About Shivya Nath
Shivya Nath is an Indian girl who fell in love with traveling, writing and social media. The first is the most thrilling, because being from a protective Indian family means every travel plan comes with a small battle. She says, "I’m not complaining. At my age, few from my hometown have traveled as much and as independently as me."
She juggles work, travel and blogging, until she finds the perfect blend of the three. Join her on her journeys around the world, as she seeks the most untouched, undiscovered of places that few have been to, and even fewer have written out.
Latest Posts by Shivya Nath
Swarms of people greet me as I alight at the Jaipur railway station, some arriving in the pink city with royal expectations, some transiting through it to seek the desert culture of Rajasthan, and many slyly trying to identify first-timers to the city so they can put their touting hat on.
I incessantly nod no to the constant soliciting of Madam auto, Madam taxi and Madam hotel, until I reach the exit of the station and someone’s Madam auto soliciting succeeds.
I can see his bewilderment when I ask to go to Surya Vatika Road on the highway towards Chomu, and the fare negotiation is skewed in my favour for once, because he has no idea where we are going.
We drive past the bustling city, past the resorts that line its outskirts, and turn off the main highway into a by-lane that winds along vast patches of dry land, barren even at the onset of spring.
We occasionally see signs of the organic farm I’m heading to, and a few wrong turns & some help from a cyclist later, arrive at my destination. As the auto whizzes off, I am greeted by the sweet smell of the earth, the kind that mixes with our soil and makes us nostalgic about the India we grew up in.
Maliram-ji, my host at the farm, greets me with a broad smile and a nod, and ushers me in. In the distance, Maliram-ji’s wife, clad in a bright red lehenga-choli, is effortlessly lighting a chulha. The birds are chirping, as though in my welcome, the trees are in partial bloom, rows of vegetables show signs of the end of winter, and the resident cows, goats & dogs are lounging in the sun.
This green relief from the barren landscapes we’ve just driven along is one man’s dream to build an oasis in the middle of the desert, and prove that environmentally conscious measures can make a difference to the ecology of a place.
Maliram-ji shows me to my little hut, whose mud walls and thatched roofs ensure that I won’t need any artificial forms of heating that night. I immediately fall in love with its cosy Rajasthani décor and the fibre roofing of my bathroom, which creates the effect of open air bathing while preventing creepy-crawlies from sharing my bathing space. My bathroom window opens into half-blooming fields of yellow mustard.
The day is warm, but the mini forest at the farm ensures natural air-conditioning, in which I take deep breaths; fresh air is a luxury for my citified lungs. I spend the morning lazing in the breeze on a woven khatiya, spotting magnificently coloured birds flying from tree to tree and often breaking the silence with the sweet harmony of birdcalls. Sitting cross-legged on the floor of the chaupal, I have a sumptuous meal of Manjoo-didi’s chulha food, cooked with vegetables grown organically on the farm; I can tell the freshness of this meal apart from anything else I’ve tried in Rajasthan.
We play hopscotch that afternoon, and as she jumps from one tile to another, the music of her anklets intoxicates me. When the sun starts to set, I venture out of the farm and into the fields of mustard and jo that surround it. The yellow crops shimmer in the light, reminding me of Sting’s fields of gold.
I walk along, now spotting a Kingfisher perched on a tree, now cringing at the carcass of a dead camel in a dry river bed, now smiling at a lady working in the farm, adding a bright red colour to the vast stretch of green & yellow. Living everyday in the city, we forget that it is the little things that bring the most joy to our stressful lives.
Unlike most sunsets I’ve seen, the sun doesn’t paint itself or the sky with bright pink or red colours. It assumes a soothing pale yellow form, and sprays some yellow colour into the sky around it, leaving it largely untouched by its departure. I walk back to my farm to warm myself by the heat of the chulha and dine under the stars, accompanied by folklore animatedly related by the couple. We talk about the villages near the farm, the folk culture of Rajasthan, and their curiosity about life where I come from.
When we part ways for the night, I carry with me a strange sense of longing; I long for their contentment, the innocence of their thoughts, and the simplicity with which they live in this little green haven.
The city of La Laguna. Photo by Jose Mesa.
In my blog announcements at the start of 2013, I declared The Shooting Star travel blog open for guest posts. This first one comes Jack, who lives in the Canary Islands of Spain, off the west coast of Africa. He showcases Tenerife, often called one of the last paradise isles in Europe, from the lens of a local.
Although the Canary Island of Tenerife is an immensely popular holiday hotspot, most of the information you’ll read about it in English covers only a small area of the island. Subsequently, a lot of Tenerife’s most fascinating corners remain hidden from the majority of visitors.
A useful by-product of the island being a top tourist destination is that getting to Tenerife is easy. All anyone has to do to uncover an island different from the one most sun seekers know, is to book a cheap flight from Monarch and, after landing at Tenerife Sur airport, head north to where the Canarios live and play, rather than south towards the main resorts.
Party like a local: Nightlife in Tenerife.
Most visitors claim Playa de las Américas is the nightlife capital of Tenerife. But only where tourists are concerned. Tenerife’s former capital, La Laguna, is a university city and where there are students, there’s a bouncing nocturnal scene. El Cuadrilátero is a triangle of streets where the liveliest bars and clubs are located. Not only is this the place for travellers who want to hear the best local beats, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Eat like a local: Food in Tenerife.
You can’t get more local than eating in a guachinche. Few visitors have heard of these makeshift restaurants found in garages and sheds in north Tenerife which, as long as they serve no more than three cheap traditional dishes and their own vino del país (country wine), don’t need a licence to operate. To find one, look for ‘guachinche’ signs nailed to trees and arrows pointing along anonymous tracks. Eating in one is a unique experience and you won’t find them anywhere else in Spain.
Relax like a local: Beaches in Tenerife.
If you like your playas (beaches) to have a wild, carefree personality rather than rows of neat sun loungers, the black sand beauties at in La Orotava shouldn’t disappoint. Access only through a single track road, or a forty minute trek through banana plantations, keeps the hordes away. There are three beaches hidden by cliffs, including one used for camping, surfing and sunbathing au natural. Even if you aren’t a beach bum, Bollullo’s ramshackle beach bar is in a stunning spot for sinking a cerveza (beer) and picking at tapas.
Hike like a local: Mountains in Tenerife.
Spain’s highest mountain, Mount Teide, is deservedly visited by nearly everyone; however, head into the Anaga Mountains for some mind-blowing scenery minus the crowds. There are ancient laurel forests here, tiny hamlets perched on plunging ravines, and even a troglodyte community at Chinamada with a cave restaurant. Book into the Montes de Anaga hostel deep in the mountains, and follow trails into the atmospheric forest to take a step back in time.
Discover like a local: Tenerife’s Pyramids.
And finally, a mystery. The Güímar Pyramids are the cause of heated debates across the Canary Islands. Opinion is divided as to whether they were built by Tenerife’s indigenous people, the Guanches, or are farmers’ rubble – which seems crazy, but it’s a view many Canarios hold. Visit them, listen to the evidence, and decide for yourself.
Guest post by Jack Montgomery.
I stroll along the cobbled by-lanes of Adliya, observing in fascination, the cafe culture of Bahrain. The men are predominantly dressed in white thobes, and each time they flick the striped red and white gutras on their head, I am reminded of the omnipresent red and white Bahraini flag – painted on walls along walkways, displayed outside houses and cafes, and even adorning car windows. This sentiment of patriotism seems to flow throughout the country, not only in ostentatious displays, but in the pride and warmth with which the Bahraini people speak of their island nation.
While this patriotism surprises me, what is more surprising is watching women drive their SUVs to the doorfront of European-style cafes; unlike the portrayals in international media, while some of them choose to drape themselves in black abayas and hijabs, a majority only cover their hair, and a handful prefer to wear neither. The women share tables, conversations and laughter with the men, often talking in a crisp English accent interspersed with Arabic slang, feasting on fusion food from elsewhere in the Middle East, India and Europe. This is where the east really meets the west, I think to myself.
Sprinkled among the quirky cafes and bars of Adliya, Bahrain’s most hip neighborhood, lie artistic installations, colorful graffiti, and walls covered in Arabic inscriptions. I find myself admiring the quaint stone exterior of a chic lounge called Lanterns, when a lanky man invites me in for a sneak peek of the cafe, which is yet to open to the public. I follow him into an unexpectedly Indian decor; a tiny paan shop stands at the entrance, the bar is in the shape of an Indian truck, and the open kitchen is named Pappu da dhaba! Scheduled to fly out before the opening, I promise to stop by on my next trip, and he promises me the best shisha in Adliya. Above: Cafe Lilou, my favorite cafe in Adliya.
In the interim, my newfound friend recommends a stretch of shisha cafes a couple of traffic lights away on the main road. As I figure my way around the neighborhood, another act of kindness awaits me, this time from behind the wheel of an SUV. At first, I politely decline the offer for a ride, the reflex of my fierce India-groomed instinct. But the camaraderie in the ensuing conversation convinces me otherwise, and in I hop, dropping off at the suggested traffic light.
Glancing at my watch, I suddenly crave to watch the sun set over the coast of Bahrain, and wonder if I can make my way to the shore, with no access to a car and no public transport to speak of. I start walking north, and before I know it, a burly man with a kind face, stops his car and asks if he could drop me off somewhere. Who could have thought hitchhiking in the “conservative” Gulf region could be such a breeze, without even sticking out your thumb?
Mohammed, as he introduces himself, turns out to be a teacher of the Arabic language, and obliges when I ask him to teach me one of its many poetic phrases. He drives me to his favorite seaside walk at Muharraq, where we watch a crimson sky cast a magical reflection on the receding tide. In the fading daylight, we talk about his life on the island and how life has changed in his village, where minor protests still take place every few days. He admits that while some of his friends are still fighting for rights denied to them, he has crossed over to accept the pros of the regime and only wants peace. He takes me to Egypt and Iran in his stories, and I have no doubt when he confesses that there are no people like the Bahraini.
Having lost track of time in Mohammed’s company, I realize I am terribly late for a dinner gathering, and shyly ask him if he could drop me to my hotel; he happily agrees without much thought. When we part ways, I thank him profusely for the ride and his company. Ila al-liqa’, he says. Till we meet again.
It lies before us in all its splendour, brought to life by incessant cheering and booing. Men in white togas, and women dressed in colourful long tunics, keep their eyes glued to the pit below. The chariots have circled the arena, and the dust kicked up by the hooves of their galloping horses is slowly settling down. Armour-clad gladiators take centre stage; battle-hardened men who know this might be their last fight. The smell of sweat hangs heavy in the air, as their bravado drives the fourteen thousand spectators wild. The crowd is baying for blood, as a strong sense of anticipation mixed with dread engulfs the atmosphere. I am forced to look away from the bloodshed, towards the calming expanse of the emerald blue Mediterranean Sea that this Roman amphitheatre overlooks. I shake off these musings and smile at my vivid imagination.
My mind darts back from the second century, just in time to hear our guide Paco, explain that Tarraco, as Tarragona was then called, was the first city of the Iberian Peninsula to be captured by the Romans. It quickly rose to significance, with a brief stint as the capital of the Roman Empire, and the Roman amphitheatre we are at now, is where gladiator fights took place and death sentences were carried out. In the year 259, the Bishop of Tarragona and his two aides were burnt alive before a roaring audience, one of the many Christian persecutions issued by the then emperor. Five hundred years later, the Visigoths would oust the Romans and erect a basilica to honour the three martyrs.
I had first noticed Tarragona on the live route map on my flight to Barcelona; it was the only labelled dot among the prominent towns of Catalonia that I failed to recognize. The Moorish rulers, who followed the Visigoths, overlooked Tarragona as a centre of power and let it recede into its pre-Roman obsolescence as a sleepy countryside town. It remained Barcelona’s lesser-known neighbour up until the 1990s, when it finally found a place among the UNESCO World Heritage Cities of Spain for its well-preserved Roman ruins, and consequently on the map of Spain Tourism.
What was once the administrative block of Roman-owned Tarraco is now the residential old town of Tarragona, seated on a hill above the Mediterranean Sea. Quaint and charming like any typical old town in Europe, but with a unique Roman character that immediately transports you to the medieval ages. Narrow cobbled streets run between the rugged exteriors of old stonewalls, interspersed with earthy balconies and doors, adorned with colourful flowers and flags, and in some places, jarringly juxtaposed with modern construction because the ruins had aged beyond survival. After centuries of imperialism, the sense of freedom on these streets is still relative; several houses display Catalan flags with a star, showcasing their support for a Catalonia independent from the rest of Spain.
Massive stone foundations and medieval ruins, dating back two thousand years, lie along the town’s plaza and now serve as a meeting point. The interiors of homes, cafes, restaurants, bars and even banks, are still adorned by Roman arches; their own personal souvenirs from history. The oldest shop that stands in the old town dates back to the 1700s, and has been continuing its legacy of selling candles for almost three hundred years. The cobbled streets culminate into the colossal Catedral de Tarragona, which is perhaps the only evidence of Moorish influence on the town; Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance eras are equally reflected in the cathedral’s architecture.
The four thousand people who live in the old town of Tarragona hardly seem to resent awestruck visitors, as they stroll, marvel and click along its narrow winding lanes. Up until twenty years ago, the ruins lay ignored, making Tarragona a sleepy countryside town with a pretty long beach. Its rebirth as a site for tourism, just a forty-five minute drive from Barcelona, has led to much development, the foremost being that of its own version of Barcelona’s famous Las Ramblas, a modern street with elegant stores and cafes, albeit called La Rambla for being smaller than that of its namesake. Yet, the city’s extraordinary past is sprinkled with moments that remind you that this is Spain, like stumbling upon a Tapas bar offering all drinks and tapas at 1 Euro during happy hours, or walking into a lane with brightly coloured road dividers and discovering that an artist frustrated by their nondescript appearance took it upon himself to paint them.
Ambling along the modern side of Tarragona however, makes me yearn for a glimpse of its second century Roman character, and I’m left envious when Paco tells me how he grew up playing alongside the then deserted ruins with his childhood friends.
This story was originally written for The Hindu.
Ahlan wa sahlan. That was one of the first phrases I learnt in Arabic, almost five years ago. I’ve lost touch with whatever little of this beautiful language I learnt, but that phrase has stuck with me. It is an old Arabic phrase that means, we welcome you.
I landed in Bahrain without many expectations; a small city-state that has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, one that not many people travel to outside of business needs. At the airport, I could hear as much Hindi as Arabic, and I didn’t realize then that with the Bahraini stamp on my passport, I was being welcomed as much into the hearts, homes, and lives of the Bahraini people, as I was into the borders of (evidently) the most liberal country in the Gulf region.
In the last five days here, I have been overwhelmed by the camaraderie I’ve developed with the local people, inspired by the spirit of Bahraini women and men, and touched by the patriotic sentiment that seems to flow (almost) throughout the country. Bahrain reminds me of the romance I’ve sought in India for so long. To say that I’ve fallen in love will be an understatement; while I find the words to describe my experiences, I leave you with pictures to acquaint you with what I’ve seen of life in this island nation so far:
Coffee and food are national past times; in these quirky little coffee shops, coffee is served in the Bahraini tradition – only a couple of sips at a time, till you shake your cup to say ‘no more’.
Graffiti and greenery; not too much of either in Bahrain, but when you do spot it, it stands out.
And graffiti with a sense of humor! This relaxed vibe throughout the island and the openness of the people is what made me love the island almost immediately.
Evening walkers soak in the seaside serenity of Bahrain; most beaches on the island are now privately owned, so this is about the closest you can get to the sea.
It’s true, Bahraini women drive really big cars!
Someone partied hard last night! Artistic graffiti at Adliya, one of Bahrain’s most artistic neighborhoods.
A cosy little cafe in Adliya, owned by a Bahraini lady who also runs an art gallery next door.
Although these pictures show women wearing both the abaya (gown) and the hijab (head scarf), there are plenty of Bahraini women who choose to wear only one of the two, or neither.
Note: My trip to Bahrain is sponsored by Discover Bahrain and the Good Word Society, but opinions, as always, are my own.
Since I moved to Delhi in mid 2011 and started travelling in India, I have come across experiences that redefine the “real” India; experiences that lie quietly off the tourist trails, and let you fall in love with the hospitality and beauty of this incredible country.
1. Rent a village for a night.
You read that right! In the villages of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve in Uttarakhand, every family has two homes; one in a lower altitude village for winter, another in a higher altitude village for summer. That means when the village folk move up during the summer, we city folk can rent out an entire village for a sojourn in the Himalayas. Stone houses, cobbled walkways, majestic mountain views, and the promise of a peaceful escape are part of the rental platter.
2. Savor “Indian hospitality” in a pind.
A day begins in Punjab with the aroma of hot aloo paranthas dripping with white butter, accompanied by a big glass of lassi, mixed with the aroma of our soil. There are no pretences here, no exchange of money for hospitality. Choose any small village (pind) on the countryside of Punjab, and watch the winter sun illuminate the fields of sarson, let the fresh countryside air intoxicate your lungs, and soak in the famous country hospitality that Punjab is known for.
3. Become a monk for a month.
Give new meaning to spiritual travel, by committing to becoming a monk or a nun for a month. Curated around Tibetan Buddhism, the trail starts in the Tibetan colony of Delhi, moves to the scenic Himalayan villages of Spiti, and ends at the seat of HH the Dalai Lama. Besides learning about the Buddhist way of life, the kindness, curiosity and camaraderie of the monks and nuns will redefine happiness for you.
4. Camp by a salt lake in Rajasthan.
Between the royal heritage and the golden desert of Rajasthan, its smaller treasures lie untouched, like the salt lakes between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. Stretching over 50 km, salt is the bread and butter of villages along the stark desert region, and a photographer’s delight at sunset, casting almost magical reflections in the water. Venture deeper into the region to discover sand dunes and desert villages that are blissfully off the tourist circuit of Rajasthan.
5. Witness the union of the backwaters with the Arabian Sea.
It’s true that God’s own country still has place for mere mortals who want to get off the tourist trail, and settle for nothing less than virgin beaches and backwaters without a ton of houseboats. In the Kannur and Kasaragod regions of North Kerala, delight in the union of the Arabian Sea with the backwaters, across a sandy beach along the coast of Kerala. Eagles and migratory birds are equally drawn to this union, and traditional North Kerala food is a delight for all taste buds.
6. Ride a two-wheeler along the west coast.
If you’re craving for a sun, sand and sea break that takes you away from the crowds of Goa, take that bumpy overnight bus to Diu, because sheer bliss awaits. Rent a scooter, drive along the gorgeous Arabian Sea, lose yourself among groves of Hoka trees, find a charming café to while away time, and forget, just for a few days, that civilization beyond the occasional local exists.
7. Live like royalty in the Himalayas.
The British really did know how to live, and beautiful colonial bungalows set on quiet slopes, overlooking majestic views of the Himalayas, are evidence. While most of these in Shimla have been converted into hotels that could burn a hole in your wallet, heritage homestays invite those who look harder. At a colonial English villa or Dak Bungalow in Himachal Pradesh or Uttarakhand, you can step into the shoes of royalty, indulge in magnificent mountain views, sample local cuisine, and pamper yourself with the hospitality of a mountain family.
I originally wrote this article for The Alternative
We have raised questions in our heads, on Twitter and Facebook, and on the streets, about safety in Delhi and on a larger level, asked if India is safe (anymore) for women.
We have spoken the unspeakable truth about rape in India, we have tried long and hard to look at our values as a society, we have spoken up about the dark, silent nights of India, we have confessed that the safety protests in Delhi might not have gone right, and we continue to hope against hope that strict measures will be taken to punish the guilty and prevent such brutality in the future.
There is enough and more pessimism and anger out there (and within me, like within all of us), and as someone who continues to use New Delhi as a base and continues to be a proponent of solo travel in India, I believe we need to channel our aggression in the right direction.
We need to take our safety in our own hands, because even if we assume that after all these years, laws will be created and executed to ensure greater safety for women in India, it could be years before we start to see any real change or feel any safer walking on the streets. And we have to start looking at our own homes, because what we are fighting is a very fundamental flaw in our society.
While we continue to demand change, Delhi will only be as safe for us (women and men) as the effort we put into staying safe and fighting the fear. And here’s how I think we can do it:
1. Enroll in a self defense class.
Every Sunday in the month of January, Krav Maga India is offering free training sessions for women in Delhi. This is an Israeli art of self defense and I went for the session last Sunday; I have tried Karate and Muay Thai before (just tried!), but I realized that the techniques you learn in Krav Maga are much more practical for everyday life. It helps sharpen your instincts and make you more aware of your surroundings, as well as teaches you how to protect yourself in adverse situations, even from a bigger or stronger man. Krav Maga India also offers paid sessions for women and men throughout the year.
Venue: M-6, Basement ,Saket.- New Delhi
Time: 11-12 noon
2. Equip yourself with a defense weapon.
As per this story on what spurs potential attackers, carrying a pepper spray is a big deterrent, because you signify trouble. I’ve owned one since I moved to Delhi and it’s something I’ve been advocating as part of survival tips.
You can buy a bottle at any chemist store. I’ve recently found out that Stun Guns, which are essentially contact shockers, are also legal in India, though I’m yet to find a store that sells them (does anyone know of such a store?). A swiss knife or something sharp can be equally handy in distress. The important thing is to keep such a weapon accessible when you’re about to step out after dark, or walk along an isolated stretch. If you encounter trouble or your gut suggests that someone standing near you might be dangerous, quietly grab your weapon and stay prepared.
3. Don’t turn a blind eye on others in trouble.
I know that the state of the law and policing in India doesn’t exactly advocate helping one’s neighbor, but this interview might make you rethink all of that. Or this fictional story about a man who looked the other way. I often wonder what I’d do if I was passing or driving by someone who looked like she was in trouble with a group of men, or in need of help on a dark road. We have been so conditioned to not meddle in the matters of those who don’t affect us, that we’ve forgotten the value of a helping hand. The next time we spot someone in trouble, let’s do unto them what we’d have them do unto us; call the police, yell for help, put the pepper spray to use.
4. Stand up for what’s right, at home.
Unfortunately for us in India, misogyny begins at home, in our own educated urban homes and families. I’ve personally seen so many mothers who blindly dote on their sons, so blindly that nothing the son does can be wrong, so blindly that she warrants that other people treat her son like a king. Whether you’re the son or the daughter, it’s time to stand up and raise your voice for what’s right. The next time someone tries to put you down as the ‘inferior’ sex, speak out, lecture, revolt, do whatever it takes to make yourself heard. That’s the only way we can start changing the fundamentally flawed attitude of our patriarchal society.
5. Trust your gut.
It’s impossible to emphasize this enough. We all read and share golden rules like don’t walk alone on a dark street, or don’t accept an invitation to ride with someone you barely know, or don’t get lost texting while in an isolated space, or fork out a few extra bucks to take a cab late in the night, but how many of us really follow it? If travelling in India by myself has taught me something, it is that when your gut suggests that someone might mean trouble, they most certainly will. It’s better to be safe than sorry, always.
I’ve shared some of these thoughts on Twitter, and one person tweeted back saying that there’s something very wrong with a society where women need to learn self defense, and no one can deny that that’s true. And of course, the misogyny is not limited to India either. We have taken the first step by admitting that our society (among other things) needs to change.
While this change takes its course, we have two options – we can live in fear, because forget a dark street at night, we are not even safe in our own homes; as per the National Crime Records Bureau, 94.2% of rapes in India were inflicted by family / friends / neighbors or someone the woman knew. Or we can take charge of our own safety, and instead of asking whether it’s safe to travel in India and if New Delhi is safe for women, let’s ask if we have done everything we can to stay safe.
Featured image by Cia de foto.
As the New Year lurks around the corner, I often go to sleep wondering what opportunities might come my way in 2013. I know, only too well, that these are much too ambitious dreams for a single year, but as the Spanish would say, soñar no cuesta nada, to dream costs nothing. So here goes for dreaming of far away places.
1. Watch the Northern Lights
I’d love to be there through autumn and lose myself in the colors of Canada.
3. Experiment with Slow Travel
4. Volunteer Travel in Northeast India
5. Revisit Southeast Asia
6. Go on a Working Holiday
7. Discover New Zealand
8. Witness Autumn in Japan
Oh, the cherry blossom country!