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First Encounter

Hampi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in east-central Karnataka, India. It became the centre of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire capital in the 14th-century. Besides the historical background, Hampi has a magnetic charm. And my first encounter happens with it when I start my walk towards the hill at 5 am to see the sunrise.

Nothing can beat the feeling of seeing the first golden rays of the Sun, falling on top of mountains and then gradually spreading the warmth to the legacies. The sun is peeking behind the mountains with all its glory, portraying a mesmerizing sight for all wanderlusts. Every day the Sun rises with new hope, and when your soul rises with the sun that’s when you feel writing a blog. As this is kind of rising happens after trouble. 

lost my way

I am a very timorous man and on top of that, I lost my way to sunrise point at Matanga hill and got afraid of the sudden occurrence of a snake. There was no one to help me with the right direction to the sunrise point. I was standing alone with lots of giant stones and the morning breeze touched my chubby cheek, I got a chill on my spine and the realisation of having a real spine. I looked around and felt as if nature was telling me that this was my time. The Sun was going to rise only for me that day. I heard the sound of peacocks, got a sight of fidgety squirrels running away. My fear disappeared like it never existed. I took a deep smell of the ruins of Vijaynagara. I stood there calmly, waiting to see my Sun. 

And the Sun rose, spreading its golden rays, and I felt alive. Then I needed a cup of tea. Good morning Hampi…

Also Read Hampi – The Time Travel in budget

Also Read There is no gender of being a mother…

I need to learn about Vietnam Visa in February 2020, when I travelled From Kolkata to Hanoi. The basis of my experience I am sharing a quick guide for you who are planning to visit Vietnam from India soon.

Vietnam Visa Process:

Step 1: 

Go to this website https://vietnamvisa.org/ and click on “Apply Online”

Or directly go here: https://vietnamvisa.org/apply/form.aspx

Fill out the form as needed.

P.S. To save money I would suggest choosing a group or blanket invitation letter. It will cost less. It is common to get like 15-30 applicants on the same approval letter. If you do not want to disclose your personal information like your visiting date, passport numbers etc. with strangers then you can go for personal or private invitation letter which will cost you $ 30 each (INR 2165) for 1 month.

Step 2: 

Make the payment of $11 each (INR 795).

Step 3: 

You will receive payment confirmation emails.

Step 4:

Then after 2-3 days, you will receive the invitation letter.

Validate your details in the invitation letter. Then click on the confirmation link and confirm your details.

Step 5:

Take the coloured print of the invitation letter. And 2 passport photos.

Your invitation letter will be checked during the check-in at an Indian airport, and during immigration in India. So please keep it handy. 

Step 6: 

Arrive in Vietnam and get the Visa on arrival first. This will be a visa sticker put on your passport. 

– You have to fill up a form for this. 

– Submit form and passport at the counter

– Wait for 15 to 20 mins. They will then call your name when the visa is ready. 

– Pay $25 (INR 1806) at the counter. Keep in CASH for this. 

-The Vietnam tourist visa I received was a single-entry visa that allowed me to stay in the country for 30 days.

– Collect your passport and then go and stand in the immigration line to get into Vietnam. 

Welcome to Uncle Ho’s country…

PC Google Source

Other Tips:

1. Stay in District 1 if you are staying in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), as most of the good spots are walkable from there.

2. Use ATM to take out cash in Vietnamese Dong (VND) in Vietnam. 

3. DO NOT exchange money at Netaji Subhash chandra bose International Airport (Kolkata).

4. Check in the hotels as well, you may exchange your Dollars to Dong with a nominal exchange rate.

5. Download “GRAB” app for cars. It’s like Uber. 

6. HCMC to Dist. 1 in a taxi is about VND 100- 150 depending on the time. 

7. From Hanoi, No Bai airport to Old Quarter taxi is about $ 10 – 15 (INR 800 approx.). 

Dollars vs Dong:

You will need both US Dollars and Vietnamese Dong for travelling around Vietnam. US dollars are most commonly used for anything touristy e.g. booking a tour, booking domestic transport or paying for a hotel. Vietnamese Dong is most commonly used for more local enterprises e.g. restaurants, bars, shops and market stalls. You can withdraw Dong from an ATM on arrival but make sure you’re armed with USD to pay for that visa. If you have a choice between paying in Dong or Dollars, Dong usually works out cheaper.

Also Read Perfume Pagoda: The best day trip in Vietnam

If you can smell better then you can see better and can hear better. That means all your senses are working fine and you are safe and sound. To protect your senses, your family’s senses you must visit The Perfume Pagoda in Vietnam as the “Viet” does. Besides the blessings, as a bonus, we will get to see something so beautiful, so serene, so peaceful that you will never forget. This striking complex of pagodas and Buddhist shrines are built into the Karst cliffs of Huong Tich Cave (Mountain of the Fragrant Traces). Among the better-known sites are Chua Thien Tru (Pagoda Leading to Heaven); Chua Giai Oan Chu (Purgatorial Pagoda), where the faithful believe deities purify souls, cure suffering and grant offspring to childless families; and Huong Tich Chu (Pagoda of the Perfumed Vestige).

Position: 

This pilgrim is extremely popular with Vietnamese tourists from February to April. It is located about 60 km southwest of Hanoi; and getting here requires a journey first by road, then by the river, then on foot or by cable car. The journey is half the fun, but don’t try and do it without a guide: most tour operators offer day-return trips here from US$30 to US$50, which serves the purpose. From Hanoi you need to travel by car for two hours to My Duc. There you can go to the restroom, drink tea and buy offerings for the pilgrims as well. Then take a small boat, rowed by women from the local village, to the foot of the mountain.

Also Read Hanoi – The Capital of contemporary Cool

The Journey: 

The entertaining boat trip takes an hour and travels along scenic waterways between limestone cliffs. Allow a couple more hours to climb to the top and return. The path to the summit is steep in places, and if it’s raining, the ground can get very slippery. There’s also a cable car to the summit (one way/ 100,000 – return/160,000d); a smart approach is to take the cable car up and walk down. The bus journey, an hour’s boat ride, half an hours trekking will reach you to the first pagoda. And there the history and story will take you to the era of the medieval age. 

The Myths:

Thien Tru Pagoda:

As a popular belief, if you don’t pray here, the sky will be angry on you. Thien Tru Pagoda is also known as Heaven’s Kitchen. The starlight falls exactly on the spot where the king’s kitchen was, there the entire kingdom’s food used to be cooked.

Huong Tich Chu Pagoda:

Post pleasing the sky you can climb up more 3 storied stairs and take a ropeway ride to reach the second pagoda, Huong Tich Chu, which belongs to the lady buddha. The Cave Pagoda has the appearance of an open dragon’s mouth with Chu Nho characters carved in a wall at the mouth of the cave. Again, a breathtaking visual and mind goggling story is waiting for you, how the younger daughter of a King became the lady Buddha with thousand hands and eyes post the greatest selfless sacrifice.

On the route from Thien Tru to Huong Tich cave is Giai Oan Temple, also called ‘Clearing Unjust Charges’ Pagoda. There is a pond called Thien Nhien Thanh Tri (Natural Blue Pond), also called Long Tuyen Well, and Giai Oan stream, with its 9 sources.

Perfume Pagoda I recommend as a must if you fit to take the journey. 

Also Read Vietnam Tourist Visa on an Indian Passport

Find your reason to visit Hanoi:

Vietnam is the port of Southeast Asia because of its position in the world map. And it occupies the Eastern portion of the mainland. Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital with a growing population above 9 million people and It is located in the northern part of the country. Because of its scenic beauty Vietnam’s popularity are increasing day by day among the travellers. Therefore, you will get to see a lot of tourists and backpackers in Hanoi, mostly Americans, Europeans, Asians and Australians. As a result, the civics have become more outgoing, more subtle. They are positive to the mixing as well as overseas friends.

In large Hanoi, the most happening place we will get to see in the Old Quarter.And here you can chill 2 – 3 days max while visiting loads of cafes, restaurants, hotels, bars, lounges, markets, clubs, street food vendors and many more. Another, the city generally closes around 7 to 8 pm, except for the night market.

Besides Old Quarter you must visit Tay Ho (means West Lake). Generally, refugees and English teachers live in this part. That’s why, it has all the fancy restaurants and foreign foods to offer. So, you can change your taste there when you want to.

A local told me once, “we have a population of 10 million with 8 million motorbikes”. And it is true, because buying a car is a luxury to the Viet. As while buying one, they have to pay almost 40 per cent road tax. So, motorbikes save their lives and money day to day basis. But you may face challenges while crossing the streets. Hence, you must keep maintaining your pace while walking and crossing the road, then the drivers will go around you. If you slow down or speed up, then there might be trouble.

Hanoi People:

People in Hanoi mostly love to spend time chilling outside on the streets, drinking tea and spitting sunflower seeds, sitting in small chairs and tables. Nobody seems to be in a rush. You might find it a sight. If you are not very tall you can also enjoy the sit.

They mostly don’t speak English or speak at a very beginner level, except the workers in hotels, restaurants, cafes and college-goers. So, it is necessary for you to be prepared.

The People PC The Statesman

Vietnamese words to know:

It is in your best interest to learn a few Viet words for interactions as I told you earlier people are not good with English. PFB a few essentials:

Xin Chao – Hello

Cam On – Thank you

Khong co chi – You are welcome

Hen gap lai – See you again

Tam Biet – Goodbye

Ban giup toi duoc khong – Can you help me

Xin Loi – Excuse me

Money & Prices –

The currency is the Vietnamese Dong, and the exchange rate is $1 = 23,000 DONG as of February 2020. Therefore, in Hanoi, you may feel a millionaire and it can boggle your mind. But my advice is to start shopping for the reality check, as a bottle of water will cost you 20,000 DONGS. With the exception, everything in Hanoi is cash only, so make sure to have double as much cash as you think you’ll need. Also, it’s pretty normal to be confused with Vietnamese Dong.

That being said, almost everything is cheap in Hanoi – $1 for a bowl of Pho, $0.50 for a taxi ride around the city, and $1 for a T-shirt! Just sharpens your bargain skills. And don’t be fooled.

Vietnamies Dong

Also Read Vietnam Tourist Visa on an Indian Passport

Modernization is overshadowing the charm of the old cities in this fast-changing world, . But Lucknow continues to hold on to the silky thread of a bygone era, which is dyed in the golden hue of Awadh history. It has maintained the legacy not only in its culture, but in its food as well. That’s why, the city is also best known for its food. You will find a range of tastes that too at such low price that you are unlikely to find in any other city. Lucknow believes that there’s no food better than theirs in the world, let alone India, which to an extend is true. All possible qualities in a dish subtlety, tenderness and texture are available in their kitchen. Among many, today I will tell you about the Dum Pukht Biryani, as it’s a journey worth sharing.

The world first food for work program

Earlier, the Nawabs were situated in Faizabad. But they migrated towards Lucknow during Nawab Asaf-Ud-Doula’s time. Then a great famine happened.

It is said that the Nawabs came out with an idea to fight with the hunger. They started building the Bada Imambara in 1784. As per popular belief, it was built in the day and demolished again at night, only to be built again in the next day. That’s how they used to provide food to the workers and their families in such big famine. It was possibly world’s first food for work program. Meat, rice, vegetables and spices were cooked in large pots over a low flame. That’s how a great intention gave birth to a great taste, which got known as DUM PUKHT BIRIYANI.

The Aroma

One day Nawab Asaf-Ud-Doula was so impressed by the aroma of this dish so similar to Biriyani that he ordered his Royal Chefs to prepare this dish in the royal kitchen. This brought about the “Dum Pukht” style of cooking and gave the dish a place in royal history.

The Method

Dum means to ‘breathe in’ and pukht to ‘cook’. Dum Pukht cooking uses a round, heavy-bottomed pot, preferably a clay pot handi, in which food tightly sealed and cooked over a slow fire. There are two main aspects to this style of cooking; “bhuna aur dum”, means ‘roasting’ and ‘maturing’ of a prepared dish. In this style of cuisine, herbs and spices play an important role. The process of slow roasting gently persuades each to release maximum flavour. The sealing of the lid of the handi with dough achieves maturing. In some cases, the cooking dough is spread over the container, like a lid, to seal the foods. This is known as purdah (veil), but on cooking it becomes bread which has absorbed the flavours of the food.

The symbol of Awadhi and Nizami Cuisine:

This food is all about aroma, when the seal broken on the table and the fragrance of a Persian repast floats in the air. The food retains all its natural aromas while cooking slowly in its juices, and becomes imbued with the richness of flavours that distinguishes the dish. In the end, with the Dum Pukht technique, it has become the symbol of Awadhi and Nizami Cuisine.

Also Read Hampi – The Time Travel in budget

Also Read Hanoi – The Capital of contemporary Cool

I don’t want to over do this post with lots of knowledge, but frankly speaking, if I don’t say little history, then it would be an injustice to Hampi, to our history, to the travelers who are thinking to visit the place soon. Something is thrilling about Hampi which hard to describe in few words and that’s why this place very much on the backpacker trail in India.

For me telling a history of a great city is the most difficult task, so I take you through a very brief history but mostly from my understanding.

Hampi – history in the air:

Hampi has a lot of rich history from Epic Ramayana to Vijayanagara founder king Haritha (1336-56) and king Bukkaraya (1356-77) to the Great king Krishnadevaraya (1509-29). It was the capital of the Vijayanagara empire (14th-16th Cent CE), the last great Hindu Kingdom. Anybody from South India would have grown up hearing stories of Vijayanagara and its most famous king Krishnadevaraya. Hampi in its peak was also at one point, one of the richest cities in the world. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site in India.

Hampi is divided by the river Tungabhadra in two parts, one side the Virupapur Gaddi or Hampi Island, also known as Hippy Island. And the other side has all the ruins, heritage places and bazaar. All the major ruins are located around the Hampi Bazaar side.

The Ruin Kingdom -Vijayanagara

Travellers note for budget travel:

Important thing

  • There are no ATM in the main city, it is either 4 km or 12 km away, depending on which side of the river you are. (NOTE: Please carry CASH!!)
  • No alcohol shop
  • The Hampi bazaar side area has mostly vegetarian restaurants (9:30 PM closed).

Also Read Hampi – A morning in the lap of History

Stone Chariot

Why Hampi? 

  • Peaceful place; away from the chaos of city life. Forget 4G or 3G, most areas barely have any phone network.
  • It’s just an overnight journey from Mumbai/Bangalore/Hyderabad.
  • Hampi is probably the best destination in South India for a ‘weekend backpacking experience’.
  • For the open-air restaurants, replete with travelers, where you can sit for however long you want.

How to reach Hampi?

Bus –

  • There are a lot of buses from Mumbai to Hospet and it costs approx Rs 1200 to 1500 for a 14 hour journey.
  • You can come to Goa / Bangalore / or Hyderabad to Hampi or Hospet and it cost approx. 500 – 600/- for 8 hours journey.
  • If you’re getting down at Hospet, then you can take a local bus from Hospet to Hampi, which is at a frequency of every 15 minutes and costs around Rs 15/-.
  • A rickshaw from Hospet to Hampi will cost you Rs 300. If possible you can share your auto with other tourists as well, as I did.

Train –

  • Hospet is the nearest railway station from Hampi (about 12km).

Flight –

  • Nearest airport is Bellary (60km). The nearest international airport is Bangalore, which is about 350 km far. From both the airport car and taxi services are available.

Where to stay?

There will be two options for accommodation, Hampi Bazaar side.  Accommodation will be very easy to get here. The locals have converted their homes into dormitories and lodges. So you will find a number of options to choose from depending on your budget. Approx. room rent 400 to 1200 rupees per day.

Hampi Bazaar

While there are a lot of guest houses near Hampi Bazaar, but I stayed at the Netra guest house. This area is very busy during the morning because of the bazaar, the Virupaksha temple and the tourists. But after sunset this place becomes very peaceful and the other side of the river becomes very happening.

Ugra Narshima

Virupapur Gaddi (Hampi Island)

It’s truly a backpacker’s experience. ‘Hippie Island’ is the nickname of the tiny island which is across the river, also known as Virupapur Gaddi. This is not the place for you if you prefer luxury.  Most guest houses here have open-air dining areas, with music being played in the background. You can sit there for however long you want, and do whatever you want – eat, drink, smoke, chill or play cards. Here Room rents are in between rupees 500 -800 approx. Some of guest house play movies as well on a projector. It is THE PLACE to meet new people and make new friends.

To reach Hampi Island, you need to cross the river. Try the coracle ride instead of the normal boats. It’s a great experience, the boat ride cost 30 rupees and the last boat ride are at 5:30 pm, so plan your travel schedule accordingly. After 5:30 pm the surges really become high, like coracle boat INR 200 person.

Recently many homestays, guest houses got closed for political reasons.

Also Read Hanoi – The Capital of contemporary Cool

Hospet

Hospet is a decent town, so if you are looking for some other stuff other than visiting the monuments and food, Hospet is the place you should think of. There is a lot of luxury hotel and resort.

Also Read There is no gender of being a mother…

Hajara Rama Temple Wall Art

Getting around in Hampi

If you’re a solo traveler, or if you’re going with a group of youngsters, then biking or cycling is the best way to explore Hampi. A  Bike can be rented for Rs 300 per day and cycle 100 per day.

You’ll come across rickshaw-drivers speaking fluent English/Hindi some of them know Russian as well. They’ll offer to take you around Hampi for an entire day. They charge Rs 800-1000 per day and they’ll show you all of the major attractions.

I have booked an auto for my Hampi tour. Mehboob was my guide, auto driver and sometimes photographer too. If anyone wants to get his services, then you can contact him at this number 8277350734. The number is given with his consent.

Things to see in Hampi

Most tourist attractions in Hampi close by 5:30pm. Plan your schedule in such a way that you check out the monuments during the day, and cross the river to go to the other side of the island after sunset. The below list has all the places you could visit when you go to Hampi, and these are a must-visit.

Virupaksha Temple – The first thing you’ll see as soon as you enter Hampi.

Krishna temple and Krishna bazaar

Zanana Enclosure (The compound for royal females, which would have been inaccessible for laymen in those times)

Elephant Stable

Ugra Narshima

Badavi Linga

Kadalekalu Ganpathi

Mustered Ganesha

Hemakoota

Vittala Temple and Stone Chariot

 Vittala temple is known for musical pillars, which produce a sound when tapped on the top side. Don’t miss that.

King’ s Balance

Matanga Hills – Best place in Hampi for sunrise view. You need to climb approx 500 steps to get there.

 Queen’s bath

Hanuman Temple(Monkey temple)

Underground ShivaTemple.

Hajara Rama Temple

Mahanavami Dibba – You have to climb more than 50 stairs to get to the top, and it’s an amazing view. It was quite windy when I reached at the top. Perfect place to meditate .

Lotus Mahal

Laxmi the elephant

Laxmi is the elephant of Virupaksha temple is quite famous and you can find Laxmi taking bath in the Tungabhadra riverfront early morning around 8 o’clock. She is a friendly elephant and you can touch her, give her a bath if you like. Tourists click pictures with her and she is quite used to people. Generally, I don’t like animals to be chained. But here, it’s a tradition, and Laxmi has taken under good care.

Lakshmi

A must visit

Hampi has a lot to offer for travelers, backpackers, history buffs & worshipers. Whether you’re going solo or in a group; you cycle, trek, swim or do rock climbing; you want to just sit and chill; Hampi has something in store for everyone. And all this is amidst the deserted ruins of a five hundred year old empire! If you just take a purposeless walk, I bet you will find places never anywhere mentioned. So pack your bags and go Hampi!

Also Read DUM PUKHT: An Aroma That Spread All Over the World

One of the great things about travel is that you find out how many good, kind people there are. Do you remember the Vicks ad! Mother, daughter, hostel. No problem, if you don’t, I will help you.

Today I am sharing with you Gauri’s story. Gauri adopted a girl named Gayatri in 2008 when she was just 5 years old, after Gayatri’s mother died of AIDS. Gauri Sawant born Ganesh Sawant adopted her daughter even though it is illegal for transgender people to adopt children. Yes, You read it right, she is a transgender. She is beyond your rules, my rules, societies rule, except LOVE.

Also Read DUM PUKHT: An Aroma That Spread All Over the World

The Gauri Sawant

Gauri Sawant is a transgender activist from Mumbai. She is the director of Sakshi Char Chowghi that helps transgender people and people with HIV/AIDS. She also plans to start an old age home for transgender people called Nani ka Ghar, meaning Grandmother’s Home, where old transgender people will take care of the children of sex-workers.

Sawant, left her family at an early age to come to Bombay. While working at an NGO, Gauri came across her daughter, Gayatri. Gayatri had been orphaned in 2001, when her mother died.

Also Read Koovagam Festival: A Festival For The Transgenders

The child’s grandmother was going to sell her into slavery when Gauri met her. She decided to adopt her, and since then the two have shared a very close mother daughter bond. According to her, “There’s no gender in being a mother”. Gayatri is now studying to be a doctor and lives in a hostel. Gauri’s inspiring story came to the forefront when Vicks portrayed her journey with Gayatri in an ad which has since its release been watched more than 9 million times. She was featured in an Ad by Vicks too.

Gauri is full of life, confident and above all very loving. Her house is full of colleagues who adore her, and whom she has made feel safe.

Gauri

It is not easy to be a Gaury Sawant. I mean, bringing such broad mind, modern thoughts, simplistic approach towards life is tough. We can only talk about it and claim to have all these. But that’s what the society needs more, that’s what Gayatris need more. May she inspire and make more humans like her.

Also Read Hampi – The Time Travel in budget