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As the winter was slowly setting in Delhi on an October morning in 1325, Khusro breathed his last, sitting by the side of his beloved master, Hazrat Nizamuddin, in Delhi. Later he was buried next to his master, just as he desired.

I wrote a fictional account of the last few months of his life inspired by his famous lines in Farsi.

"Mun tu shudam tu mun shudi,mun tun shudam tu jaan shudi
Taakas na guyad baad azeen, mun deegaram tu deegari"

It roughly translates in English to:

"I have become you, and you me,
I am the body, you soul;
So that no one can say hereafter,
That you are someone, and me someone else.” 

An old man praying at Nizamuddin's dargah

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The last few tormenting days of my lifeWhen the sun was slowing rising on my last day of the trip, I had a vision. It was a blur of images, and most of them had my Master calling out to me, holding my hand and guiding me, His holy voice revealing the eternal truth, His cold kisses telling me how much he loved me, more than anyone else, and how I came just next to the supreme Allah. These visions told me nothing, just pressed me to move faster and not waste even a moment more on the journey. I entertained no guests, including Sultan's messengers who were waiting patiently for me at the gates of Delhi.

As I walked closer to my master's home, I saw faces all around, men and women, old and young, friends and enemies, all covered in tears, some silent in grief, others wailing. They were waiting for me, but didn't know how to approach to me, what to tell me. Leaving my horse on the side, I ran on my bare feet, to the doors of my God. There were flowers everywhere, some on the walls, others crushed on the ground, and the air heavy with the smell of incense. As I got closer, I could hear Alam's distant voice singing praises to the Master, often breaking down and wailing in grief. As the truth dawned upon me, I ran even faster.

Throwing my turban on the side and my coat on the side, I ran barefoot. I was late already, and my grief knew no boundaries. Delirious with emotions I hadn't experienced before, I tore all my clothes and collapsed on the floor, crying my heart out - calling out to him, crying out to him. No one came close to me, no one consoles me, for they knew they were not a part of the moment anymore. Life as I knew it was already over, what remained was just my lifeless body...

For the next six months, I saw nothing but an image of my master, peace be upon him, heard nothing but his sweet voice singing praise to Allah. Everything else was a blur - like a make-believe world, a world which didn't actually exist. Then finally when He couldn't take it anymore, he decided it was time for me to let go, of everything that was holding me back. It was time for me to be reunited and become one with my Master.

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Khusrow's poetry is often full of love and it's hard not to relate to all that he said centuries ago. I admire his work greatly and here's another couplet which I personally love:

"Khusrau darya prem ka, ulti wa ki dhaar, 
Jo utra so doob gaya, jo dooba so paar."

English translation:

Oh Khusrau, the river of love,
Runs in strange directions.
One who jumps into it drowns,
And one who drowns, gets across.
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When I was doing my architecture course, I learned about one of the renowned architects of the twentieth century, Kisho Kurokawa - who designed world's first capsule hotel - Nakagin Capsule Tower. At that time, I was deeply fascinated by the idea and had this desire to live in one. This wish never left my mind; I was lucky when in the year 2016 when I visited Tokyo, I booked one for a night and got a chance to experience one.

My Capsule Hotel

In Japanese, these hotels are called "kapuseru " and the most famous one is Nine Hours which is frequently visited at the Tokyo Airport - gives you a glimpse of the housing of tomorrow.
Rekijo koka are the ones solely for women - perfect for female visitors who have a strong interest in history.

A bit of history about Capsule HotelsThe history of a capsule hotel dates back a long time. It seems these hotels were made for the working class Japanese men who would finish their day late or were drinking in izakayas and if they missed the last train to home return home, or were too ashamed to go back home to face their wives, they would slide themselves into these pods. It was hardly glamorous then and just worked for them at super cheap cost. It is now exotic as well as super-good as a budget hotel for young travellers - becoming trendy as an accommodation option for travellers all around Asia and Europe.

The Capsule hotel at Asakusa Riverside is the one I stayed in, and I thought it was a decent one both as per the reviews I read online as well as my personal experience. The price per night wasn't high and cost me around 2500 JPY, which isn’t bad at all considering usual hotel prices in Tokyo.

Outside the hotel

It’s also situated just a 1-minute walk from Asakusa Subway Station which is amidst busy marketplace. I even ate the local ramen soup after consulting at the reception.

Food time!

Ramen!

Checking-in at the Capsule hotelAfter I booked a stay, I arrived late, walking around the neighbourhood, while making sure I knew my pod. At the reception desk, I was given the keys to my lockers. There are lockers to put the luggage/belongings, and another - smaller one to store your clothes, coat, slippers.  It is mandatory to leave your shoes in the locker and put on the slippers from the hotel. Shouldn't get inside the room with your shoes on as disrespecting in Japan to do so.

At the reception

My room, my bed :)

Once you get in the capsules area, you will have a capsule number and a key. The place is super quiet, so making less noise, find yours in the row, open it and draw back the curtain to slip into the bed.

Facilities at the Capsule HotelThere is a wall mounted TV, which will typically only has Japanese channels to watch; there was also a radio, an adjustable alarm clock and a lamp which you can turn on to read at night. It reminded me of AC coaches in our Indian trains.

TV!

Ah! So much space :)

Each sleeping area on the floor has showers and baths just outside for the guests.

Simple and basic bathroom

Space for luggage

You’ll just have to remember to be careful when you wake up, avoid getting bumped on your forehead!

Tips for female travellers1) Read about the hotel you are booking. You should read the experience of other female reviewers
2) Have a decent budget - higher budget can get you better places
3) There are also men-only and female only hotels, and even female-only dorms, to have a peaceful sleep in the night, you can choose to book a female only box

If you have already experienced one such stay, do share your experience or next time you are in Japan, don't miss the authentic Japanese experience of sleeping in these small boxes!

If you are interested to know more, read about the trend of capsule hotels here: How capsule became a global trend and also here to know more about how it's become a trend for women travellers too!

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This is a guest-post on Capsule Hotels by M and based on her personal experiences at the hotel.
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If there is one thing these days that's bringing in the whole of Europe closer to the rest of the world, it certainly has to be the UEFA Champions League currently underway across the continent. The annual championship by the Union of European Football Associations, where the best of the best in Europe’s Club Football compete, is a mecca for football lovers from across the world, and this year has been no different!

In case you are wondering what is a football story doing on a travel blog, think again - how about planning a vacation to Europe which matches the schedule of the matches of your favorite football team! You can not only enjoy the matches and live the moments with your team, but also enjoy the sights and sounds of the cities where the matches are happening - and they are planned at some of the most alluring cities of Europe!

Football and travel in Europe - a perfect match!

So this post is for everyone who loves football and travel as I bring together the best of both worlds. But hey, wait - read through till the end of the post - if watching the finals of the Champion’s League has always been your dream, you can win a fully-paid trip for two to watch the finale at Kyiv, Ukraine, plus also get some money to splurge as well :)

Romancing Europe with football!So coming back to UEFA, we are at the semi-final stage now and the draw is down to the four teams competing to enter the finals. Let's see how we can follow these matches and the cities, and make the most of the schedule as travel experiences.

Liverpool, United KingdomLiverpool is the fifth largest metropolitan area in UK, and was one of the leading centers during the industrial revolution too. The city today is most famous because of The Beatles, and many tourists come there only for them. With a long history of 800 years, the city has many historical monuments too - including numerous cathedrals.

Liverpool

The city hosts the first leg of the semi-finalbetween Liverpool FC and AS Romaon 24th April.

Reach a couple of days in advance (at least) to explore the city and leave the night of the match to reach Munich on time for catch next match in Munich.

Munich, GermanyLocated on the banks of river Isar, Munich is a major center of art, technology, sports, automobiles and more! It's the capital of Bavaria region of Germany and one of the most visited in the country. The city has a great mix of different architectural styles - both historical and modern, and that's a way of life here as well.

Munich

The first leg of the second semi-final between the biggies - Bayern Munich and Real Madrid takes place here on 25th April!

There are more days before the next match, so do stay back and enjoy the sights here before flying off to Madrid before the end of the month!

Madrid, SpainIt's a bit of a shame that even though I've traveled so much in Spain, I've never been to Madrid - the capital of the country (and it's an anomaly I would love correct soon). The city has many old buildings and lovely architecture, but it's also known for its excellent cuisine and great nightlife. And while you are there don't forget to catch some Flamenco too :)

Madrid

Madrid hosts second leg of the second semifinal between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich on 2nd May!

The next pit stop will be Rome.

Rome, ItalyRome is the capital of Italy, but when you think back in the past, it was almost like the capital of the ancient world as we know it! Many many things have changed over the thousand years or so that it has been around, but one thing has stayed - the charm of the city. It's been years since I was last there, but the memories of the place are still around in my heart.

Rome

The second leg of the first semi-final takes place in Rome between Liverpool FC and AS Roma on 3rd May.

Well, the next match – Champion League Final in Kyiv is more than three weeks later - so it's a tough choice to stay on in the continent, or return back home. I would actually suggest either watch the semis in stadiums, or just come to Europe to catch the finals (read on to know how this is very much possible), unless you have means to sustain for a month in Europe :)

Kyiv, UkraineKyiv is the capital of Ukraine and also itslargest city. Though we know so little about the country, Kyiv is actually one of the most important cultural and industrial cities of Eastern Europe. The city is teeming with history, and many visitors come to simply explore and enjoy its numerous cathedrals. It's also a very green city - it is said that one can walk from one end of Kyiv to the other in the summertime without leaving the shade of its many trees.

Kyiv

However, come May-end and life in the city will change as we know it as it will be immersed in football fever as the city hosts the grand finale happening on 27th May!

Win a trip to Kyiv! And now comes the interesting part that I am sure many of you were waiting for - how to actually make a trip to Kyiv happen to catch the finals!  Axis Bank has tied up with Mastercard to launch an exciting offer for its Forex Card users. As per the offer, customers of Axis Bank Forex Card stand a chance to win an all-expense paid trip for two to watch the UEFA Champions League Final 2018 in Kyiv, Ukraine. The winner will also get a pre-loaded Forex Card with $250 worth of forex to splurge.

If you are curious to know more about the offer, you can get the details here: Axis Bank Forex Card

So what are you waiting for? Let's bring together the love for football and travel and plan a trip to one of my favourite parts of the world - Europe! Have more questions about travel there - feel free to ask me for more details in the comments below.

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Disclaimer: This post is written in collaboration with Axis Bank for their Mastercard Forex card for international travellers.
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Built over 50 years ago in 1963, Mandarin Oriental was then the tallest building in Hong Kong and quickly became an iconic landmark of the city, a status it retains even today. The  magnificent views of the famous Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong’s skyline make the stay at this luxurious hotel an experience in itself. Early this month when I was on a trip to Hong Kong, I was invited to stay as a guest of the hotel for a day, and I came back highly impressed with the services as well as experiences at this iconic hotel.

Mandarin Oriental - iconic since 1963 

Mandarin Oreintal in Hong Kong

Here's an amusing story from it's early years - the hotel was the first have direct-dial telephones and was also the first in Asia to have a bathtub in every room – leading the architect of the hotel to ask, “Are the guests amphibious?”

My tryst with fitnessI typically try and reach a new city early in the day so that I can get maximum number of hours to explore it. However, in case of Hong Kong I reached hours before check-in (2pm), but the helpful staff at the hotel were gracious enough to let me use the gymnasium and sauna. So over the next 4 hours, I sweated it out like there was no tomorrow. I am generally a lazy guy, and this was actually the first ever time that I actually worked out in a hotel gym - but guess what, I am hooked to it!

After two hours of intense work-out, I decided to try some sauna and it was quite an experience. Over the next two hours of almost ritualistic sauna, I made friends with an art dealer from France, an Indian economist and a Chinese banker. Our discussions varied from world politics to evolution of art scene in Hong Kong, and made sauna even more fun. I took three rounds in the dray sauna, and a few cold baths and a dip in steaming hot Jacuzzi as well!

Chilling out in my room :)

By the time I got my room keys, I was exhausted (I had a long flight from India to Hong Kong right before hitting the gym), and even skipped my lunch. When I did get up eventually, I simply lay on my bed and enjoyed the view of the harbor from my window, or read books on Hong Kong.

In the evening it was time to go for my pre-booked massage session at The Mandarin Spa, I knew I deserved it more than on any other day! After about 90 minutes of blissful Oriental Essence massage, I was fresh and headed out to explore the sights and sounds of Hong Kong.

The next morning it was time to eat my breakfast and start further explorations in Hong Kong, but I did make sure to visit the gym and work out. New habits die hard :)

Facilities at the hotelis home to 434 oversized guestrooms and 67 suites, each of which has been individually furnished and decorated to embrace the hotel’s Oriental heritage, while being combined with a fresh, contemporary feel to offer harmony and serenity.

Rooms at the hotel

I already talked about The Mandarin Spa and the gymnasium, and both of those are top-notch and I would strongly recommend trying them both out.

The Mandarin Spa

The hotel also has three Michelin star restaurants, but I couldn't try any of those, so won;t be able to recommend any. However, if you've been there, do feel free to let me know more in the comments below.

Food here is special as well

Practical detailsAddress: 5 Connaught Rd Central, Central, Hong Kong

For bookings: Mandarin Oreiental

Rates: They keep changing, and the current rates are starting from about 3400 HKD.

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Disclaimer: I was at Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong on invitation of the hotel. Needless to mention, all views expressed are my own and based on my personal experiences. The hotel pictures have been provided by the hotel.
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Carved out from a monolith (single stone), the Panch Rathas at Mahabalipuram are some of finest examples of stone carved temples. Built in the 7th century AD during the reign of Pallava king Narsimhavarman I, they are today a UNESCO world heritage Site as part of Mahabalipuram collection of temples.

Panch Rathas (Five chariots) at Mahabalipuram

What’s the connection to Mahabharata?Well actually there is no known connection between the two, and these aren’t actually even Rathas. But somehow they are associated, without any historical basis, to the Pandavas. They are called Rathas just because their form resembles chariot shapes.

The five Rathas The first ratha is called Draupadi ratha, the wife of all five Pandavas. It’s one of the most subtle and delicate looking temple with a unique roof. It’s a legacy of the thatched roofs which were common then, taken as an inspiration here.

The next ratha is Arjun ratha, and is an exact replica of the last and the largest temple of the five. It shares the platform with Draupadi ratha. An huge but incomplete Nandi is right behind the temple.

Arjun (front) and Draupadi rathas

The next one is Bhima ratha and is the longest of them all. The roof is similar to Draupadi ratha, though it’s much longer.

Bhim ratha

The final ratha in the line is Dharmaraja ratha. It has some of the most beautiful and intricate carvings. The upper levels are far more complete than the lower portion due to the direction of carving.

Dharmaraj ratha

Details on Dharmaraj ratha

The last ratha is the Nakul-Sahdev ratha, and is not in the same line as others.

Nakul-Sehdev ratha

While I was exploring the site, I bumped into a couple of friends studying art in Bangalore. One of them was a painter and the other one was a sculptor. Imagine meeting a sculptor at one of man's most beautiful creations out of stone! Here's a quick selfie we managed before we parted ways.

Practical details
It’s located about 58 km from Chennai and easily reachable by road. I traveled by bus (ticket coat ₹80), but there are many taxis also. It’s easy to drive down as well.

Timing: 6am to 6pm
Entry fee: ₹30 (Indians) & ₹500 (foreigners), free to all below 15 years of age
Photography: free
Videography: ₹25 (without tripod)

The Panch Raths
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On a good day, it's a delight to walk the streets Pune, especially in the old part of the city. This was one such morning when I headed out to Mandai area (certainly my most favourite part of the city), and took a few shots on the streets of Pune.

Unlike most other days, there was no theme at all when I took these pics, and they represent just what I saw on the streets. Life as it is.

Riot of colors!

Ready to whip the world!

And she was all smiles

Not such a busy time at the Mandai

Don't talk to me, I am busy :P
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After the first shot was fired, Kamala didn't hear anything, it was just a loud continuous ringing sound which seem to be coming from her own head. Within seconds she fell to the ground and her little Gudiya was dragged away from here by the hundreds of running feet all around. She lifted her head and could see people climbing on the edge of the well and then falling like logs of wood, some inside and some outside. But Kamala's eyes were searching only for her little one. Gudiya had been looking forward to this Baisakhi for over a month and today she was wearing the little yellow dress that Kamala had herself stitched just a few days back, embroidered with Gudiya's favourite elephants.

And then she saw her, bloodied, crushed and disfigured beyond recognition, but for the yellow dress and her large eyes, wide open in shock. Kamala wanted to close her gudiya's eyes, but it was already too late for them both.

The bullets stopped raining after about ten minutes, not because someone decided to show mercy to the families gathered to celebrate Baisakhi, but because General Dyer's army ran out of bullets. By then almost 2000 unarmed innocents, mostly women and children, who had gathered to celebrate the Punjabi festival of Baisakhi at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, were dead.

Jallianwala Massacre in Amritsar

Jallianwala Bagh (photo credits: Kunal Jain)

Jallianwala MassacreThe day of the massacre was 13th April, 1919.

Soon after, the event came to be known as Jallianwala Massacre - unparalleled even in the imperialist British army's heavy handed rule over India and many other colonies.

Though initially hailed as a hero for saving the British Empire, Dyer was eventually criticised both in India and Britain. This is how Churchill described the act in his speech in the parliament:

"The crowd was unarmed, except with bludgeons. It was not attacking anybody or anything… When fire had been opened upon it to disperse it, it tried to run away. Pinned up in a narrow place considerably smaller than Trafalgar Square, with hardly any exits, and packed together so that one bullet would drive through three or four bodies, the people ran madly this way and the other. When the fire was directed upon the centre, they ran to the sides. The fire was then directed to the sides. Many threw themselves down on the ground, the fire was then directed down on the ground. This was continued to 8 to 10 minutes, and it stopped only when the ammunition had reached the point of exhaustion."

However, Dyer was allowed to resign without court-marshall or any other further punishment. In fact an exorbitant amount of £26,000 was raised for him back home which allowed him to live a good life till he died years later. Contrast this with the measly sum of £37 which was given to the families of those massacred under his orders. Eventually Dyer became a celebrated hero for many in Britain and died comfortably in 1927.


Jallianwala MemorialA memorial was later built at the site where the massacre took place in Amritsar. It was designed by an American architect, Benjamin Polk, and inaugurated in 1961. The park is now surrounded by houses from most sides, and a road which leads straight to the Golden Temple.

Jallianwala Memorial, Amirsar (photo credits: Shrinath Chavan)

Bullet marks on the walls (photo credits: Kunal Jain)

My first visit to the memorial was a long time back when my mother and I visited Amritsar to visit Golden Temple. It was a hot afternoon and the memorial park was full of people, and I didn't quite connect with the place. However, on my next visit there I sat alone in a corner and cried. And the weird thing about crying is that once you start, you can't really stop so easily.

The only other place where the violence of the past affected me so much was at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda.

Whether it was the British Empire doing everything it could to crush people's rights to self-governance in India, or the genocide in Rwanda, it's eventually humans killing each other, and eventually humanity itself. A place like this needs to be visited and absorbed into the consciousness, as it's not just a memorial but also a reminder of all that we have done wrong to fellow humans.

The narrow passageway (photo credits: Kunal Jain)

Planning a visit to the memorialAddress: near Golden Temple, Amritsar
Entry fee: Free
Timings:
Summers: 6 am – 7 pm, gallery: 9 am – 5 pm.
Winters: 10 am – 4 pm, gallery: 7 am – 6 pm

To reach Jallianwala MemorialReaching Jallianwala bagh is very easy as there are numerous vehicles going towards the Golden Temple and it's just minutes away from it. You cab take an e-auto, rickshaw or auto-rickshaw to reach there. If I understand correctly, right now both Ola and Uber don't provide services in Amritsar.

To reach AmritsarAmritsar is well connected with rails as well as roads, especially with Delhi and all other cities of Punjab. The closest airport is at Chandigarh.
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We all grow up with travel dreams, and no matter how surprising it may sound now, one of my dream destinations was Greenland. It looked like a huge lump of ice somewhere far far away, and maybe that's why I was so fascinated by it. Interestingly this fascination with Greenland didn't GPO even as I grew up, and in fact only grew with time. As I started traveling more and more to add Scandinavia (especially Norway), I got even more exposed to the political history of this huge island, and with that also grew my desire to travel there. I haven't made it there yet, but hopefully someday I will. In the meanwhile me share some more details to get you also excited about traveling there!

East Greenland (Photo credit: Greenland Travel)

What exactly is Greenland?Greenland is often considered to be world's biggest island (Australia and Antarctica are continents, though technically they are bigger) located in the Northern Hemisphere in the arctic circle. Even though geographically Greenland is right next to Canada, it's politically and culturally more affiliated with Europe, especially Scandinavia.

The capital and the largest city is Nuuk and almost a third of it's population lives there. The currency is Danish Krone as it's loosely a part of Denmark.

Northern Lights in Greenland (Photo credit: Mads Pihl)

Despite the extreme climatic conditions, the island has been inhabited by humans for about 4,500 years - so when pyramids were getting built in Egypt, we the humans, were in Greenland as well! That's rather fantastic! However, in recent times, the island has been occupied by Norway and Denmark, and it's currently loosely a part of Denmark but with a lot of autonomy.

Is Greenland really as big as it looks?Interestingly I always thought Greenland was really huge, because of the way it looked in the maps. Have a look at the map below and you will understand what I mean. Just compare the two entities - India and Greenland, and Greenland actually looks at least thrice (or even four times) as large as India, though in reality it's about 2/3rd the size of India. While the size of India is 3.287 million km², the size of Greenland is only about 2.166 million km²!

India vs Greenland (comparison in size) - which one do you think is bigger?

There is due to a projection called Mercator and there is a huge controversy about the maps that we follow and think represent the world correctly, but are in fact an absolutely incorrect representation of the world in reality. You can read more about the project here. Some educational institutions are actually correcting these, like this one in Boston.

Things to do in GreenlandUnlike what you might think, there is actually a lot to do in Greenland. It depends a lot on the season that you pick so make sure you decide that in advance.

East Greenland after sunset (Photo credit: Markus Trienke)

SummersJust like Norway and other Nordic countries, summer days are long in Greenland as well. I remember vividly how odd it was for me to be in Norway during summers - I always got up with full sun and slept with full sun - the nights were so short that I never saw a dark night at all. Though unusual, the experience is quite unique and I would be very excited to experience it in Greenland as well. Anyway, here are the top five recommended activities there in summers.
  1. Midnight sun
  2. Icebergs
  3. Nature and wildlife
  4. Hiking
  5. Fjord tours (read more: Cruising Nuuk fjords)
Winters
Unlike summers, winter days are short and can be very short. So what do you do when it gets dark so quickly? Well, you watch the sky fill with colorful lights - the Northern Lights! 

Here are the five most recommended activities to do in summers.
  1. Northern lights
  2. Snow
  3. Dog sledging
  4. Arctic circle race
  5. Heliskiing
How to reach Greenland?Now this is a rather important question, and not-so-surprisingly, it's actually not that difficult to reach Greenland. The best way to reach Greenland is through commercial airlines served by airports in Denmark and Iceland. Alternatively you can also arrive with a cruise ship. Two of the airlines which fly there are Air Greenland and Air Iceland connect.

The Greenlandic airline Air Greenland flies all year around from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq in West Greenland and to Narsarsuaq in South Greenland in summer time. In the winter period there are four flights a week to Kangerlussuaq and up to ten flights a week in the summer. Narsarsuaq is served up to twice a week during the summer.

Onward transport to the towns on Greenland’s west coast takes place by airplane or helicopter, and there are frequent connections that ensure that it is normally possible to reach your final destination the same day.

Read more: Reaching Greenland

Visa for Greenland?Even though Greenland isn't a part of EU, it is a part of Schengen through it's association with Denmark, so the same visa rules apply as they would for Denmark. If you have a valid Schengen visa, you can absolutely plan a trip there! 
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Naked Saunas in Finland are a place of physical and mental cleansing and they are almost held sacred by almost all Fins. The saunas can be mixed or gender-based, yet they have absolutely no connection to anything sexual. It's also a place where the entire community meets and interacts, and people of all age groups, except newborns and people with serious illness, visit them.

Enjoying sauna with a friend in Finland (Photo credit: Harri Tarvainen/ Visit Finland)

My experiences in a nude sauna in FinlandSteve opened the door with his right hand and peeked in first a little, while doing his best to cover his manhood with the other. He saw me and we smiled; he embarrassingly admitted that he had never been to a nude sauna before and hence the hesitation. This was a complete role reversal from me - my visit to an unexpected nude sauna in Germany left me mortified beyond my wits, though I eventually did come to accept it as normal.

“So you really can’t cover yourself at all in theere?”

“Hmmm...well, you will certainly be the odd one out if you do. But why don’t you get the towel to put underneath. It will save your bums from burning”, I said with a smile. I tried to make it a bit funny to make him more comfortable.

Over the next hour or so we sat together, threw water occasionally on the stones to maintain humidity, and chatted about our countries. It’s certainly very odd to think now, but we eventually also became comfortable sitting naked next to each other. Steve lived in London and was visiting Finland to ski, and was very surprised to learn that I was an Indian. He also mentioned how saunas in UK are never nude and how just like me, even he had to overcome inhibitions to give it a shot. I was not surprised at all.

The picture above is not me and Steve, but is fairly close to the setting. The sauna room was almost identical to the one above.

We talked about India, a bit about England’s history as a colonial power and I learnt something else again - they don’t actually study much about their country’s dark past in India and other parts of the world. Of course we let bygones by bygone and discussed more about today.

We also took turns taking a couple of cold showers during the session, something I had a much harder time doing. I must confess that during the second round I cheated and took a shower with luke warm water instead.

Men who do sauna together also dress up together, but we actually decided instead to go for a swim. Unlike sauna you are expected to wear swimming trunks and I think both of us were relieved to be not strutting around in the buff.

Typically you would go for a swim in the open, we instead went to the pool (Photo credit: Eetu Ahanen/ Visit Finland)

Later I caught up with my friends over drinks. Why didn’t my friends join me for sauna? Well all of them were women and I guess a little more prude than me. I also think that guys don’t quite care about being naked in each other’s company. But I didn't quite explore this question more, or discussed about my story.

Anyway, we had some chilled local beer in a warm bar and I reached the conclusion that Northern Lights were just a myth built to fleece gullible tourists! Of course that’s not true (I saw some recently on a trip to Norway), but it’s still a running joke between me and my traveller friend Archana :)

Culture of sauna in FinlandAnyway coming back to sauna in Finland, the two are very closely linked. In fact the term sauna as well as the concept of sauna was actually first invented in Finland.

Today it’s a part of life and an almost everyday ritual, especially during winters. All the hotels have a sauna and it’s typically free to use for the guests. Most Fins also have a sauna inside their house or a common one in their apartment for use.

A sauna get-together, clothes only for the shoot (Photo credit: Harri Tarvainen/ Visit Finland)

Friends meet, drink beer and talk about their days. Just like how I meet my friends here over Old Monk, just that it’s all in the buff. Even though I’ve gone skinny dipping with my friends in Diu, this isn’t something anyone of us would be comfortable with. But I guess it’s completely cultural, the Fins grow up living this lifestyle and so there ar clearly no inhibitions to see your friends naked. In fact they would have seen their friends make their physical transition all the way to adulthood, something that we don’t even discuss with friends.

Coming back to Finland, it’s not at all uncommon for office colleagues to meet in a sauna to discuss work and make important business decisions. In fact if you are an outsider, and invited to join in for a sauna session, it means you’ve been accepted in the inner circle and you must absolutely not refuse the invitation.

Why naked sauna?
This is a question that’s often asked by people from other countries where sauna is common, but it’s never nude, including India. I’ve been to a sauna in India numerous occasions but never without a towel around my waist.

Why is being naked important? (Image credit: Ville Hyvönen)

So why do Fins (and Germans and Russians, among others) prefer nude sauna?

Well, it’s everything to do with hygiene. You clean yourself thoroughly in a sauna and if you wear undergarments you will never be able to clean those regions at all. Also, if you follow the steps, by the time you leave the sauna you will be cleaner than ever before. Germs often grow in wet clothes, and that's another reason to not wear wet clothes while taking a sauna. Swimming suits are also a no-no because often the chloride which is used for keeping the swimming pools clean is left in these suits, and when it evaporates in the heated sauna, the air isn't so good for you.

I am not a nudist by any means, but being completely naked in a sauna feels absolutely great and not at all uncomfortable. Humans were created naked and that's how we lived with fellow humans for thousands of years, before we decided to cover up and become more 'decent'. Being naked in company of fellow humans is primal and very natural state of being.

The Sauna ritualWell, sauna is almost like religion in Finland and often there is also a ritual to it, of course, with some modifications based on where you do it.

You would typically start with a shower before you enter the sauna. It's a good idea to grab a towel - not to wear it but put in under your butts to save them from burning!

While you are in there, there are two rather interesting customs. Vitha is a birch stick and whipping with one is considered an essential part of the experience. You can do it yourself, but it's better if you have a friend who can do it for you, and then you can take turns. Of course, it's a given that you need to be completely comfortable naked for your friend to do it on you.

Whipping with birch (Photo credit: Visit Finland)

The second one is called Löyly and is the process of throwing water on the stones to keep the sauna humid and comfortable.

The fire in the sauna (Photo credit: Elina Sirparanta/ Visit Finland)

This to to throw water on stone and create steam  (Photo credit: Harri Tarvainen/ Visit Finland)

You can also take a bottle of beer or other alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks with you inside the sauna. Make sure you check the rules and follow them.

It's also part of the ritual to take breaks from the hot sauna room and jump outside into an ice-cold pond. If you are not in nature, a cold shower will also do!

Jump straight into a cold pond, or a cold shower (Photo credit: Harri Tarvainen/ Visit Finland)

Saunas across Finland!
Well, that's an impossible question to answer. There are so many designs and almost all of them are unique. Here are some of the more interesting ones - if you end up going to Finland, make sure you try one of these :)

Snow sauna, my favorite type  (Photo credit: Harri Tarvainen/ Visit Finland)

In the wild  (Photo credit: Anne Saarinen/ Visit Finland)

Sauna in Helsinki (Photo credit: Eero Ahanen,/Visit Finland)

Can the setting get any more beautiful? (Photo credit: Visit Finland)

Mobile sauna  (Photo credit: Visit Finland)

Sauna in the forest  (Photo credit: Saara Kostama/ Visit Finland)

A modern sauna (Photo credit: Pekka Keränen / Visit Helsinki, Visit Finland)

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