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About this post: I had many questions on my mind before my trip to Iran. Why go to Iran? How is Iran as a country? Is it safe to visit Iran? What is Iranian culture like? A month in Iran later, I think it might be one of my favorite places in the world. This post is my humble attempt to show you why.

Most people think that now is a terrible time to visit Iran. The renewed US sanctions on the country mean that popular travel websites like Expedia, Airbnb and Booking.com don’t work in Iran. International debit and credit cards can’t be used to make payments or withdraw money from ATMs. Most travel insurance policies don’t cover Iran. And social networks like Twitter and Facebook are technically banned.

And yet, spending a month exploring Iran in Feb-March 2019 – thanks to the local all-women team of travel company Uppersia – filled me with immense wonder at its architecture and natural beauty. I fell in love with the country’s people, culture, poetry and language, and believe that NOW is the best time to visit Iran.

The renewed US sanctions have sent the Iranian Rial into a free fall, making it the most affordable time to explore the country – and contribute directly to ordinary citizens suffering the economic consequences. Tourism has been badly hit, which means you can have the exquisite Nasir-ol-Molk of Shiraz, the awe-inspiring Naqsh-e Jahan Square of Isfahan and the other-worldly Kaluts Desert, pretty much all to yourself. If you pick only one international travel destination this year, pick Iran, for this is a country where:

You’ll discover landscapes so unimaginable, you’d think you’ve landed on Mars

(like on Hormuz Island, with yellow rivers, white mineral peaks and red sand)

Yet human creations will leave you in greater awe

(Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan, said to be created by the gods of art)

And compel you to reconnect with the poet in you

In an antique bookshop in Kerman, with works of great Persian poets S’aadi, Hafez and Rumi

As you walk amid 900-year-old Cypress trees

(at Bagh-e Eram in Shiraz)

Take in the awe-inspiring sight of a 12th century shrine

If you see only one thing in Iran, let it be Shah Cheragh in Shiraz by night

Hear a sufi mystic sing within a shrine’s ancient walls

(at Shah Nematollah Wali Shrine in Mahan)

And explore some of the world’s most incredible cities like Isfahan and Shiraz

Move over New York, London, Paris!

You’ll slowly forget everything the media told you about Iran…

Make an effort to speak a bit of Farsi

I highly recommend the Chai and Conversation podcast.

Because you’ll not only fall in love with the language

Persian calligraphy gift from a local friend <3

But also with the locals you meet along the way

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Cuban reggae music played on repeat as I rode on a bright yellow truck from the 1940s, along a bumpy, heavily forested road. While the driver – an engineer by education – and I chatted in Spanish, he casually pointed out iguana lizards chilling by the road, vultures flying low in search of food, deer at the edge of the forest, huge crabs running helter-skelter and an enormous snake that brought us to a screeching halt.

A world away from the photogenic streets and tourist traps of Havana, we were heading to Cocodrilo, a remote, forgotten fishing village on Isla de la Juventud (Isle of the Youth), a remote, forgotten island in Cuba. My plan was to volunteer at a coral reef restoration project set up by IOI Adventures in collaboration with the island community.

My yellow vintage ride to Cocodrilo!

I had no idea then, that living in a time warp on Cocodrilo, home to only 320 inhabitants, cut off from the outside world by a dense forest and the Caribbean Sea, was going to change everything. Everything I thought I knew about travelling, our consumption patterns, our dietary choices and how climate change is impacting the world.

Here’s what I learnt along the way:

Now is the best and worst time to travel

Sunset, serenity and solitude in Cocodrilo.

During my recent travel meetup in Hyderabad, I met someone who had explored Ladakh and Kashmir in the late 80s – and said he would never go back because he treasured his vivid memories of their unspoilt beauty. Looking back on my own travels, I often feel the same way about places like Spiti, Georgia, Kumaon and Guatemala.

Unfortunately we can’t turn back time, but we can travel meaningfully and choose to explore places that aren’t yet plagued by mass tourism. Places that are yet to become Instagram hotspots.

Cocodrilo was one of those places in Cuba. Every evening at sunset, as the sky turned many shades of orange, locals poured out on the only street, drinking rum and playing music, heartily sharing both. Mama Yeni, the island’s second oldest resident, reminisced how she had journeyed across the Atlantic on a fishing boat, from Cayman Islands to Cocodrilo in search of a better life – and hers became one of the earliest families to settle here. She remembered the days when there were no roads, no cars, no doctor, no pharmacy, not even a grocery shop on the island. Her family would make a long list of things they needed, and do their grocery run to the nearest big town by boat, leaving early morning to reach the grocery store by evening!

Mama Yeni, the second oldest resident of Cocodrilo.

Getting into island mode on Cocodrilo assured me that these might not be the best years to travel, but they aren’t the worst either.

Also read: How Croatia Compelled Me to Rethink Travel Blogging

No matter how far we live from the ocean, the plastic we consume ultimately lands up there

Collecting cans from the sea bed off Cocodrilo. Photo: Anna Berestova

If you can close your eyes and picture yourself on a tiny idyllic island village, with nothing but dense forest, deep blue sea and clear blue skies stretching out around you, perhaps you can picture yourself on Cocodrilo. At a small sparse island shop, the only things one can buy are local rum in a glass bottle, shampoo sachets, basic groceries and the Cuban version of coca cola.

Yet when I snorkelled – with my host on the island and a long-term volunteer – into the deep blue sea that surrounds the island, I discovered a different story. The seabed was littered with plastic bags, beer cans of international brands, shampoo bottles, cigarette buts, plastic straws and menstrual pads. Diving freestyle, we retrieved this plastic trash – only to see more of it appear a couple of days later. You probably know that our planet is 70% water, and most of what we consume these days comes in plastic. Turns out, only 9% of all plastic is recycled. Where does the rest go? Unfortunately, into our oceans.

Aesthetics aside, the plastic trash often gets lodged in corals, spreading harmful bacteria and damaging coral tissue. Worse still, swallowing this plastic has caused the death of many dolphins, whales and other marine creatures; a sea turtle even choked to death when a plastic straw got stuck in its nostril.

Swimming in the deep blue sea off Cocodrilo was evidence that no matter where in the world we live, no matter how from the sea, the plastic we choose to consume in our everyday lives is directly responsible for destroying our oceans.

Also read: Cuba Tourist Visa for Indians: Requirements and Tips

Conversation-focused deep sea diving can help save corals

The underwater world. Photo: NOAA’s National Ocean Service (CC)

Here’s a confession: The first time I went scuba diving was in the Philippines – and the experience left me disappointed. Sure, the underwater life was incredibly beautiful, but to carry an oxygen cylinder and deep dive while my ears protested, felt like the most unnatural way to experience the ocean. It made me think of humans as an invasive species, who for their own entertainment, will go to depths (literally) that we obviously aren’t meant to.

But speaking to a long-term volunteer in Cocodrilo, who was doing a field report on the correlation between deep sea diving and island communities, changed some of my perspective. I learnt from her that there are two ways of diving. The first, regular scuba diving, is what I experienced in the Philippines; this is diving purely for entertainment, and depending on who you do it with, could end up spoiling the corals and threatening fish (remember: touching the corals or feeding any marine creatures is a BIG no-no). The second, conservation-focused scuba diving, is where you dive for a purpose.

Outfits that offer this responsible form of deep sea diving don’t just teach you how to dive, but also talk about coral cleaning, fish count, invasive species, coral restoration and other conservation activities. You then scuba dive, not just to admire the underwater world, but to help conserve it by participating in a cleaning or counting drive. In Cocodrilo for instance, the broken coral reef is being restored through a tedious process: broken bits of coral are picked up from the sea floor, hung on an underwater stand and cleaned of excess algae and plastic every few days. When over a year old and strong enough, they are replanted between existing corals. And diving to support efforts like that can not only help save corals but also compel us to change our everyday choices.

Also read: Offbeat, Incredible and Sustainable: These Travel Companies are Changing the Way You Experience India

We need to say no to single-use plastic on our travels and in daily life

Saying no to single-use plastic straws.

As I took off my snorkeling mask after a hot afternoon spent collecting plastic trash from a small section of the Caribbean seabed, I pledged to do more to cut down my single-use plastic consumption. I’ve long said no to plastic bottled water – choosing to carry and refill a steel bottle or use a Lifestraw filter – and already replaced plastic bags, toothbrush and straws with eco-friendly alternatives. And yet, when I got home to take a shower, I felt immense guilt at most of my toiletries – shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, hair serum, face wash, deodorant, toothpaste, sunscreen, razor, menstrual pads – which were still plastic. It was time to make some inconvenient choices.

After I left Cuba, I switched to:

  • Soap and shampoo bars: There are plenty of choices, but I prefer Lush, Hast Krafts, Veganology and other handmade vegan bars at local markets which don’t come wrapped in plastic. The idea of using a bar to wash my hair was strange at first, but I’ve totally grown into it.
  • Hair conditioner: Lush is the only brand I’ve found yet that does an amazing conditioner bar but it’s not available in India. Body Shop in India is soon switching to using recycled plastic bottles.
  • Menstrual cup: After months of procrastination, I’ve finally mastered the art of using a menstrual cup (coupled with cloth pads) – and it’s a life changer!
  • Bamboo razor: The Eco Trunk now stocks bamboo razors.
  • Body mist in a glass bottle: I love Body Shop’s body mist – and luckily it comes in a glass bottle which I hope to be able to recycle.
  • I’m still looking for eco-friendly alternatives to my toothpaste, face wash, hair serum and sunscreen.

In all honesty, choosing some of these alternatives requires extra work. I can’t walk into any supermarket and expect to replace a shampoo / conditioner bar when I run out, for instance. But each time I feel inconvenienced, I think of the majestic corals littered with plastic, dying a slow death. I think of the fish, turtles and dolphins choking to death because of our consumption. And I know that it’s worth going that extra mile to make more sustainable choices.

Also read: How I Fit All My Life Possessions in Two Bags as I Travel the World

What we choose to eat impacts the underwater world

“Here [in the seas], life is collapsing even faster than on land. The main cause, the UN biodiversity report makes clear, is not plastic. It is not pollution, not climate breakdown, not even the acidification of the ocean. It is fishing.”
~ The Guardian, May 2019

A vegan feast in Cuba.

On a warm evening, we drove in a vintage car to a deserted beach along the Caribbean Sea, to join a night ranger to monitor turtle hatchings. Much to my surprise, the pristine beach was covered in mounds of brown algae, and the ranger lamented that each year, the algae has been growing and turtles declining. Though it was the peak of the egg-laying season, we spotted no turtles as we patrolled the beach under the moonlit sky.

It took me a long time to understand how this algae maybe the direct consequence of our choice to eat seafood. Turns out, the world’s oceans are plagued by overfishing. For every 1 pound of fish caught for food, nearly 5 pounds of marine life is killed accidentally. This

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Under the grey clouds and golden light of the setting sun, I found myself amid the lush rice paddies of Kerala, listening to enchanting folk tunes by India’s first “bamboo orchestra”. The young men – radio jockeys, carpenters and farmers in their everyday life – came together to revive their lost music traditions and handcrafted their own bamboo instruments by learning from DIY videos on YouTube (Also read: Offbeat Kerala: 11 Travel Experience to Inspire the Artist in You). They’ve gone on to perform with their innovative instruments at national and international shows, laying the foundations of fusion music based on sustainability principles.

Time and again, I’ve met people on my travels across India, who’re leveraging the power of their smartphones and the internet to transform their way of life. Recently, in Himachal Pradesh, I hiked for a couple of hours to reach a remote village perched on a hill and was surprised to see two elderly women huddled over a smartphone, browsing a Facebook page, exploring new designs for the clothes they planned to weave! In Uttarakhand, I came across a passionate conservationist building a network of conscious locals through a WhatsApp group, to monitor forest fires.

Also read: Awe-Inspiring Homestays in the Uttarakhand Himalayas to Tune Out of Life and Tune Into the Mountains

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For 400 rupees a day, they carry stones, mix cement and literally build the extension of the majestic Ki Monastery in Spiti. When we see a grand site like Ki, we’re wowed by the monks who call it home. But the real “wow” happens behind the scenes – by guys who work their asses off for 400 rupees a day. . . Quite aptly, I met them when I wandered down a little path behind the monastery, where they live in tiny makeshift homes and were washing up at the public tap after a long day’s work. They were shy at first, as was I, but when we got talking, they told me that Spiti isn’t like their home in Jharkhand. It’s nothing, they said, barren, brown, no trees. Unlike our Jharkhand, they said, with greenery, fields and pure water. . . Two years ago, when they began visiting Spiti over the summer to help build the new extension of Ki Monastery, their mistry (contractor) told them he was the one who had built the original monastery! How old is he, I asked amused. 40 or 50 years, they said. Well my friends, the monastery was built in the 14th century, then almost rebuilt in the 19th century, I doubt your mistry was alive at either of those times . . At that moment, surprised and then amused, they looked at each other and laughed heartily at their innocence and how they were going to call out the mistry’s bragging – and I clicked this . . Shot on #iphone8plus . #theshootingstar #incredibleindia #storiesofindia #voicesofruralindia #portraitphotography

A post shared by Shivya Nath (@shivya) on Jun 2, 2018 at 8:38pm PDT

Technology is at the core of my own digital nomad life too. So I’m delighted to partner with Airtel – the telecom network that has kept me connected all these years – to bring you inspiring stories of digital empowerment from around the country!

A personal connection with Airtel

My digital nomad life.

Way back in 2007, I was at university in Singapore and travel blogging was nowhere on my radar. Airtel came to our campus to offer a lucrative internship, and the idea of working for a company set up by a visionary first-generation entrepreneur briefly drew me back to India. In retrospect, that experience exposed me to the many opportunities and challenges in the country, and paved the way for my eventual return to India, even as most of my friends settled into comfortable corporate lives in Singapore.

In 2011, I decided to quit my full-time job in Singapore and slowly began solo travelling across India. That was when Airtel became my network of choice. It offered far more widespread and reliable connectivity across India – especially the Himalayas – than any other operator, and empowered me to share many incredible encounters on the road.

Also read: What Solo Travel Has Taught Me About the World – and Myself

The changing world of rural India.

Now, in 2019, life has come full circle as I partner with Airtel 4G in my capacity as a travel blogger, to highlight positive stories of how technology and network connectivity are fueling business, passion and everyday life in India, especially in non-urban areas.

Also read: How Responsible Tourism Can Challenge Patriarchy in India

Digital empowerment stories in India

I’ll be travelling across India to find inspiring stories of people, especially women in rural India, who are using Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Google, WhatsApp, text messages and other phone tools to solve everyday challenges, find a market for their products or connect directly with the outside world. I’ll be documenting these stories on Instagram with #ConnectedbyAirtel and on this blog – and hopefully going a step further by asking you to support these individuals in creative ways.

Searching for digital empowerment stories across India.

Perhaps you’ve met an artist on your travels who recently learnt to use YouTube to innovate a traditional craft; perhaps a mother in a countryside village who is using google to help her children study; perhaps a rural family running their business through WhatsApp? I’d love to hear about these stories, find the people in them and document their lives – in the hope that the digital revolution in India will continue connecting people, bridging the urban-rural divide and creating new economic opportunities across the country.

Have you come across someone in non-urban India using technology in a positive, empowering away?

*Note: I wrote this post as part of my digital empowerment campaign with Airtel. Opinions on this blog, as you know, are always mine.

Join my adventures around the world on InstagramFacebook and Twitter.

Order a copy of my bestselling book, The Shooting Star.

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Before I began to travel full time, the books I read based on the “best travel books” recommendations were mostly written by western travellers. You can probably guess some of them: Into the Wild by Jon Krakeur, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I found them inspiring back then and still admire the authors for their personal quests. But the more I travel, the more I realise that the perspectives in these travel memoirs often come from a place of privilege.

In my quest to discover lesser-visited regions around the world, I long to unravel their many layers through the words and perspectives of a local. To delve deeper into a country’s unique way of life, as shaped by its cultural and historical influences.

As a result, I’ve ended up discovering delightful books by local authors on my travels. And reading them while simultaneously exploring the country they’re set in, adds a dreaminess to my travels, like taking multiple journeys at once – physically, virtually and emotionally.

The “travel books” that fascinate me often transcend the travel writing genre, but I hope you’ll read them anyway:

Reading Lolita in Tehran

By Azar Nafisi | Iran

“It takes courage to die for a cause, but also to live for one.”

Halfway through reading ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’, I decided that no matter what, I was going to explore Iran someday (I finally did, last month!). Set in Tehran after the 1979 revolution, this is the bold and inspiring memoir of Azar Nafisi, an English Literature professor who dared to start a book club among her best students – all women, reading classics like Lolita and The Great Gatsby, officially censored by the authorities in Iran.

Set amidst the backdrop of Tehran’s Alborz mountains and the Iraq war, the journey of Nafisi’s characters (her students) is interwoven beautifully with the characters they read about. The book left me simultaneously melancholic, hopeful and inspired – and was featured on the New York Times bestseller list for over a hundred weeks.

Read The Guardian’s Review | Order on Amazon India / Amazon Worldwide

Also read: Why You Should Drop Everything and Travel to Iran Now!

From the Land of Green Ghosts

By Pascal Kho Thwe | Myanmar (Burma)

“I also felt like an exile, or a traveller lost between two unfamiliar shores.”

As I was preparing for my epic land journey from Thailand to India through the length and breadth of Myanmar, I stumbled upon the incredible story of Pascal Kho Thwe in his debut book, From the Land of Green Ghosts. Raised as the chieftain’s son in the traditional Padaung hill tribe in Myanmar, the book charts his journey from a fascinating tribal upbringing, through the heartbreaking civil war in Myanmar, to his unlikely quest to study English Literature at Cambridge!

By the time I made it to the end of this awe-inspiring memoir, I could feel my eyes well up and my heart shudder at everything he’s experienced in one lifetime. And perhaps that explains the kinship I felt with the tribal folk I met in the remote Chin state.

Read The Guardian’s Review | Order on Amazon India / Amazon Worldwide

Also read: The Epic Land Journey from Thailand to India via Myanmar

Ali and Nino

By Kurban Said | Azerbaijan, Georgia (the Caucasus)

“Close your eyes, cover your ears with your hands and open your soul.”

Ali and Nino was one of the few books I found under ‘the Caucasus’ section at a bookstore in Georgia, and decided to buy it on impulse. I had no idea then that its author continues to be shrouded in mystery, for it was first published in the 1930s under the pen name Kurban Said, and once attributed to an Austrian baroness! Evidence has come to light since, that the book may have been written by Lev Nussimbaum who spent his childhood in Baku.

Set in the early 1900s, the book is inspired by the heartwarming love story of Ali, a Muslim Azerbaijani boy and Nino, a Christian Georgian girl – and the many obstacles that stand between them: Muslim and Christian, Oriental and European, and the Soviet invasion of Azerbaijan. Set across Dagestan, Azerbaijan and Georgia, the book offers an intimate glimpse into life in the Caucasus region, and left me with the overwhelming feeling that history keeps repeating itself.

Read Washington Independent’s Review | Order on Amazon India / Amazon Worldwide

Also read: If You’re Looking for the “Shire”, Come to Georgia

Remembering Che: My Life With Che Guevara

By Aleida March | Cuba

“Farewell, my only one,
do not tremble before the hungry wolves
nor in the cold steppes of absence;
I take you with me in my heart
and we will continue together until the road vanishes…”

On my first day in Havana, I walked into a small bookstore to seek respite from the sweltering heat of the city, and walked out with a copy of My Life with Che – written by Aleida March, Che Guevara’s wife, and translated from Spanish by Pilar Aguilera.

I had read Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara a long time ago, for it typically makes it to most “inspiring travel books” recommendations. I loved it at the time, but as a more mature traveller aching to better understand how Che’s travels shaped both him and his adopted country, “Remembering Che” became my companion on my travels across Cuba. March’s words are raw and simple, yet sometimes too honest to digest. As I travelled across Cuba, I saw the Cuban revolution through her eyes and came to appreciate Che’s altruistic yet flawed personality. At the same time, I felt like I was journeying through time to see how Cuba has changed over the years.

I remember sitting on the Malecon (sea face) in Havana, on my last evening in the country, reading the last few pages of the book, with the salty wind blowing through my hair. A strange nostalgia washed over me, as I wondered if Che and Aleida had ever sat there, in the same spot, watching the horizon, feeling what I was feeling. Only a handful of books are capable of inducing that.

Read an excerpt on Sydney Morning Herald | Order on Amazon India / Amazon Worldwide

Also read: Unusual Solo Travel Destinations to Feed Your Adventurous Spirit

The King’s Harvest

By Chetan Raj Sreshtha | Sikkim (Northeast India)

“In the place of timber houses with leaky roofs were gigantic boxes of cement with harsh windows. The road was wider and topped with the same tasteless black cake…”

When the “bookman” of Sikkim (the owner of the indie Rachna bookstore in Gangtok) highly recommends a book by a Sikkimese author, you’d better buy it. That’s how The King’s Harvest landed in my arms. Of the two novellas the book is split into, the first, An Open and Shut Case is the story of a woman who kills her husband and turns herself in. It weaves through a layered world of love, music and shared taxis – to reveal that a case like this isn’t exactly open and shut.

But it’s the second of the two novellas, The King’s Harvest, that lives within me even after all these years. The story takes you to a remote land in Sikkim where one man lives in solitude, toils on the land and joyfully gives a share of his harvest to his beloved king every year. When the harvest collector stops showing up, the man decides, after 32 long years of isolation, to personally visit the king, oblivious to how the kingdom has changed. Sprinkled with magical realism, I found this book just as enchanting as my first glimpse of Mount Kanchenjunga!

Read The Hindu’s Review | Order on Amazon India – or better still, buy it at Rachna Books in Gangtok.

Also read: Sikkim: The Lost Kingdom

Norwegian Wood | A Wild Sheep Chase

By Haruki Murakami | Japan

“Time really is one big continuous cloth, no? We habitually cut out pieces of time to fit us, so we tend to fool ourselves into thinking that time is our size, but it really goes on and on.”

Ever since I read Norwegian Wood on a train ride along Canada’s Rocky Mountains, I’ve been hooked onto Murakami, his imaginative words, his mysterious characters, his bizarre plots and his surreal depiction of life in Japan. And when I finally travelled to Japan last year, I ended up meeting a local who indeed belonged in a Murakami novel!

Norwegian Wood, set mostly in Tokyo, explores love, relationships, sex and life through the lens of a young Japanese college student and the women he meets along the way. I remember, quite vividly, the riot of emotions that stormed through me as I became engrossed in his characters; emotions I never imagined a book could be capable of making me feel.

Since then, I’ve read many works by Murakami, and one of his earliest books, A Wild Sheep Chase, is one I keep thinking about. The bizarre plot is set in a stunning, remote village in Hokkaido, and is fascinating, mysterious and absurd, with all the charms of magical realism yet realistic characters. After reading it, I can’t wait to make it to Hokkaido.

Read The New York Time’s Review | Order on Amazon India | Amazon Worldwide

Also read: In Search of Murakami’s Japan

Neither Night Nor Day

Short stories, edited by Rakhshanda Jalil | Pakistan

My Indian passport makes it very difficult to explore Pakistan. So to satiate my longing to explore the other side of the Indian subcontinent, I delved into Neither Night Nor Day, an anthology of short stories written by 13 Pakistani women. Spanning themes like familial expectations, immigrant life in London, partition and female infanticide, these stories explore the everyday lives of ordinary Pakistanis – and as an Indian, you quickly realise that despite the border between us, the battles and triumphs are the same. The stories are heartfelt, vivid and often soul-stirring.

Read DNA’s..

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In January 2019, when I travelled overland from Thailand to India via Myanmar, I was relieved to learn that Myanmar offers Indian citizens both, eVisa and visa on arrival. Not wanting to risk showing up at a land border to get a Myanmar visa on arrival on my Indian passport, I decided to apply online for a Myanmar eVisa – and was delighted to receive a confirmed visa by email within 24 hours!

If you plan to travel to Myanmar soon, here’s what you need to know to score a Myanmar tourist visa on an Indian passport:

Myanmar eVisa for Indians

Myanmar tourist eVisa application form

Start with filling the online Myanmar tourist visa application form on the official Ministry of Immigration website. Apart from general information, you’ll need to provide details of your occupation and address in Myanmar, and upload a passport photo.

You also have to choose your port of entry depending on whether you’re flying into the country or crossing over land. If you’re flying in, choose the airport where you plan to land (Yangon, Mandalay or Nai Phi Taw international airport). If travelling by land, pick one of the 5 land border checkpoints you can cross in from. I selected the Myawaddy land border checkpoint, for I was crossing the Mae Sot – Myawaddy border from Thailand to Myanmar.

Tip: As per official guidelines, you’re allowed to enter Myanmar from any port of entry, irrespective of what you’ve chosen on your Myanmar eVisa application. However, given the poor standing of the Indian passport, this might slow you down at immigration.

Myanmar visa fee for Indians

The processing fee for the Myanmar eVisa for Indian passport holders is 50$ (~INR 3500). The Myanmar tourist visa I received was a single entry visa that allowed me to stay in the country for 28 days.

Once you make the payment online, you will receive an acknowledgment email with an application number, which you can use to track the status of your application.

Processing time for Myanmar eVisa for Indians

The official processing time to receive your Myanmar eVisa via email is 1 to 3 days. I got mine within 12 hours of applying!

If you’re short on time, you could apply for the Myanmar tourist visa express service, which will ensure you receive it within 24 hours. The processing fee for the Myanmar tourist visa express service is $56 (~INR 3900).

Myanmar visa requirements: Documents, validity and extension

You need to print out your Myanmar eVisa to show it before you board your flight, and at the port of entry in Myanmar. The eVisa remains valid for 90 days from the date of issue, of which you can stay for 28 days in Myanmar. At the time of writing this, there were no provisions to extend this eVisa for a longer stay.

Myanmar visa on arrival for Indian citizens

According to the Embassy of Myanmar in India, the Myanmar visa on arrival is available for Indian passport holders landing at international airports – before November 2019. The fee and duration of stay is the same as that for the eVisa.

I haven’t tried availing this yet. If you do, let me know how it goes?

Myanmar visa at the Myanmar embassy in India

If you want to get a longer tourist visa, or save a little bit of money, you could apply for the Myanmar tourist visa at the Embassy of Myanmar in New Delhi. The processing fee is INR 2800, and the processing time is usually 2 days. Besides the visa application form and two recent photos, you also need to show confirmed hotel and flight bookings.

The Myanmar visa is among the easiest we can get on the Indian passport. Reason enough to plan a trip to this incredible country? I think so.

This post is co-written with Remya Padmadas – a journalist by day and dreamer the rest of the time. She aspires to travel the world and become a teller of stories.

Have you been to Myanmar? How was your eVisa / visa on arrival experience?

ALSO READ:
How I Manage Visas on My Indian Passport As I Travel Around the Globe
How to Score a Schengen Visa on an Indian Passport
American Tourist Visa for Indians: Tips and Requirements

Join my adventures around the world virtually on InstagramFacebook and Twitter!

Order a copy of my bestselling book, The Shooting Star.

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Most people think that now is a terrible time to visit Iran. The renewed US sanctions on the country mean that popular travel websites like Expedia, Airbnb and Booking.com don’t work in Iran. International debit and credit cards can’t be used to make payments or withdraw money from ATMs. Most travel insurance policies don’t cover Iran. And social networks like Twitter and Facebook are technically banned.

And yet, spending a month exploring Iran in Feb-March 2019 – thanks to the local all-women team of travel company Uppersia – filled me with immense wonder at its architecture and natural beauty. I fell in love with the country’s people, culture, poetry and language, and believe that NOW is the best time to visit Iran.

The renewed US sanctions have sent the Iranian Rial into a free fall, making it the most affordable time to explore the country – and contribute directly to ordinary citizens suffering the economic consequences. Tourism has been badly hit, which means you can have the exquisite Nasir-ol-Molk of Shiraz, the awe-inspiring Naqsh-e Jahan Square of Isfahan and the other-worldly Kaluts Desert, pretty much all to yourself. If you pick only one international travel destination this year, pick Iran, for this is a country where:

You’ll discover landscapes so unimaginable, you’d think you’ve landed on Mars

(like on Hormuz Island, with yellow rivers, white mineral peaks and red sand)

Yet human creations will leave you in greater awe

(Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan, said to be created by the gods of art)

And compel you to reconnect with the poet in you

In an antique bookshop in Kerman, with works of great Persian poets S’aadi, Hafez and Rumi

As you walk amid 900-year-old Cypress trees

(at Bagh-e Eram in Shiraz)

Take in the awe-inspiring sight of a 12th century shrine

If you see only one thing in Iran, let it be Shah Cheragh in Shiraz by night

Hear a sufi mystic sing within a shrine’s ancient walls

(at Shah Nematollah Wali Shrine in Mahan)

And explore some of the world’s most incredible cities like Isfahan and Shiraz

Move over New York, London, Paris!

You’ll slowly forget everything the media told you about Iran…

Make an effort to speak a bit of Farsi

I highly recommend the Chai and Conversation podcast.

Because you’ll not only fall in love with the language

Persian calligraphy gift from a local friend <3

But also with the locals you meet along the way

You’ll learn to picnic in the outdoors like Iranians

(at the Naqsh-e Jahan Square..

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About this post: In January 2019, I embarked on a journey from Thailand to India by road, crossing Myanmar over land. This road trip took me from Chiang Mai via Myanmar to Manipur, without boarding any flights. The India to Thailand road route is marked by stunning scenery, misty sunrises, old temples and rice paddies. In this detailed post, I talk about why doing India to Thailand by road should be on your bucket list.

When I got asked to conduct a digital marketing workshop for responsible tourism businesses in India in January 2019, I felt like an imposter. Despite being vegan, choosing eco-friendly accommodations and cutting out most single-use plastic from my lifestyle, I’m extremely guilty of the carbon footprint of the many international flights I take every year. So I began 2019 with a pledge – to cut down flying as much as possible. The only challenge was that I was living as a digital nomad in Chiang Mai and needed to travel to India to conduct the workshop.

So to keep my pledge, I set out on an epic land journey – using public transport – from northern Thailand, through the length and breath of Myanmar, to Manipur in the remote northeast of India. Over a fortnight, I took many buses, drove an electric bike, kayaked on rice paddies, went on a crazy motorbike adventure along narrow winding mountain roads, took a canoe and hiked.

Also read: How Croatia Compelled Me to Rethink Travel Blogging

Kayaking on the rice paddies of Hpa An, Myanmar.

Even as I crossed the land border from Thailand to Myanmar and changed my greetings from sawadeekha to minglaba, I had no idea what Myanmar would offer me. Much to my surprise and delight, my land route was filled with karst mountains, misty sunrises, ancient temples, rhododendron forests and the tribal wonders of Chin State. I’m now convinced that long land journeys are infinitely more adventurous than hopping on a plane – and better for the planet too.

The road route I took from Thailand to India

My road route from Thailand to India: Chiang Mai – Mae Sot – (Thailand-Myanmar border crossing) – Myawaddy – Hpa An – Yangon – Bagan – Mindat – Chin State countryside – Kale – Tamu – (Myanmar-India border crossing) – Moreh – Imphal

I travelled by a mix of VIP and regular buses, mini vans and shared taxis. The VIP buses from Chiang Mai to Mae Sot and Yangon to Bagan (overnight) can be booked online. It’s best to book the rest atleast a day or two in advance, through your guest house. Except for the Myawaddy – Hpa An and Moreh – Imphal stretches, the roads were excellent.

Also read: An Open Letter to Indian Parents: Let Your “Kids” Travel

Myanmar E-visa for Indians

Scoring an e-visa for Myanmar was a breeze, even on an Indian passport. I applied online, and received it within 24 hours. The visa is valid for 90 days, and allows you to stay in Myanmar for 30 days.

Also read: How I Manage Visas on My Indian Passport as I Travel Around the Globe

Border crossing: Thailand to Myanmar

The border crossing from Mae Sot (Thailand) to Myawaddy (Myanmar).

Even though Thailand has many borders with Myanmar, the one I chose to cross was the Mae Sot – Myawaddy border. If you cross any further north, in the Shan State, you can’t journey into the rest of Myanmar by land because of military restrictions.

The green bus from Chiang Mai to Mae Sot dropped the handful of passengers going to the border at an intersection before heading into Mae Sot town, from where we all shared a big tuk-tuk to the Thai border, got stamped out, walked with our luggage across the Thailand-Myanmar friendship bridge and entered Myanmar. At the immigration office in Myanmar, I got stamped in easily, no questions asked.

While most travellers then haggled with a shared taxi to continue on to Hpa An, I opted to stay at an Airbnb in the border town of Myawaddy, hoping to break the journey. In retrospect, I’d rather have endured the long ride and missed out on the scenery, for Myawaddy is dusty, busy, un-walkable and doesn’t really offer anything.

Also read: 6 Months, 6 Countries: Epic Memories from Central America

Border crossing: Myanmar to India

Entering India from Myanmar!

There are two options to cross into India from Myanmar. The first is the Tamu – Moreh border, which I crossed from Chin State in Myanmar to Manipur in India. Moreh is a 3 hour drive from Imphal. The second option is the Rikhawdar – Zokhawthar border, from Chin State to Mizoram. I heard that this one features winding roads and welcoming tribal folk on both sides, but I didn’t end up taking it because given my time constraints and the poor connectivity in this part of northeast India, the journey further would become much longer.

The crossing from Myanmar to India takes longer because you’re entering army territory. After getting stamped out from Myanmar and walking across the Indo-Myanmar friendship bridge, I had to walk about 500m to reach Indian immigration. My passport was stamped and my luggage checked manually at customs. Ordinarily, I would’ve had to catch an auto to Moreh town and wait on the road for a shared taxi, but I lucked out and got a ride with an Indian-Burmese family heading to Assam.

While in the taxi, we stopped thrice again – at an army checkpoint to enter our passport details, at a second checkpoint to deposit a passport photocopy (carry one with you) and at a third checkpoint to have our bags checked again. Phew. The army personnel were really friendly and fun to chat with though!

Also read: Meet the Courageous Indian Woman Travelling the World Solo – on a Wheelchair

India to Thailand Road Route: Things to know before you go

A VIP bus in Myanmar, with charging points and gorgeous scenery.

  • While crossing the border from Myanmar to India, I learnt that this border can be used by anyone with a valid visa or residence for India. Visa on arrival is not available here though.
  • Being an army border, I heard that it is closed at sensitive times, like 3-4 days around India’s Republic Day. There’s no way to find out until you get there though!
  • The roads in Myanmar are fabulous, but unfortunately potholed and under construction on the Indian side. Ironic, because India built the roads on the other side of the border! With the many checkpoints and broken roads on the Indian side, the journey to Imphal or even a restaurant to get food is a long one. Stock up on snacks and water. There’s a small shop in the Indian immigration complex to buy sweet lemon tea.
  • Crossing over from Myanmar to India is a bit of a culture shock – with cows and trash lining the streets, incessant honking and broken roads – but if you manage to keep your cool, you’ll end up meeting some amazing people!

Also read: Travelling Abroad First Time? 10 Questions on Your Mind

Highlights of Myanmar

A surreal sunrise in Bagan.

Hiking in the karst mountains of Hpa An: Although I landed up in Hpa An to break the long journey from the border to Yangon, I was delighted to find a small town on the banks of the Irrawaddy, surrounded by dramatic karst hills, home to peaceful pagodas and friendly ethnic hill tribes. I can’t wait to go back there and slow travel as a digital nomad!

Exploring the lost treasures of Bagan: It was one thing to lose myself among the centuries’ old temples of Bagan on my e-bike, quite another to discover them with a passionate female local guide from Three Treasures – hanging out at a permaculture farm, visiting a library made with recycled plastic and talking candidly about our lives over a misty sunset.

A motorbike adventure in Chin State: I went on a 3-day motorbiking adventure with Uncharted Horizons through some truly uncharted territory in Chin State. We rode on narrow winding mountain tracks, through blooming rhododendron forests, to Chin villages where elderly women still have facial tattoos and smoke cheroots (pipes), having some truly unforgettable encounters.

I had originally planned to travel to southern Rakhine State – undisturbed by the conflict in northern Rakhine State – to spend time at Arakan Eco Lodge. But the detour was too long and my time too short, but it’s good to have this among many reasons to go back!

Coming soon:
Is it ethical and safe to travel to Myanmar in 2019?
A daring motorbike adventure through Chin State in Myanmar
A responsible travel guide to Myanmar
The secret to finding vegan food in Myanmar

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Have you ever crossed international borders on foot? Is the India to Thailand road trip on your bucket list?

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About this post: Ever since I embraced a digital nomad lifestyle, I’ve been on the lookout for digital nomad destinations around the world. From Guatemala to India, these are my unusual picks for the best digital nomad cities and offbeat digital nomad locations in 2019.

I often lament being born a few decades too late. Of missing out on a time when most places around the world were still pristine, the original hippie movement was still taking shape, overtourism wasn’t a thing, plastic wasn’t a menace and the impact of climate change wasn’t so evident. But then I have to remind myself that my digital nomad lifestyle, one that allows me to spend long stretches of time working online from different parts of the globe – probably wouldn’t have existed either.

Over the past 5 years, since I gave up one place to call home, I’ve been lucky enough to spend a month or two slow travelling in quaint Himalayan hamlets, hip European cities, the stunning Caucasus region, Latin American villages steeped in the Mayan tradition and tropical Southeast Asian valleys with rice paddies.

Behold, my pick of somewhat unusual digital nomad destinations that should be on your radar in 2019:

Tbilisi, Georgia

My neighborhood in old Tbilisi.

Back in 2014, well before Georgia found its way to the tourist map, my partner landed an internship in its gorgeous capital city Tbilisi – and I was sold at the idea of basing myself there for a while. It was love at first sight, not only with the warmhearted locals, but also with the hills and canyons that surround the city, the delightful vegan-friendly Georgian cuisine, the local music scene and the shire-like way of life. The best part was the incredible Georgian countryside – the snow-capped Caucasus mountains, the rolling vineyards, the stark Black Sea coast – just a short and affordable mashrutka (mini bus) ride out of the city.

When I revisited in 2017, I was amazed to see that creative cafes, co-working spaces, and international restaurants have sprouted up across Tbilisi, without taking away from its unique heritage. Go while it’s still on the verge of being “discovered” by digital nomads.

Also read: If You’re Looking for the Shire, Come to Georgia!

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

My incredible abode by Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

Lake Atitlan appeared quite unexpectedly on my “digital nomad” radar during a solo trip across Guatemala. Immersing myself in its stellar beauty, I found a little paradise that has drawn me back every other year. Unlike the rest of the “modern” world, this is a place where you can still live away from the chaos of traffic and cars, go grocery shopping on a boat, wake up to a pristine lake in your backyard, immerse in what remains of the ancient Mayan culture and watch a volcano erupting in the far distance – yet have access to decent internet, vegan-friendly cafes, yoga classes, live music and a community of people who embrace mindful living.

Also read: Lake Atitlan, Guatemala: The Feeling That I’ve Found My Place on Earth

Hpa An, Myanmar

Everything I loved about Hpa An in one frame!

Much like Lake Atitlan and Tbilisi, I fell instantly in love with Hpa An (pronouced pa aan), a small town typically used as a jumping point between Myanmar and northern Thailand – but really a perfect place for digital nomads seeking to get away from other digital nomads!

Hpa An charmed me with its rugged karst mountain scenery, spectacular sunrises, old Buddhist temples, ethnic traditions, riverside beauty and the ease of discovering it all on a scooter. It bust the myth that internet in Myanmar is bad; instead I found that data is very cheap and 4G works well in most places. Charging points in outdoor cafes are still a bit hard to come by, but now that I’m travelling with my newly acquired MSI PS42 laptop which has ultra-long battery life, I’m not restricted by that anymore. And unlike the rest of Southeast Asia, I found it easier to connect with locals, many of who speak English, having once been colonized by the British.

Also read: Confessions of an Indian Digital Nomad

Auroville, India

Greenery, music and peace in Auroville.

Now that I look back at my past travels, Auroville – a somewhat utopic township near Pondicherry in Southern India – was one of my earliest digital nomad discoveries in India. In the bubble of Auroville, I spent my days on a bike or bicycle, exploring the forested terrain, organic farms, healthy eateries, movie screenings and permaculture workshops. The Matri Mandir – the spaceship-like structure at the heart of the township and a most peaceful space for meditation – left me in complete awe.

What I loved most was crossing paths with many passionate people of all ages and nationalities who came to Auroville seeking an alternative way of life. Doctors turned organic farmers, policemen turned artists – for this is a place that allows you to rediscover your purpose in life, and perhaps subconsciously led to my embracing a digital nomad lifestyle. Circa 2013, wifi was only available in Auroville until 6 pm, which meant I had to fight the usual distractions and wrap up my work by the evening; I’ve heard internet is more readily available now – for better or for worse!

Also read: A Guide to Auroville: Things to Know Before You Go

Chiang Mai countryside, Thailand

Digital nomad-ing with my new MSI PS42 in Chiang Mai.

I know, I know, a digital nomad in Chiang Mai sounds so 2014. There’s no doubt that I’m many years late to the awesomeness that is Chiang Mai, but the good news is, the magic hasn’t faded away entirely yet – especially if you live away from the city and popular neighborhoods like Nimman.

Over 2017 and 2018, we spent 2.5 months in Chiang Mai, living in a beautiful self-catering abode next to hills and rice paddies. There’s superfast wifi, of course, but also evening runs under the pink sunset sky, bike drives under the stars, hikes up to peaceful monasteries, incredible vegan food, hipster cafes, local organic farmer markets, foreign language movie screenings, cultural events, co-working spaces and some totally under the radar escapes deep in the mountains and forests of northern Thailand. All this without having to break the bank!

Also read: Where to Find Droolworthy Vegan Food in Chiang Mai

2019 dream: To live and work in the Slovenian Alps!

I’d go back to each of the above spots in a heartbeat, but in 2019, I’m hoping to expand my digital nomad comfort zone by spending a month or two in Yerevan (Armenia), Cape Town (South Africa) and somewhere in the Slovenian Alps. And who knows what unexpected surprises the road will throw up along the way?

What are your favorite digital nomad spots, and where do you hope to make it in 2019?

*Note: I wrote this post as part of a campaign with MSI. Opinions on this blog, as you can tell, are always mine.

Join my digital nomad adventures around the world on InstagramFacebookTwitter and Youtube.

Order a copy of my bestselling book, The Shooting Star, on Amazon or Flipkart.

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On a recent visit to my hometown Dehradun, I decided to take a rickety bicycle for a spin around the neighborhood. The plan was to retrace the cycling routes of my childhood. I pedalled along potholes and pools of water from a broken pipe, ignoring the incessant honking of cars and bikes, trying to reach the river and forests that once used to be our backyard. Much to my disappointment, the river was just a dismal trickle amid a rocky, plundered river bed, and I couldn’t trace the forests at all until I reached a gate with a sign announcing I was entering a private property – I looked wistfully at the old oak trees, now the only green lung in the neighborhood.

Dejected, I abandoned the bicycle ride. As I sat lamenting the lost beauty of the once charming Doon Valley, a local newspaper article caught my eye. The most livable cities in India are not Delhi or Mumbai, it proudly proclaimed; Dehradun is among the top 3 most liveable cities in India. The same city that has lost its rivers and forests to rampant construction. The same city where the streets have become choc-o-bloc with chaotic traffic and the hills have been blocked from view by hideously designed high-rise apartments. Water shortages are common, the air is often dusty and polluted, and the once dark skies glow dejectedly with only a handful of stars. And yet, compared to many other cities in India, Dehradun is probably among the more liveable ones!

Many people I speak to, think this is the price we have to pay for economic development. That high-rises, malls, fancy cars – even on congested streets – and light pollution are a sign of progress. The question is, can economic progress co-exist with green living?

I turn to Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, one of the world’s most eco-friendly and developed cities, for inspiration and policies, which if seriously implemented in Indian cities, could transform them into truly smart, green, liveable cities:

No resident lives more than an 8-minute walk away from a green space

While green lungs in Indian cities (think the Aarey forest in Mumbai) are fighting to survive, Copenhagen proudly ensures that no city-dweller lives further than 8 minutes on foot from a green zone. These green spaces include urban parks, gardens with cherry blossom trees, cemeteries with walking and cycling trails, historical monuments planted with seasonal trees, lakes surrounded by green trails, even a theme park with plenty of greenery. Notice what they cleverly did there? In the process of creating green spaces for Copenhagen residents, they also created a vast set of outdoor attractions for travellers. I, for one, fell in love with the seasonal cherry trees in the urban parks, cycling along the Copenhagen lakes and hanging out amid the striking poplar trees of Assistens Cemetery.

A concentrated effort to foster aesthetic green spaces in Indian cities would not only help protect the environment and lower air pollution, but also afford working adults an outdoor space to rejuvenate, leading to a more productive workforce, and boost leisure tourism in cities – both closely linked to economic growth. Oh, and kids with faces buried in their iPads all day could forge a much-needed connection with the outdoors.

Also read: Fun and Alternative Things to do in Copenhagen – Perhaps Europe’s Coolest Capital City

Infrastructure investment and incentives to ensure more bicycles than cars on the streets

On my recent trip to Himachal Pradesh, I heard a local politician proudly share his plan to build a highway to connect remote mountain villages by cutting a pristine primary forest – and in order to protect the environment, he would put a lane for cycling and electric cars.

On a short transit through Lucknow, I drove beside a cycling path that literally broke off in parts with no space to continue the ride.

Cycling infrastructure in India is a bit of a joke. Especially when you compare it to a city like Copenhagen – and let’s not get into how rich they are compared to us, because we have a ton of money to waste invest in statues and other pointless things. I was stunned to see just how far Copenhagen has taken its commitment to supporting cyclists: dedicated cycling lanes as wide as bus lanes, well-laid rules giving priority to cyclists, dedicated traffic lights to regulate cycling traffic, incentives to discourage private cars by making them extremely costly, futuristic cycling bridges that make the commuting time shorter than driving a car, and dedicated parking spaces for bicycles.

Even though solar-powered public buses ply the streets, I was so enamoured by the cycling culture and infrastructure, that I spent a beautiful week – rain or shine – cycling everywhere, including the airport. Believe it or not, even local politicians cycle to parliament everyday!

In Indian cities, where many people suffer from obesity due to lack of exercise as a by-product of endless traffic, health outcomes could be significantly improved by investments in solid cycling infrastructure. I remember reading Ruskin Bond’s autobiography, where he talks about Delhi in the 1950s. In those days, everyone got around on bicycles, even in Connaught Place, and wild animals roamed the forests and fields around South Delhi. Wouldn’t it be amazing to retrieve that Delhi (and other Indian cities) through strategic investment and incentives to transition residents away from cars / uber / ola to bicycles… rather than unsustainable odd-even car schemes or banning private cars altogether with no feasible alternatives?

Also read: Offbeat, Incredible and Sustainable: These Travel Companies Are Changing the Way You Experience India

Modernise old heritage from within to preserve it

India’s crumbling heritage never fails to dishearten me. Beautiful old houses and buildings, built in traditional architecture and ancient wisdom, are being torn down and replaced with ugly concrete construction throughout the country – and especially so in Indian cities. For that reason, standing at Nyhavn, the old waterfront of Copenhagen and one of the city’s most iconic tourism sites, I was moved to see beautiful old townhouses from the 17th century line the harbor – their exteriors carefully preserved, their interiors refurbished for urban living. Indeed, these are not monuments for sightseeing alone, they are comfortably inhabited and fetch high rents.

My guide proudly explained that Copenhagen owes their preservation to a policy implemented by the municipal government only a few decades ago, forbidding these charming houses from being torn down or modified from the outside. Over the years, this has given residents a chance to live in these aspirational homes, and made them a major attraction that draws thousands of visitors every week.

Luckily Indian cities haven’t lost all their heritage yet. I’m thinking of the crumbling Portuguese houses of Goa and the old townhouses of Bandra in Mumbai – these buildings, hundreds of years old, have survived the brutal test of time. Many of them are abandoned, in dispute or simply in a state of disrepair, and it’s still not too late to institute a strict policy that incentivises their preservation. Economically, it could lead to jobs in traditional architecture, construction, interior design, real estate and tourism – all at once.

I’ve met architects travelling to India from around the world to study the traditional construction in the mountains, for despite being “kaccha” mud, stone and wooden houses, they’ve survived the worst of earthquakes. It’s high time we start appreciating our old wisdom too.

Also read: My Alternative Travel Guide to Goa

People’s movement for organic, vegan food

I know what you’re thinking by now: Copenhagen is lucky to have a government with a vision for economic growth driven by sustainability. But a wise man once said, people get the government they deserve.

Even knowing nothing about the sustainable policies of the government, it’s easy to get a sense of the how the locals are driving Copenhagen’s movement towards organic and sustainable produce, and cruelty-free food and lifestyle products. Hanging out at local food courts, cafes frequented by locals and farmers’ markets, I fell in love with the conscious living embraced and driven by the city’s residents. Some of my favorites were SoulsKaf Cafe and the Torvehallerne Food Hall.

While organic farmers’ markets and the vegan lifestyle are slowly catching up in bigger Indian cities like Mumbai and Bangalore, the movement is restricted to small ‘hipster’ pockets. In reality, consuming superfoods and organic vegetables has long been part of our traditional way of life, so it surprises me when many pass it off as an expensive new trend. These movements – conscious of the planet, compassionate towards animals and good for our health – need to be driven by locals, but can ultimately transform our healthcare and agriculture sectors.

Also read: 15 Awesome Hangouts in Mumbai to Chill, ‘Work from Home’ and Enjoy Vegan Food

Forward-thinking sustainable hotels

On the outset, Scandic in Copenhagen felt like any other fancy hotel in a big city. Although I prefer small homestays when I travel, I was on assignment and accepted a stay in a luxury hotel, with perhaps a tinge of guilt. That guilt soon faded away when I learnt of Scandic’s commitment to go entirely carbon neutral by 2025! The hotel already measures its water and energy consumption to analyse and implement ways to reduce it. Infact, it was at Scandic that the idea of “hang up your towel if you want to use it again” came about; an idea that has been replicated by the hotel industry around the world.

And Scandic is not alone. Sustainable architecture is a key component of Copenhagen’s city policy, and applies to hotels, apartments and traditional buildings across the city. Green rooftops, urban farming and carbon-neutral buildings are becoming the norm.

As high rise hotels and residential complexes mushroom across India, a policy incentivising green-construction could curb water, energy and waste problems that plague our cities – and of course elevate India as a green tourism hub.

So far, India’s commitment towards economic growth, tourism development and environment sustainability (especially our climate change goals) seem to be crawling forward in silos. Copenhagen’s strategy to integrate them as three pillars of the same foundation has made it one of the world’s most developed, green and aspirational cities. It’s not too late to adopt a similar approach and transform the future of Indian cities too.

What innovative green tourism initiatives have you seen around the world that could be replicated in India?

Featured image: Kristoffer Trolle (CC); check out his amazing work here.

*Note: I travelled to Copenhagen on assignment for Visit Copenhagen. Opinions on this blog, as you can tell, are always mine.

Connect with me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter to follow my travel adventures around the world!

Order a copy of my bestselling book, The Shooting Star, on Amazon or Flipkart.

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