The Taste of Kinnaur, from Chandigarh to Thanedhar

A Kinnaur village

I think I was still in my late teens when I first heard of Kinnaur. It was perhaps from the fruit seller who had arranged his prime fruits of the season on the top of his cart. Back in the mid-’90s in Bombay, the Washington apples had still not made their way to the top of his cart. So when I came home with a bunch of apples and gave my mother the account, or the heesaab, I said with the same pride as the fruit Wala had said earlier. “Sahab, ye Kinnaur ka apple hai, thoda mehenga hai par Swaad yaad rakhoge”. These are apples from Kinnaur, they are a little expensive but you will never forget the taste. I might have forgotten the taste though. It took me 25 years and a trip to Kinnaur to get it back in my senses.

The Pandemic had eased out a little and India had just got out of the Delta wave. So, when I was able to get both my shots, I decided now is the time. Not that it was in the planning, but like everyone everywhere in the world, I just wanted to get out. It was June, and with the international skies still shut for commercial traffic, a flight to Chandigarh from Bombay was the longest I had taken in about 15 months. I got into the cab of someone I had given a rough idea about my travel plan. The plan was to get on the road to Kaza for a week. The drive from Chandigarh to Simla was not new to me. I was doing it after maybe a decade or more though.  Roads were wider and the restaurant billboards uglier. The traffic made sure that you still went at the pace you did twenty years ago. Everyone was trying to get to the mountains after the lockdown. Thankfully, 90% of those only had Simla and a little beyond on their mind.

Dusk at the grandma stokes homestay.

When we crossed Kufri, a little more than 20 km away from Simla, the number plates on the cars got more HP’ish (local) than the DLs, UP’s and PB’s that dominated the road from Chandigarh to Simla. The driving too got slower. It was like suddenly we were in Kinnaur even before we were in Kinnaur, I thought to myself. Our stop for the night was unknown, i like it that way. So, when the driver, Salim asked me, Raat Kidhar? where do we rest our backs for the night? I said wherever you feel you can’t continue anymore. To which he said, he can drive to Kaza if it is what it takes. Kaza was still 250 km and 5000 Feet above and away, and Salim was

Into the clouds at Grandma Stokes

being nice or just letting the driver in him do the talking. I, on the other hand, felt like was on a mission. It felt normal like how it felt before on the road, after 18 months and I was going to keep going, I thought. The early dusk stop, however, nearly made me change my plan. It was a homestay I had read about, the pictures were inviting but to get to it with the background of the setting sun behind the mountains was something else.

We got to Grandma Stokes, the homestay in Thanedhar at around 5 pm, and I only left coz I had to continue on the road. The owner sat with me over a glass of tea and we spoke about a possible itinerary for the next couple of days, amongst other things. I was completely new to this region and this was the first local I was having a face-to-face with. He even asked me to stay back, but I think we concluded that this piece of construction with 6 rooms all overlooking the Himalayas and the Sutlej valley might be a little too much price-wise for me at that time. Also as I left I thought,  it is too less inventory-wise, when it came to getting a tour here. I left the homestay with a couple of cherry seeds still in my mouth from the plantation. I had no idea that the Grandma Stokes will single-handedly define the course of my Kinnaur Spiti tour to come. The, ‘only 12 people per group’ thought came from the only 6 rooms at this lovely spot of apple and pear orchards

Salim’s wheel descended into the Sutlej valley from Thanedhar, and as the night fell on us the road started its parallel journey with the river Sutlej’s sound. With an altitude difference of 3000 ft between our night stop at Rampur and Thanedhar, there was an immediate change in temperature and a need for both beer and an air-conditioned room for the night.

We drove on this road back to the Valley

The next morning was an early departure as we would enter the interiors from Kinnaur. The apples were still a couple of months away. I saw them on a random walk in a village. They were small although they had started to develop color. I couldn’t resist and plucked one. I wanted it to be a souvenir. What if I never came back to the land again? It was too soon. Too soon to pluck the apple and to think that perhaps I might not come back again.  

It happened in August of 2021, the end of August. The first apples from low altitude Kinnaur came to refresh my taste of Kinnaur and with them our first group to Kinnaur. 

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

It was supposed to be the main attraction in Guatemala. Lake Atitlan was/is after all the crown of Guatemala and maybe the most visited of its place. However, I struggled to like it. I wanted to like it so bad coz it was going to decide if I would come back to Guatemala ever again. Even worse, I did not like Guatemala too. Maybe coz I saw the country in the lake and only with North Americans. So many of them were there around the lake, that I felt Cancun was more Mexican! So, when someone told me, “you have to try San Lucas de Toliman on the lake” I felt like going all in, and include it in my group tour itinerary. Hoping that If nothing works then maybe the only thing that remains will. Well o Well, and did it work this time!!

View from the Hotel – San Lucas Toliman

I should have written this from Lake Atitlan, I am thinking now. I should’ve written it from San Lucas de Toliman, the small town on the lake that changed my view of all things previously imagined. There were crowds here too, but they were just locals. Families enjoying a quiet Sunday by the lake. There was no sign of English or people who spoke it as their first language and that was refreshing. I do not want to sound anti-English, but when only one kind of tourists come to town, the town becomes them, rather than they become the town.

Also, a crowd of locals does not feel like a crowd as they seem to somehow merge with the place. I am writing now however from 30000 ft above and on my way to Cuba. I can still see from way up here, the volcanoes that overlook the lake. San Pedro and Atitlan though may have erupted hundreds of years ago but for the many tourists who come back from the lake, the images keep erupting in their mind way after. The volcanoes of Patagonia have an ice cone whereas here its pure soil.

The more local town – San Antonio Palopo

The other towns on the lake like Panahchel, San Pedro and San Marcos are nice but then they have so many tourists and shops selling things catering to them that I struggle to find the lake in the towns. They have the view, they have an international vibe, but in them, Guatemala feels, unlike Guatemala. San Antonio de Palopa feels a little more of Guatemala to me in the series of towns around the lake. Just like Lake Bohinj in Slovenia feels more like Slovenia than lake bled.

The quiet lane at San Marcos

Sometimes in the night when I look at the Atitlan, and well, I can’t really see anything but yet there is the wind and there is the sense of being around the water. The volcanoes that guard the lake are lost in the darkness but even in that, there is the feeling of someone watching over the lake. Someone, not some mountain. With the lake, the extinct volcanoes feel active. The Volcanoes and the Lake complete each other.

If there is a day of touring around the lake then this is how I would recommend you to do it.

Around the lake in a day!

  • Take the boat and start early, after 4 pm the lake starts to feel like a sea when it’s windy.
  • In San Antonia Palopo to see the locals while not being bothered by tourists.
  • In San Pedro be in presence of party-goers and feel the buzz.
  • In San Marcos walk in the narrow lane lined with yoga casa’s, organic café’s.
  • In San Juan explore the coffee and the chocolate makers.

The town for Coffee and Chocolate – San Juan

I would come back to the lake and always stay at San Lucas Toliman, but for what the lake is, to each one his own. I am sure just as I found my lake in Toliman you would find yours elsewhere on its periphery.


Mexico and Peru, Twins..!

There is something in these two countries, Peru and Mexico. No, not just that, there is something in this continent. True, that it is one big stretch of land from North Mexico to South of Chile, right to the end of where humans still live on extreme lands. Never there can be so much of madness, sheer amazing beautiful madness in one stretch of land. The land is known as Latin America.

Machu Pichu in Peru

Palenque in Mexico

Mexico and Peru are far away from each other but yet feel closer to me than any two neighbors. Well, then again neighbors are not known to be the best of friends. We have multiple examples around the world to prove that. I fell in love with Peru a long time back, but my love for Mexico is new. So, you know it feels a little more exciting here in Mexico. When I first came here last year in 2018, I was not even sure if I would stay for more than a few days. Well, here I am a year later on our first group tour to Mexico and beyond for over two weeks.

Over the years in the continent of South America, it has felt more like home than even sometimes in India, the country which is home. Lima, in Peru, is a constant parallel to Mumbai and maybe someday Ciudad de Mexico, or CDMX as it is known, would be the second spot for me in this continent. I keep saying continent, so let me clear this out. Mexico is geographically in North America, and before even we come to the South, there are at least 6 – 7 countries that are a part of Central America, which technically is not a continent. The entire land, however, from Mexico to Chile feels so similar that I choose to call it one land, one continent.

Che Guevera had set course to travel around South America, and further north, where there spoke one language, had many similar customs, and yet there were so many different countries, so many borders. He had thought of uniting all the countries. That did not happen, and never will,  but in my mind, I am at times confused with where exactly I am on the continent. Peru feels like Mexico feels like Peru on so many different occasions that sometimes I just let the food decide which is what. Peru has Ceviche and Grilled Chicken houses everywhere, Mexico has Tacos and other regional food around. So for me when in doubt I just find food to let me know. But then the whole culture of food is so similar in both these countries.

Someone mentioned that in Peru, when you ask an average teenager, “what you want to become in your life?”, the chances are the reply would be, “A chef”. I am sure in Mexico it would be the same. With so much of freshness in food from the streets to the chic restaurants. The basic standard of food in these two countries is high.

The creole cuisine in Peru

The Maya cuisine in Mexico

Then there are the drinks. Pisco in Peru and Mezcal (not just tequila) in Mexico. The cocktails that are made out of these two spirits are some of the best I have had around the planet. There is the beer but that’s a common thing.

What really strikes the chord in these two countries, above food and drinks and the rich heritage with the Incas in Peru and the Maya in Mexico, are the people and the way they treat outsiders. Both countries have their share of big-ticket tourist destinations, with Machu Pichu in Peru and Chichinitza Pyramids in Mexico, but in the end, what is the big take away is the kindness of the people. The kindness and the way they are with tourists. Yes, it’s a little bit commercial, but it feels that both the countries have been there and done that.

The masques in Lima’s Square

The dance in Mexico city Square

Like tourism has already reached a ceiling and now it’s just a constant plateau. A flat good feeling within between peaks of wow! That’s what it feels when I write from this bar in San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico. It just feels wow! It is such a pleasure to be here. Here in Mexico or there in Peru!

Kilkenny to Killarney via Kinsale

The morning was not wet neither was it cold. “This is not your typical Irish morning”, said my host as she took down my breakfast choice. Between, the full and the half Irish breakfast option, there was not much of a choice to make, full it was!  A wholesome breakfast is a good way to start the day especially when you know that there might be no lunch happening. Of course, at that moment I did not know that nor did I know the portion size of a full breakfast. It took me some time to finish my hosts offering that morning, and when I left, the only sign of anything being wet was my windshield. As the engine started the wipers quickly ran through the traces of the typical Irish morning and the wheels moved towards the direction, Rock of Cashel.

Rock of Cashel

A few minutes into the drive, I rolled down my windows. The scent of the morning had a mix of all that I was seeing around. Driving in Lofoten Islands, Norway, the sea was everywhere not only in front of my eyes but also in my lungs, mixed with the occasional dry cod, here in Ireland on the local road, it was mostly just grass, wet grass. It felt fresh when I stepped out to take a picture of the imposing Rock of Cashel. In the overall leveled landscape a structure like the Rock of Cashel felt like an abode of a ruler back in the times. I did not get to know more of it, as the road that led to the top was shut due to maintenance. Having made up my mind of coming back here with the group, I was thinking that even if the rock was open to visiting, I would’ve skipped it and driven where I was headed, on an impulse. South instead of North West, South to the town of Cobh, on the Atlantic.


With the change of direction came a change of plan. Maybe I would now reach Killarney, my destination for the night, a little late. Late in Ireland was 8 pm, which I realized that night. However, at that point when I was facing the town of Cobh, in the distance over the bay, and using the natures restroom, it felt good to just let go of any plans and see where the next few hours would take me. Cobh was known to have a Titanic museum. The Titanic on its maiden voyage called off at Cobh as the last port in Ireland before sailing to its fate in the North Atlantic. There was a group of people waiting to enter the Museum and I thought walking on the streets of the town was a much better use of my time. I had marked both Cobh and Kinsale on my ‘want to go’ list the night earlier, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to make them both. Here in Cobh, the houses all lined up on the street felt like a good sight but then in Kinsale it felt even prettier. Out of the two, I knew I would come back to only one. I would come back to Kinsale.


I did not spend a lot of time in Kinsale, but it was the kind of town which felt local and touristy at the same time. I like it when in a town, the establishments know how to work in tourism and the people running them get more locals than the tourists. ‘Tourists are welcome but we cater to local tastes’ is what it feels when you enter the café’s, book shops, or restaurants in Kinsale. It also is one of the most colorful towns I have seen in Ireland. When I started from Cobh, Kinsale was not the next town. I was maybe not too pleased with Cobh so I had decided to drop out on the south entirely and drive straight to Killarney. But I was glad I made the detour and also that on my way I gave a lift to a man returning from a funeral.

In the next few hours, I got a lot of low down on Ireland. The man was like a guide and even though at times it got a little too much, I would remember that route from Kinsale to Killarney through all the local roads, and the wild pastures more coz of the info I got on what we drove by. Stories always make a place more lively and my co-driver had a lot of them. It was for the first time that I learned, in Ireland, the counties have their pride and together that’s where the pride of being Irish comes from. I think it was the County Cork that we did most of the driving in, on my day 1 in Ireland. He always spoke of the town first and then followed it with the county.

My destination was in Killarney, I had told him before. Now after 3 hours of driving and talking about Ireland. I spoke about Killarney again, only this time I followed it up with County Kerry. I was already talking like an Irish, at least when referring to towns. Speaking of towns, Killarney was quite a surprise. As I entered the town through its central street, I saw more tourists than locals. It was not like where I had stayed the night earlier. I was late in reaching Killarney, but I was told that coz of the tourists the restaurants stay open longer into the night than the other small towns. Later when I walked in the town center, it felt more crowded than it felt from inside the car. It was exactly opposite of Kinsale, ‘we have more tourists but locals are welcomed’. You cant blame Killarney though, It is the base for exploring the Ring of Kerry and ultimately the unofficial start of the Wild Atlantic Way.

Enroute in County Cork

Killarney had a lot of color on its bars and the streets felt lively. But the strong Irish character was missing. Such is tourism though, you win some you lose some!

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala – To Be or Not To Be!

I had never thought of Guatemala much at first. When the name began to surface in my travel plans, for Latin America, it was still a filler country. Mexico for its heritage and food, Cuba for its ‘travel back in time‘ feel and Guatemala for?! It was a question I needed to find an answer to, and just Guatemala as a filler did not make me feel good. I had seen images of this turquoise lake and the two volcanic mountains at the edge of it. I had also heard that the Lake Atitlan was very touristic in places but even then there were a few corners that felt peaceful perhaps like its southern counterpart, Patagonia. I had seen the lake and the surrounding towns, enough on the map. It was time to find it out for real.

The hostel where I chose to stay was heavily recommended on both lonely planet and TripAdvisor. It also had a beautiful location with direct views of the two volcanoes. Inside though it felt more like the U.S than it felt like in Guatemala. I think that was the first reason I wanted to stay as much out of it as possible. So I traveled and traveled a lot to find where on the lake it feels like Guatemala.

After spending 24 hours on the lake I was still trying to find out that one place which was charming and not just pretty. When in an open truck as I passed through the tiny hamlets of San Catarina and San Antonio, the first feel of being on a lake in ‘Guatemala’ struck me. Sometimes in my hunt of a destination to stay for my group, I come across places like Lake Atitlan, beautiful but yet something feels like not complete. Maybe I judge too much or maybe I should just let the work to score over personal preferences. Or, I should just wait and let it grow. Sometimes what we expect and what comes up is so different. In Guatemala, I fell in love with Antigua and only liked Lake Atitlan. I had thought the reverse would happen. With Lake Atitlan, I think I would wait and let it grow on me, coz for the people I know it would be an instant ‘wow’.

The accommodation possibilities on the lake range from hostels to guest houses to fancy hotels. I had to find a hotel for my tourists but before that, I had to find that one village where it felt different than in most places on the lake. San Lucas de Toliman did not have the view as it was directly under the volcano. I did not find time to look at it, but a hotel surfaced and I will take my group there this November. I will also hope that I like the lake better.

My favorite towns on Lake Atitlan and why?

Panajachel – Entry point and good to stroll around even at the expense of being super touristy.
San Catarina & San Antonio Palopo – Unpretentious and calm, easy access from Panacjel.
San Marcos – As Hippie as it gets but good for a walk and some really good cafes.


Scotland – Ireland, From the Mind to Screen Via the Wild Atlantic Way

It had just started to snow and the weather update on the radio mentioned of a possible road closure by late evening. Google maps had already mentioned the arrival at my destination much before that. So, with a momentary sigh of relief, and not being worried about driving in snow, I continued towards, Aberlour. The road  was already very scenic and a town by the River Spey in the highlands of Scotland was a good setting for a hotel. The idea was to check into The Highlanders Inn, which came heavily recommended for its Japanese owner and his knowledge of the whiskeys of Scotland and in general from the world.

Road to Aberlour

The sun had long gone outside the window, but at the bar in Highlander’s Inn, the ambiance was bright. Those who gathered spoke fondly of their favorite spirit, The Single Malt Whiskey. Perhaps it was the alcohol or it was just the drive that day, or maybe a heady mix of the two that prompted me to think, Scotland as a tour is a good thing. People, especially lovers of good Whiskey (and there are many in India) would love to go on a single malt trail. A trail that would introduce them to the home of their favorite single malt. By the end of my drive in Scotland, I had come to an understanding that I do not need to even go to its neighboring country, Ireland, even though it would be a good sales idea to combine the two countries.

Back home in India, the idea of going to Ireland was not even an idea for an entire year. Travel to Ireland was so foreign that even going to Irish Bars did not excite me. At the same time though, I started thinking, just a ‘single malt trail’ tour was a little too much. Maybe this is why Ireland started to slowly make a headway, through the back door. I think it was not until I realized that like me the Irish were not very big fans of the Queen, that the second door opened in my mind. I guess I also started hearing or maybe started paying more attention to what people spoke about the Republic, around the world. Especially, the people who had driven in Ireland. So somewhere in early March this year just on an impulse, I booked a ticket to Dublin. It was a one-way ticket!

“Let me just go to Ireland for a couple of days and if I do not like the way it feels, I will fly back”, is what I thought the night before the flight to Dublin. Well, that was the last time I thought about Ireland that way. 25 km out of Dublin as I accidentally took the wrong exit out of the motorway, my mind took the right turn I think. As the road got narrower, the idea got broader, and by the end of the day, I was convinced, Ireland needs at least 3 – 4 days in an itinerary with Scotland.

In the next one week of driving in Ireland on the Wild Atlantic Way, two things happened. One, the equation reversed from 4 nights in Ireland and 8 in Scotland to only 4 in Scotland.  Second, I had to (without wanting it) book a ticket out of Ireland!

Fanad Lighthouse

As I sit to write an itinerary for Ireland and Scotland for next summer, the scenes keep flashing in front of me, much like the waters of the Atlantic, that splash on the rugged coastline of Ireland. They make a sound but from way up there you can only see them and the sound is that of only the wind. Both the wind and the water are wild, and that’s where Ireland scores I think. It feels a bit like the wilderness in Patagonia. Today, it is as much of a pleasure to put words on the screen, as it was to put the first gear and start driving every day in Ireland.


Being in Scandinavia..

A few years ago, in a Sami (North Norwegian) camp of reindeers, a tourist asked the herder, “How many reindeers do you have?”. “Fifty Thousand” came the reply and then he added with a smile, “We do not count, we just be with them”. In all these years of coming here to Scandinavia, I have a similar reply, when somebody asks, “how many tours till date?”. This year however I could not help but say, “It has been 10 years”, not knowing still, how many tours it has been.

Travel has been constant and a lot has happened after the first summer in Scandinavia back in 2009. Tours got added over the years. Those that became closer to me than this one. Places where it felt more lively, where the food, the culture, and people painted a lot of colors and made the space vibrant. Scandinavia chose to be white and still stays like that. There is not much of life in white perhaps, but white feels stable. Sometimes with all the fun and party, there needs to be a place to just be, knowing that when you come back nothing would’ve changed! This Scandinavia tour feels that way in our array of tours.

I often tell people in the bus when I speak about Scandinavia, ‘Norway is like my father’, it teaches and then it teaches again. It loves in ways which do not show. When I go back to it after a while it shows no other emotion but a subtle smile.  When it has to call, it calls, does not scream! It feels like there can be a system and yet not feel mechanized when I travel to Norway every year.

I haven’t encountered so many Scandinavians in the 10 years as I have perhaps Croatians or Peruvians  in a run of two years or Iranians in a month. Scandinavia is about the collective, and not so much about personal. The way of life becomes the person itself, and knowing how the people live here, is knowing them. True, that given an option I would not choose to stay here and choose a warmer place, both in terms of weather and people. But then I would keep coming back, just as Scandinavia  would like me to.

Today would be my last day here in Norway for this summer. The sky has been uncharacteristically clear over the past few days. When I talk to the locals they say that an entire week of summer in an entire country is rare. In Scandinavia, where midsummer is a bigger holiday than Christmas, clear skies are a reason to celebrate. For me, just being in Scandinavia does it!

Alesund to Andalsnes | Part II

The Fjordland of Norway hits you straight away. It does, however, take time to sink in. The pleasant shock of nature after the initial ‘wows’ and ‘amazing’ settles in your mind. Once in there it only makes you want to stare, and absorb what you see, take it all in.
On the road from the Briksdal Glacier through the Olden Valley, there are many times that our coach stops, and every time it does, people start taking pictures. The road that runs parallel to the river is narrow and vehicles on both the sides stop wherever there is a place and whenever they see an oncoming vehicle.

The Loen Fjord hotel has its pluses and its negatives. From outside it looks like a building just from a postcard, with the Loelva river flowing into the fjord and rooms overlooking the confluence. There are benches to sit by the flowing water and the grass makes you want to take off your shoes. On the evening we came in, a cloud was hanging low just behind the hotel and I thought to myself, ‘only if it feels as exclusive as this from within’. The people love it though and they do not so much seem to mind the other six bus groups or so in the same property. I don’t mind it too, though I would like to stay somewhere where we stay the next night.

Hotel Loen Fjord Exterior

The next morning, I often hear people saying, “why do we have to leave today, can’t we stay for a night more?” or “I do not want to do anything but just be in this” and every year I tell them the same thing, “wait till you see what’s next”. The funny thing, however, is that even I do not feel like leaving.

As we reach the ferry port for the Geiranger Fjord, the gushing Hellesyltfossen, which has the same name as the village of Hellesylt makes for a lovely pre-boat time. Norwegian woolen and winterwear brands are known the world over and the Devold factory shop in Hellesylt is a good bargain store for some high-end Norwegian winter wear.

Geiranger Waterfall

I like to look at Geiranger Fjord from a distance rather than sailing through its waters. With every step as you descend the path from NorskeFjord Centre overlooking the most beautiful fjord in Norway, Geiranger, with its water and the arbitrary cruise ship looks different. The Storfossen accompanies you on your descent to the fjord. The walk next to a waterfall as it meets the fjord simply feels like, how many pictures can one take?


The real picture postcard view is the one that you get from driving up the Mollsbygda (this I don’t know how to translate). The panorama mode of your cell phone does its trick and I do not feel I have taken enough no matter how much I do. I tell myself, to look and not just click. But, I do not listen. When I tell people, “its time to leave”, someone always says jovially, “you don’t know what is next?!”.

View Curve

True, what comes next is a masterpiece in Norwegian road making. It is one of the most striking views that Norway as a country has, not just Fjordland. On every bend of the Trollstigen or the Trollspath, the name of the team leader is marked. When you look at the Trollstigen from the top, and onto Andalsnes in the distance, it really does feel like, ‘there is nothing like Norway’.

Trolls path

That night when people sit for dinner in the beautiful Aak hotel, the past 48 hours are discussed. Everyone points out his / her favorite. For me, there is nowhere better than the Aak Hotel to finish this journey. A journey that sleeps for two nights but dreams for 20 days.

Aak Hotel

Helsinki, ten years…!

I came here 10 years ago. In the ‘not so spring’ day of early May, I followed the instructions given by the hostel website to arrive here at the Euro Hostel, Helsinki, from the Vantaa Airport. I don’t think there were any google maps back then coz I remember me walking these very streets, with a fold-out map. I was new to Helsinki, not only that I was new to travel.

If I say a lot has changed ever since it will be a cliche, but it really has and it hasn’t. Scandinavia still makes me feel the way it did back then. There is still so much to learn from the way people work here, way the things function. Last evening when I arrived in Helsinki, I realized that I am staying close to the Hostel I stayed back in 2009. Back then I had a fold-out, now I just blend in.

Helsinki Evening
Helsinki Evening

Helsinki will always be special because of how cold and grey it felt back then and how warm it feels now, and the weather has nothing to do with it. The radio next to me plays commercials in Finnish, as I wait for my laundry cycle to finish. Finnish is different, in ways where it doesn’t really belong to any family. I think I like that about Finnish, just as I do with Hungarian and Turkish. They all belong to one family; every language is unique.

Euro Hostel
Euro Hostel

I think, what can I write about Helsinki? Favorite things to do here? Maybe I don’t like doing anything in particular here. I just like to walk, and if you are coming here for the first time, I would only advise you to take a Tram, buy a day ticket and move. Move with the crowd, which mostly would be tourists. I remember how I stared outside the window on that cold rainy evening, amazed at how clean and empty everything was. Well, it was not only my first time in Helsinki but also in Europe. I did not have anything in particular that I wanted to see back then, and it was only later that I realized that through the walk and the tram ride I had almost passed or entered (more of the former) 70% of the sites, mentioned in Helsinki’s recommended list of things to do.

Helsinki in a day?

  • Take a walk to the center from the Train Station.
  • Have the sights of the Central and Uspensky (Russian) Cathedral done.
  • If your legs hurt, then take the tram number 7 and just take a ride @ 3.2 Euros.
  • Lunch out in the market square in front of the harbor. Try Fish and veggies. Later get the strawberries and eat them with ice cream (both separate)
  • The rock church in the evening is good to just sit and be in peace.
  • Watch the evening come in on the Gulf of Bothnia.

But really, what I like might be so different than what anyone else likes. They might have a list of their own that needs to be ticked off. Travel maybe is not about what needs to be done. Perhaps, it is just about what you feel like doing at that time exactly. Imagine you are walking on the street and you find a really cozy café that looks really inviting, even if you are not up for a drink. Yes, you can pass it and think to yourself, I have so much to do. Or you can enter, answer the call of the moment and who knows what happens next. For many travelers, this moment with that place is just for that moment. They might never come back. Even for me, who knows will keep coming back, the moment is still just a moment. If I feel like living it, I should. Who knows when it will come back again, maybe it never will or if you are lucky like me, it will after ten years!

Alesund to Andalsnes 2 nights & 20 days | Part I

This journey was an outcome. From 2009 to 2014, when Norway was the only thing that people remembered out of our Scandinavia tour, there was already a route taking shape in my mind. A few names up here in Norway were been spoken. Places like Geiranger and Trondheim were known, but a few more started to make rounds of café conversations with the drivers I sat with.

It then took some online research and help from the local agency to come out with the Norway Fjords and Arctics itinerary. The Arctics I was aware would impress. The fjords were the big surprise of the tour.

There are only two countries on the planet with such a staggering coastline. Norway in the North and Chile in the Southern hemisphere. The midnight sun in Norway and the comparatively easy access gives an edge to the North, otherwise, there is very little to differentiate one from the other.

Lofoten in the Arctics
Lofoten in the Arctics

Chilean Patagonia
Chilean Patagonia

Some journeys take very little time but the number of experiences that one feels are so overwhelming that it feels a lot more time has passed. The travel from Alesund and Andalsnes in the Central West of Norway is one of those journeys. Alesund a Unesco World heritage city is I think what Bergen used to be before tourism showed its full and devastating effect. When I looked at the image of Alesund during my research for the trip, it looked so similar to what I had seen of Bergen on Google. The feel of Alesund is anything but a city and like most of the cities in Norway which are less of a city and more of a big village, Alesund too gives a similar feeling. After the fire of 1904, the whole city was reconstructed and walking through the cobblestone streets in its center, as we stand facing the harbor, it still feels like 1910 maybe.

Alesund Image street
Alesund street

Having walked the streets of Alesund every summer, I wanted to know how they look from the top of the Stoya Hill. I would see the hill and the lookout point every time and simply told myself, maybe I will make the hike next year. This time I went up. Alesund in perspective is beautiful. The peninsula protrudes towards you and after the initial, ‘let me take the pictures’ mind has settled, it is all about sitting 450 steps above the ‘big village’ of Alesund and just looking below till your gaze goes. Right from the heritage structures to the horizon over the Norwegian Sea.

Top View Alesund

Water plays such an important role in any road travel in Norway. You are never really far away from a water body, be it the open sea, a fjord or a river. Where there is water, there are bridges, tunnels, and ferries to take care of travel over it. Starting from Alesund driving parallel to the Fjord (don’t remember the name, there are so many), you would immediately find yourself crossing it either through an undersea tunnel or a ferry. We choose a combination of both to reach our first stop. There are many views that demand a stop but the narrow roads and limited parking possibilities for a big bus do not allow this. I often think of driving this route as I did in Ireland. So that I can stop where I want and simply try and soak in what lies in front. I say try because there is so much that happens in front and there is so much more there that not all can be soaked in. Being in Norway at times is like watching a drama, and in places like the Fjordland, you often would find yourself in the front seat of the action.

Driving In Norway

The roads are narrow and if you are not used to driving on the right-hand side of the road then it might be challenging. The lack of public transport makes this either rent a car or join an Anubhav Tour kind of an alternative.

The highlight of the first part of this journey has to be the Briksdalen Glacier. It is not big but just the approach to it makes it extra special. The journey to the approach is by regular transport, and then you can choose to hike up or take a buggy ride. We take the ride up and then walk the last 400 meters to reach the glacier lake. Again, all through this, the water is right there flowing next to you. There is the Perito Moreno Glacier, which far too big, but this one in Norway is calming. Even with the two busloads of people that are usually spending time around the lake, the place still feels to yourself.

Briksdal Glacier approach

Briksdal Glacier Lake

When we walk back to the bus there is a sense of content in everyone. I look at the faces of my people and I know that the day has been good. The trip has only started I wish to tell them!