Travel Tales from India and Abroad - Striving to be India's Best Travel Blog
Mridula Dwivedi started blogging on 'Travel Tales from India' in June 2005. She renamed it Travel Tales from India & Abroad in 2016. Within a few months of the launch, her travel blog found a mention on both the BBC and The Guardian. She shares her travelling experience and photographs on her blog.
Chhavi and I just submitted our applications for a tourist visa to Croatia at the VFS New Delhi and we are now keeping our fingers crossed! In the end we decided to go for a tennis holiday for the summer vacation!
To start the application process I went to the VFS website and thoroughly checked the list of documents required! I found the list quite similar to a Schengen Visa but additional documents are required for a Croatian Visa. I also have to admit I totally missed out on point 14!
Apart from the usual- tickets, holiday booking, income tax returns, bank statement, travel insurance, for Croatia I submitted credit card statement and a copy of the credit card too. They also asked for purchase of foreign currency but I said in my cover letter that I would rather withdraw it from a ATM than purchase it here.
Over the years I have learned the importance of writing a good cover letter. I do not try to be modest in it anymore. I clearly mention that I have traveled to 30 countries and quote our history of taking vacations. I also mention my blog in the cover letter.
I filled the visa application form online using the following link. I also uploaded the documents online, through in the end I had to print the application and submit all the documents to the VFS. After collecting all the documents, getting the correct photo clicked and printing them, Chhavi and I went to the VFS New Delhi.
Food Options around VFS New Delhi
I prefer an early morning appointment as the VFS still has some sanity in those hours. Around 11 am it starts resembling a fish market particularly when the summer school holidays are about to start in India! In the process we reached really early and sat down for breakfast. There are a few dining options right next to the VFS. Also, it helps that VFS New Delhi is so easily accessible by the Delhi Metro.
You gain entry by showing your visa appointment booking and passport. For all the previous applications I went alone but I thought this time each applicant was to be present. It was my mistake, I had no need to take Chhavi along. I am glad in a way though that she went, as the experience was educational for her. She never imagined the amount of paperwork it takes to submit a visa application!
And while I am able to submit the application because I have made many in the past, I wonder why section 13- for the documents for minors traveling is so small. There is nothing on a minor traveling with one parent and that is my case almost every time! It is expensive to travel abroad and Seshadri prefers to take a vacation where he can play some music! No, he is not a musician, he is a regular IT guy, but he loves playing violin and has qualifications in that area too! He would be traveling to United Kingdom in August on one such musical vacation.
The staff at the VFS New Delhi was polite as usual. However, there were two surprises for me at the counter. They wanted a photocopy of all the stamped pages of my current and previous passport. I ran out of pages on my previous passport 3 years earlier so that meant a lot of last minute photocopying. I am so thankful that there is a photocopying facility available at the VFS New Delhi. A minor jam developed behind me in the photocopying queue as the gentleman patiently went through my passports. It was my mistake that I did not look at section 14 of the list of documents carefully.
The second surprise was that VFS New Delhi has stopped accepting visa fee by cards! I had to exit the VFS Office, go to the nearest ATM and withdraw cash, come back again and pay the fee. It has happened to me before but it was because of a server error. But this time there was no other way to pay the fee other than by giving it in cash!
Chhavi Enjoying a Chocolate Drink at her Favorite Mall
I was pleasantly surprised that Croatia doesn’t charge visa fee for kids under 12! So I had to pay only VFS handling charges for Chhavi. The visa fee as of now is 5000 rupees per person, VFS handling charges are extra. We stopped at our favorite mall after submitting the application!
And as I am typing this post, I got a mail from the embassy saying they need a photocopy of the father’s passport. I have emailed it and asked if I need to submit it physically? I hope they will accept it just by email but I am quite willing to do the running around if I need to submit it physically.
The visa application has been made, the wait has started. I have always got a visa in the past. So, I am hoping to get this one smoothly too. After all the visa gods have been kind to me!
As always I will update the post once I get the decision!
My association as a blogger with The Imperial New Delhi is an old one. I always love going to their events. For this Mother’s Day they invited me to The Imperial Salon for a pampering session and I truly loved it.
The Imperial’s Salon is housed in a beautiful building. The Spa is open only to the residents but the Salon can be used by other guests too!
The days are getting sweltering hot in my part of the world! My daughter Chhavi and I are getting baked on the tennis courts, she much more than me. The last match she won, it was played was in 41 degree Celsius and her opponent vomited and retired! Given this backdrop, the idea of spending sometime in the salon was tempting!
I love the decor of the place, it is elegant. I also love the fact that at the events I get to meet fellow bloggers! For the Mother’s Day session I went for a pedicure and hair wash session.
As my friends tell me, I am a bad customer for a salon! I will say you can apply any color nail polish when asked for a choice! I am someone who did not find time to get my hair trimmed for last 2 years at least!
But I have to say my hair looks amazing after the Kerastase treatment! I have frizzy, dry hair and they have been like this like always! It feels good to have tame soft, hair but then I know it will last for a few days! And then I will get sucked in my daily routine once again and salons will not figure in it in a long time!
So a big thank you to the Imperial Salon for making me pause and get pampered in advance for this Mother’s Day!
Metro or subway is my favorite mode of transport in any city. It is cheap, it is convenient, it is environmentally friendly and it gives you a taste of the local life!
The Beautiful Paris Metro Sings!
When I look for a hotel I try to find it near a metro station. In Paris we stayed at the Hotel Ibis Styles Paris Crimee La Villette, which was about 300 meters walk from the Cremee Metro Station. It suited our needs perfectly. It is the M7 line but once you are on a metro you can interchange and go anywhere! I had downloaded a Paris Metro app and I had data, and we were ready to explore Paris on our own!
A Paris Metro Ticket
Even though this was a personal trip it was made special by Atout France – France Tourism Development Agency and Paris Tourist Office who helped us discover the city of lights at our own pace by providing two 6 day travel cards for public transport and 2 Museum Passes. It was only on the first and the last day I bought tickets for metro. If you use the vending machine you can use notes and coins. But if you wish to buy from the cashier, you can only use card!
It is More Fun When You Watch Stuff with Friends
Other than taking a taxi back to the airport we either walked or took the metro. As we had 3 day cards we found that the gates would not open on my sister’s ticket even though it was valid. The station staff was always helpful, they would open the gate for her. We managed to get the ticket changed before our trip to Palace of Versailles. They suggested us to keep the ticket away from mobile phones.
Art on the Walls of Bastille Metro Station
We found great art on the walls of the station of Bastille. I would have loved to go station hopping like I did in Moscow. But with so much to see and do in Paris, it never really happened! I anyway wish to go back to Paris and if I do, I would make time to just go metro hopping!
Bir Hakeim Metro Station
One of our favorite spots in Paris was Bir Hakeim, it is walking distance from Eiffel Tower and gives you a fabulous opportunity to click some stunning pictures both of the tower and the bridge. You can see some of them here.
My Metro Card Collection
I keep documenting my metro and tram experiences under #themetroproject I love to collect the cards too! In the picture you can see Paris, Singapore, Prague, Dubai, Moscow and Delhi Metro cards!
I could simply go back to Paris to click more of these signs which are all over the city! I do hope Alka and I will return to this beautiful city one day!
I went on a trip to Israel in 2016 with the Israel Tourism Board. I visited Jerusalem, Dead Sea, Haifa and Tel Aviv as a part of the trip. I remember it as a hectic trip with mostly one night in each city except for Tel Aviv. But then a majority of blogging trips are like that.
I was looking at my Israel pictures as I was planning to upload them to Shutterstock. I have recently dabbled in stock photography, particularly Shutterstock and that is how I ended up looking at the pictures from the Israel trip!
Can you imagine visiting Jerusalem and not doing an exclusive post on it? Looking at the photographs even after 3 years brought back such memories!
Praying at the Western Wall
My most surreal experience in Jerusalem was at the Western Wall. It is the holiest place for the Jews. I am not particularly religious, I am not superstitious and I a Hindu! But when I touched the wall and closed my eyes, it felt as if I was standing in an open field alone! I was shocked out of my wits and my eyes flew open! I didn’t dare to touch the wall again. It is my most surreal experience till date. I can only state what I felt, I have no way to make any sense of it!
The Old City of Jerusalem
I flew with El Al to Tel Aviv. That is quite an experience in itself, you can read about it here! However, I remember the flight because of a movie I watched, Apples from the Desert, which depicted the lifestyle of Orthodox Jews! Watching the movie gave me some clue about the people I observed in the country!
A Man Walks Through a Courtyard in the Old City of Jerusalem
I remember this moment so clearly. My group was running through this courtyard towards the entrance to the Western Wall. I was in love with the courtyard, the olive tree at one side and the arched gateway near it! I paused for a moment to click a picture, praying that I will not get separated from my group! And on cue, an elderly gentleman walked towards the gate! This picture is in some sense the essence of my blogging trips, hurried like anything and yet showing me the beauty of travel!
Sunrise at Jerusalem
I spent just a few hours in the Old City of Jerusalem, taking in the historic sights sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is the sunrise clicked from my hotel room in Jerusalem!
Catching my Breath in the Old City of Jerusalem
By the end of the Old City tour I followed the excellent example of the young boy sitting next to me. I sat on a the pavement to give some rest to my aching feet, I was that tired.
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
The Israel Museum at Jerusalem has many great collections both historic and modern. However, within the White Dome some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are on display!
Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem
Mahane Yehuda Market is popular both with the locals and the tourists. It is a great place to eat, click photos and do some people watching!
A Shop Vendor at the Mahane Yehuda Market
It is fun to talk to people in Israel as a lot of them have visited India and remember it fondly!
As I continue uploading old pictures for stock photography, I wonder what more I am going to unearth and write about. Going through my Israel pictures was so worth it.
Summer vacations are just around the corner. I am usually quick off the block to plan a trip with my daughter, Chhavi. Last year we visited Koh Samui together and we had amazing fun.
Chhavi, Vasu and I in Prague
Before that my
niece, daughter and I went to Prague. My sister and I have travelled to
Budapest and Paris on vacations. I am quite used to applying for a Schengen
Visa. When I did the formalities for the first time, I remember I was surprised
that the Schengen countries have an approved list of travel
However, this year has been
different. I have never been so confused as to where to go. I am torn between
taking a simple vacation vs taking my daughter to a place where she can play
tennis as well. Chhavi started playing tennis in 2017 and within two years she
started playing tournaments as well.
Life was a
little less hectic before. Now every holiday means extra practice. Twice a
month we go around NCR to play matches. In tennis, All India Tennis Association
is the apex body that runs a national league popularly known as AITA. She plays
in under 12 and 14 age categories as of now. Contrary to all expectations, she
won her very first match of Under 12. By the virtue of that one win she has a
ranking of 539 or so in the country. The ranking is of course a dynamic thing
and changes from week to week!
choices were simple. She would go to school, play in the park in the evening
and we were free to travel in all her vacations. Now there is tennis practice
and matches to juggle with school!
Memories of my Holidays in Budapest
My original plan
was that we will go out in June to a European country. Within Europe, I prefer
a Schengen country as it gives me some flexibility to travel around. Schengen visa travel insurance is also easy.
We would combine tennis with a vacation.
But I am not so sure now. Her
practice is going on well with her coach, Aman Rawat. I am reluctant to break
her rhythm. On the other hand, I feel she is not getting any break so we should
simply go on a vacation. Going by this idea I start looking at the air fares
and then I feel if I am going to spend so much money; why not add a week of
tennis in it! I keep chasing these ideas within my head without reaching
Another thought is to take a quick
short break on one of the long weekends when the school is open and only focus
on tennis during the summer holidays. The difficult part is that I am not
feeling peaceful with any of these choices. I keep over thinking without
arriving at any decision.
Chhavi with her Favorite Coach Aman Rawat
Then I ask the child what she wants, and she says, “Whatever you decide!” So, we go back to square one! She doesn’t seem too keen on an extended weekend break! So, I somehow must find a way to make something work in the summer vacation itself or convince her to take a break later! But before I do anything, I need to make up my own mind. Who thought taking a summer vacation could be this tough!
If you love mountains, you will love Nepal. After all 8 of the 14 more than 8000 meters high peaks are located in Nepal!
Nepal is a paradise for trekkers. Even though I was not trekking this time, I love going back to Nepal! Sharing the trip to Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan in pictures with you, I hope you will enjoy the post
View from the Delhi Kathmandu Flight
If you are flying in to Kathmandu from Delhi, you want to grab a window seat on the A side of the plane. That is where the action is while flying in to Kathmandu. Usually pilots announce when we are flying over the Everest region but not this time. Not sure which mountains I saw but they were awe inspiring!
Pashupathinath Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal
In all my three trips to Nepal, I have been around the Pashupati Nath Temple but never managed to get inside. It was the same this time, when we reached, the temple doors were closed. But thanks to Mr. Karunakar Upreti we walked up to the vantage point behind the temple to capture the sunset!
A View of the Pokhara City from the Shanti Stupa
If you wish to visit the Shanti Stupa in Pokhara you have to climb a bit even after the car park. The views along the way are breathtaking! I am always happy to walk, more so in the mountains!
Coffee with a View!
And while I was climbing down we stopped for an excellent cup of coffee in a cute little cafe. Food tastes so much better in the mountains, more so after an uphill walk!
View from the Lobby of the Annapurna Hotel in Sarangkot
We visited an upcoming hotel in Sarangkot near Pokhara. I envy the guests who would stay here from the view from the lobby! The first picture in this post is also taken from Sarangkot where we went to see the sunrise.
Sunset by the Phewa Lake, Pokhara, Nepal
The last time I was in Pokhara it was in 2013! The Phewa Lake is still serene but the amount of construction the town has seen is unbelievable!
The Take Off from Kathmandu, Nepal
And that is a view of Kathmandu as our plane named Makalu took off! Those don’t know about mountains will think of the name as McAloo but people who love mountains know that it is the name of a revered and feared 8000 meter high peak!
And even though I have written a separate post on the Chitwan National Park, I could not close this one without a picture of the Rhino!
Today morning I woke up to the news that the grand Notre Dame Cathedral, in Paris caught fire. My first reaction was disbelief but when I headed over to Twitter, I realized it was actually happening. My sister Alka and I visited the cathedral 25th November 2018 which was a Sunday. In this post I cherish the memories through my pictures!
Candles of Prayer
Even though I am not religious and I am a Hindu but I feel all places of worship send out positive vibes. Be it the candles, the faith of people or the scent lingering in the air through ages, we were immersed in the atmosphere of the Notre Dame!
The Grand Interiors of the Notre Dame
It was by chance that we went on a Sunday. This has happened to us twice now, in Budapest as well as Paris. We were lucky to be a part of the Sunday Mass at the Cathedral.
The Sunday Mass in Progress
When it comes to music I have been called tone deaf and rightly so. But even to me the music accompanying the church service sounded divine!
.I am sure it happens with you too, that you come back from a place, excitedly look at the pictures and then find them way too short of your expectations. That is how I never went around writing about my visit to the Notre Dame. The actual experience was so grand and the photos so ordinary! But now when I look at them after a few months they are my tropes to remembering.
Glimpses of the Sunday Mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
I remember clearly listening to the sounds of the mass and being awestruck with the stained glass windows in front of me. I hope they do a grand job of restoring the Cathedral to its glory. I also hope they will find out how the fire started in the first place!
The Twin Bell Towers of Notre Dame
I am happy to read that both the Bell Towers, probably the most clicked view of the cathedral, have survived the fire. Even though it was rainy, I rember standing there and soaking in the atmosphere. We had gone in early and when we came out we were surprised how crowded it was getting. But I am sure winter crowds are no match for the summer ones!
I am totally lazy at making videos but I am glad I have a few for my words are no match for the rich music that you can hear in the video.
One of our happiest memories around Notre Dame was watching the pigeons run around the people who feed them! I hope to go back one day and see Notre Dame all restored. My heart breaks at the thought of the devastation caused by the fire to this treasure.
My curiosity was at its peak when I got an opportunity to visit the Statue of Unity, the tallest statue in the world! Would it live up to the hype? Or would I find it underwhelming? I have to say I came back impressed after the visit!
I was invited by the Gujarat Tourism Board for a visit to the state during the International Kite Festival in January this year. I was lucky to visit the Statue of Unity, dedicated to Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel during the kite festival as it provides for once in a year kind of photo opportunities! Sardar Patel is credited with bringing forth the political integration of India after independence.
The Statue of Unity, a Tribute to Sardar Patel
The first thing that impressed me was of course the scale of the project. People take a lot of pride in explaining about how the work was completed, the dedication of the people working on it, the technical obstacles and how they were overcome! At 182 meters the Sardar’s statue is the tallest in the world!
I was dazzled by the infrastructure surrounding the statue. There are escalators, high speed lifts, selfie spots, toilets, cafes and more. Not only the statue but the whole area has been developed in a way that befits the tallest statue in the world.
School Children at the Statue of Unity Mueseum
Many school children visit the dazzling monument. They get to see world class facilities and infrastructure right in their backyard from childhood. I hope they will have higher expectations from the country than the previous generations!
View from the Observation Deck, Statue of Unity
I visited the viewing gallery at the 153 meters. The jalis in the jacket of the statue gives a panoramic view of the Sardar Sarovar dam and the Narmada River. I visited it during the mid day when the sunlight is harsh. The photographer in me wants to visit it around the closing time of 6.00 pm when the light would be so much better!
The Gleaming Museum, Statue of Unity
There is a high tech, multimedia museum at the base of the statue. Due to lack of time, I could not spend much time. But it is gleaming and sleek in appearance!
A view of the Tent City at Kevadia
Tent City in Kevadia is where I stayed. As I have stayed in the Rann of Kutch Tent City too, I was comparing them all the time! I have to stay both have their unique features and provide for a comfortable stay.
The Statue of Unity Seen from the Valley of Flowers
My group got an opportunity to visit the Valley of Flowers and the Narmada Dam viewing area and both are welcome additions to the trip.
Some would say the 3000 crores spent on building the Statue of Unity could have been spent elsewhere. I would say my country has seen bigger scams than this! I am happy to see a wold class project in my own country, I hope the area will benefit because of the project.
Even though I have been to Nepal before, it was my first visit to Chitwan National Park. Barahi Jungle Lodge provided an excellent base to explore the park! I was invited by the
Nepal Tourism Board and
Barahi Hotels on this trip.
Sunrise by the Rapri River, as Seen from the Barahi Jungle Lodge
Barahi Jungle Lodge has an excellent setting right by the Rapti River. The cottages are lightly constructed in the local style. They are comfortable. I quite liked their tea lounge and the swimming pool area. As you walk out of the pool area, you walk right up to the river bank!
My Cottage at the Barahi Jungle Lodge
In fact, the jeep safari starts after a short boat crossing over the river! We were lucky to go on a full day safari into the Chitwan National Park. It was a first for me. The weather was mild and it was an excellent experience.
A Rhino Sighting at the Chitwan National Park, Nepal
I spotted Rhinos many times on the jeep safari. It was actually after a long time I was looking at a Rhino, the last being in 2013 in South Africa! We had no luck with the tigers though! Hornbills were there in plenty too! Wild boars, monkeys and spotted deer made their usual appearance! Crocodiles and Ghariyal were seen sunning by the river bank.
A Rhino Sighting from the Morning Boat Safari
Other than the jeep safari the resort offers boat safaris too, both in the morning and the evening. I would highly recommend the morning boat ride, we had excellent sightings of Rhinos playing around in water. We spotted a mother and a baby which was pretty special. It was followed by an excellent bush breakfast by the river!
The Jungle Breakfast
I also enjoyed the dinners by the pool and under lantern lights on two separate occasions. Every night there is a bonfire and a cultural program by it.
The Forest Lunch
They also do a expert talk on the jungle. I have sat through so many jungle talks but most of the time I forget everything I hear. But not with Saki, his humor reminds me of the South African naturalists! He mentioned that the bar headed geese are supposed to fly over the high passes, including Everest, in Himalayas as they like to be famous! Indian Gaur likes football because they wear white socks (their legs indeed look like covered in white football stockings)! Now give me information in such a way and I will remember it forever!
And when you are tired of all things jungle, go the Spa of the Barahi Jungle Lodge for an excellent detox session! I had an excellent time exploring the Chitwan National Park with the Barahi Jungle Lodge.
It took me a long time to convince my sister Alka to travel with me but we are now two trips old together, as adults. If you would ask me, I loved Budapest but she is completely smitten by Paris. Here are a few postcards from our trip to Paris in 2018! I have already started daydreaming about our next trip this year!
Fall Colors in Paris
We went to Paris at the beginning of November, but we still managed to see the last bit of fall colors! This picture above was clicked around the Eiffel Tower area.
We stayed at the Ibis Styles at Crimee and Louvre was on the same Metro Line. We visited the museum only once but we would often end up roaming around the area, clicking pictures and exploring!
Palace of Versailles
Even in winter the line to enter the Palace of Versailles was long, but it was moving fast The palace and its grounds are impressive. We spent the whole day there and yet we thought we were rushed!
Spiral Staircase, Louvre Museum
I saw these beautiful staircases as we entered the glass pyramid of the Louvre Museum. However they were off limits on that day, we had to take the escalators to the museum. But being off limit has its advantages, you can easily click that picture without anyone in it!
Alka at Louvre
Of all the trips I do, traveling with Alka ranks right at the top. Unlike me, she is good facing the camera and the camera loves her back! Here she is at the Louvre Palace grounds.
Eiffel Tower from Bir Hakeim
Paris by night is beautiful. There were so many days when we returned to our hotel after 11.00 pm. I am lazy about setting my tripod but once I set it, I do enjoy doing night photography!
jardins de Tuileries
Around the Ferris Wheel at the Jardins de Tuileries was a beautiful Christmas Market. We explored it for a few hours, and we thought we would go back to it again, but then we never found time!
Arc de Triomphe
One of the most happening areas of Paris is Arc de Triomphe and Champ Elysees. We gawked at the super expensive stores along the Champ Elysees and loved the Christmas lights.
For the last few years, yes years, I was not blogging much. I hope 2019 is going to be a normal year, when I blog at my usual pace, which used to be good.
PS. Even though this was a personal trip, there were two collaborations that I need to mention. This trip was made special by Atout France – France Tourism Development Agency and Paris Tourist Office who helped us discover the city of lights at our own pace by providing two 6 day travel cards for public transport and 2 Museum Passes for 4 days, allowing us to explore the city at its fullest. I also had the M50 on loan from Canon India, a big thank you to them.