the daily chores all freeze !”  
Carve out some moments to unleash and travel; to the beaches, under the blue canopy and endless horizons;  as the chirping birds and shimmering sunshine soothe your aching soul; soak in the beauty the twilight & star studded sky holds !” 
 
Engage in this therapy called ME TIME occasionally, let your hair down , sit with a glass of wine & you are sure to bounce back and be just fine !
This picture not only spoke volumes but also subtly reminded me of some lost times, silenced with the urban clamor & outcries. It was literally like this articulate thought, I could relate to instantly ; it distinctly defined  and added that coherent meaning to the otherwise m !
Yes, our very own ME TIME,  something we all dream of, but which has apparently & silently, got crumpled under the burden of the hurrying and scurrying ;  and the disorderly haste we are all caught into. And subsequently, it never gives us a chance to even iron out the creases on it.  We have somehow not only lost track of its whereabouts, but the endless list of the “to-do’s” never seem to give us a breather. It is sad & distressing to even imagine how the simmering rage of the palpable chemistry that we once shared with the ME TIME,  bridled away just like that !
Though the deplorable truth is , that no matter how hard you resist, the clattering of the chores and the complexities of daily life may never actually leave your back, but how well you learn to carve out these special moments that belong to just YOU,  is what defines you; what helps you re-discover the lost YOU!
In the tumultuous riot of school excursions of kids and the swirling business trips of the husband, we have almost buried our desires to travel with the company of just our soul…we hardly remember how it felt to take a stroll all by ourselves, without having to worry about the bills and groceries …
But then, we are here for you, to help you unbury & unwrap those lost dreams tucked away cozily somewhere… we are here to remind you of a few small things which brought your immense happiness once upon a time !
“There are some walks you need to take all by yourself, to clear your head and to prune down certain things; you need to get away from places and people occasionally, to calm your restless mind & silence your irrational thoughts; and by expecting this time of yours, it absolutely does not show any imperfection or flaw; but merely and simply  implies, that you are ready for the soul cleansing therapy, by making space for everything beautiful, ready to enter your life … it is like a new window you are creating for yourself, every once in a while. So wake up, and shake the guilt, and rejoice as you watch it fragmenting into tiny pieces;  live the life of today, with gusto; let the dreams fly; stop being a part of the appalling and frightful RAT RACE, which never seems to have a finish line.. step back from technology, and stay away from the interminable self defeating & pointless pursuits of momentary happiness; release yourself from the urban trap & fall in love with the distractions all around you, in the music of the birds, leaves, the winds and mountains!
It is high time we remind ourselves the importance of ME TIME, which teaches us to live life, not by the ticking clock but by the magical  “compass” ! Wake up to the chirping birds and not alarm clocks, soak in the sunshine, as it sprinkles golden dust on your face; let the blue oceans whisk your worries away; let the soft sands tickle your feet; watch as the rivulets pave their way through the lushness and the wispy clouds adorn the velvety blue skies … walk in the narrow winding streets and mysterious stairways, explore and relive the lost history; saunter through the woods and take paths less taken, leave a sprinkle & something good behind…
Take a breather lady, and breathe in the beatitude travel has to offer ! We can always make more  money; but we sure cannot make any more time than what we are assigned… if we have to feel the vibes each place has in store for us, we need to get away from our sedentary life & unleash the adventurous side of ours; we ought to make MEE TIME a priority, so we not only read about exotic places, but actually travel to them , to get imbued by its strikingly unusual and strange beauty!
Travel changes you ; and you come back feeling accomplished in ways you can imagine; you are definitely not the person you used to be , because you are a little bit of every place visited and every person met !
Defy rules and mess up plans, ignore logistics, all the odds and complications you may find; listen to your inner voice and your instincts, they take you exactly where you need to be; just follow your heart and go for it ;
Fancy yourself with the precious ME TIME, after all, as they say, the best view always comes after a hard climb and those are the few moments when you find yourself drenched and flooded with Euphoria!
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Venture out with some ME TIME and enjoy the vibrations in the wind’s eye !
by
Vrushali Lambe
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