“Just take care when you are traveling, you are a girl!”
“Reach back home before it’s dark, you are a girl!”
“Avoid going to isolated streets, you are a girl!”
“Don’t trust anyone, you are a girl!”
..but how could I not trust someone who called me “Chechi (Elder Sister)” when we first met!
“Just take care when you are traveling, you are a girl!”
Shy and quiet, his dark black eyes peeping through his tanned face bedimmed by his greasy, neatly partitioned hair. A very lean body, and although I knew he was young, he looked a little older than his age – was it the work or just his genes, I can’t say. His hands small, but strong enough to pull half a tonne weighted camel.
According to the details shared by locals, Varkala beach got famous around the 70s when many European travelers visited the then unexplored Kovalam beach. These travelers continued to move north of Kovalam and reached Varkala. The city's sea-facing cliff is what impressed the travelers, and since then, Varkala became a world-famous tourist spot. Although not as many international tourists visit this city now as in the 70s/80s, Varkala has started getting famous among Indian travelers lately!
I visited Varkala after spending 3 days in the backwater town of Alleppey as part of my South India tour. I had heard a lot about Varkala from my friends that had already visited the city and was very eager to explore its beaches.
I spent a little more than 2 days in Varkala and was able to explore most parts of the city. So here's a quick travel guide to help you tour the Cliff Beach of South India as well.
How to reach Varkala?
The nearest airport to Varkala is Trivandrum International airport, which is around 40 km from the city. You can then take a train or bus from Trivandrum to Varkala. You can also hire a taxi or rent a car or any two-wheeler to reach Varkala from Trivandrum.
I took a KSRTC bus from Alleppey to Kallambalam, from where I took another state bus to reach the Varkala bus stand. You can then take a tuk-tuk(auto-rickshaw) to reach the helipad (Varkala cliff area) from the bus stand or railway station.
Where to stay in Varkala?
Varkala cliff and its nearby area are full of backpacker hostels, both budget and luxury hotels, guesthouses, resorts, and retreat centers. You will easily find the right accommodation for yourself.
During the peak tourist season, I would suggest you pre-book your accommodation since most of these places are full at that time. Many hotels provide a complete retreat package inclusive of accommodation throughout the tourist season.
However, there are no such packages between May - September when there are little to no tourists in the city.
I was in Varkala during the monsoon season(the less touristy season), which is why most of the accommodations were unoccupied and under-maintained. I stayed at a backpacker hostel, The Lost Hostel, on my first day. Due to poor maintenance and hygiene of the hostel, I shifted my accommodation the next day to an eco-resort, Puccini Lala. Although this resort was under-occupied, it was maintained better.
There's no doubt though that accommodations in Varkala are more fun and comfortable during the tourist season.
What to do in Varkala?
Watch Sunset from Varkala Cliff Beach
Sunrise and sunset views from any beach are unbeatable, so if you are staying on or near Varkala Cliff, you cannot miss the sunset from here. Many people gather at the cliff at sunset, and it is a little challenging to find that perfect spot to watch the sunset from. So, either reach early or walk down to Varkala beach to witness a beautiful sunset.
Relax in one of the cozy cafes located on the cliff after the sun sets while listening to the waves as they crash against the rocks.
Witness the Largest Bird Sculpture in the World
Jatayu Earth's Center is situated at a distance of around 30 km from Varkala Cliff. It is home to the world's biggest bird sculpture, Jatayu(a divine bird). According to Hindu mythology, Jatayu fell on these rocks while trying to save Sita when Ravana was abducting her. This is why this rock sculpture is also dedicated to the safety of women.
As of July 2019, there is only one way to reach the top of the rock, and that is through a cable car ride from Earth's Center. It costs around 450 INR/person.
Funny Incident: I wanted to try other means of climbing up the Jatayu, so I followed the Google Maps' directions, which led to a private property instead. Nonetheless, the view of endless greens of Varkala below, and the bird sculpture above made up for the wrong roads that I took.
Spend Time at the Historic Anchuthengu(Anjengo) Fort and Lighthouse
Anchunthengu Fort and Lighthouse are important historic buildings depicting the colonial past of the country. Established by British East India Company in the 17th century, the fort served as a center for trade and point of entry to India. The Britishers also built a lighthouse to keep track of trade ships, and enemy nearing the coast.
While the fort is not extremely remarkable, you can visit the place if you have extra time in hand - relax in its well-maintained gardens with a view of the beach in front.
After the fort, you can walk to the Anjengo lighthouse, where you will need to climb 189 steps to reach the top and be mesmerized by crazy views of the beach and backwaters down below.
Visit the Rich and Beautiful Golden Island
Golden Island (or Ponnumthuruthu Island) is located around 10km from Varkala city. To reach the island, you will need a jetty ride from the mainland. You can either drive yourself to the jetty pick-up point or take a tut-tuk(autorickshaw) from the city that will drop you there. Once you reach the pick-up point, you'll see many island tour options, so opt for the best offer.
The island is home to the beautiful temple of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi, lying in the middle of rich vegetation and a variety of birds flying around.
The jetty-ride becomes a little expensive for a single traveler, especially during the off-season. So, instead of going to the island, I walked to one of the jetty pick-up points and spent time enjoying the views from there.
Watch the Sun Go Down at Kappil Beach
I spent my last evening at Kappil beach, which is around 7 km from Varkala cliff. You can either walk to the beach from the cliff if you have sufficient time or if you have your own vehicle, you can drive there as well.
The beach, however, is crowded with locals and tourists alike during the evening hours. You can also spend time walking by the backwaters that are on the other side of the road that runs by the beach.
Varkala has its own advantages during the off-season and during the tourist season. Choose your time of visit as per your preference, and this cliff beach will not disappoint you.
Most of us feel uncomfortable talking about a woman’s period or its associated effects. We generally avoid discussion around this topic, unless there is something urgent that we need to talk about it to our gynecologist.
Apart from the stigma around period, there are also jokes about women PMSing on days they are frustrated.
PMS is no joke, especially for some women!
You cannot not think of backwaters and houseboats when you talk about Alleppey (also known as Alappuzha). I was very excited to visit Alleppey, the place that I had heard about since I was a kid. I imagined myself relaxing on a houseboat in the tranquility of the backwaters as the sun sets.
Alleppey was the 8th stop of my South India tour. I toured the city with Alex, who I met at Poornodaya. Alex is a person of faith, so in addition to the backwaters and beaches of Alleppey, we also visited a few temples.
This is the ultimate travel guide that you will ever need to plan your trip to Alleppey, India.
Home is our first school!
- Rightly said!
Our actions align with what we observe at our homes - the way our elders live and behave.
Imagine yourself as a 5-year-old kid. And now imagine someone in your family disrespecting another person.
It is highly likely that as a child, you may think that this is probably the right kind of behavior, and this is how you are supposed to act in similar situations. If you see someone stealing or lying, you may think this is a correct and convenient way to get things done.
As kids, we can hardly differentiate between right and wrong. And it is easy to be influenced by what we observe in our closest surroundings. When we reach the next level of growing up, schooling, we can try to unlearn what we learned at home and understand the difference between what is right and what is wrong (something we might have failed to recognize at our homes). With this, our school becomes our second step in learning.
As we start meeting other kids and making new friends, with the innocent knowledge that we exchange, our friends become our third step in learning.
The more we share, and the varied information we share with our friends, the more aware we become!
We are learning and unlearning many things throughout our lives. But it is easy to learn, re-learn, and unlearn when we are young. The process gets slower, and it becomes even more difficult to amend our habits, thoughts, and actions as we grow older. So why not try to impart the right values to our kids at a younger age(the sooner, the better!), and not act in a way that we would not want our kids to follow. Although this kind of observational learning begins at home, the school as an institution also carries the responsibility to teach the right things to their kids at a younger age.
In a recent incident, while I was strolling on the streets of Hyderabad, someone pinched me on my butt. Hyderabad had always felt safer, and this kind of physical abuse was shocking. I was even more appalled at what I saw when I turned around!
It was a 5-year old kid who did that!
I could never imagine a child, someone who has very little understanding of what is right or what is wrong, doing something so disgusting. I could only assume that the kid must have learned at home, or school, or from his friends, that it is okay to disrespect women, or in fact, any individual.
So, what as a society we could have done better?
- Taught our kids to respect others, irrespective of their gender, age, beliefs, whatsoever!
- Taught our kids, what kind of touch is a wrong touch, what kind of words are the wrong words, and make them understand why they should not pursue them, and how they should react if they face something inappropriate themselves!
- And when we teach our kids to respect other individuals, we need to teach them to respect nature and their surroundings, and not do something that might harm the environment!
Believe me, when I say, we can produce the best-ever next-generation if each one of us takes responsibility to teach the right things to our kids.
If we don't teach our kids how to respect fellow beings, then I think we are failing as a society!
We are accustomed to reading articles and watching videos where people discuss their struggles of working at a 9-5 job, and not being their boss, not being able to follow their passion, and just being a slave. It is very uncommon to see articles written by people who are happy and contented with their jobs and do not feel any of the things that I have mentioned above.
This article represents people who love their job and don’t feel stuck in a 9-5 cycle. They are happy and satisfied with whatever they are doing. This article is for people like me, who don’t have work satisfaction but also do not hate their work environment as much!
This year in January, I modeled for a women apparel brand, Vinnhi – my first ever catalog shoot (and probably the last one!). I’ll admit, the idea of dressing up and posing in front of the camera had been quite fascinating – All the lights and all the eyes on you! But let me remind you not everything is as fancy as it seems 🙂
Sharing my experience shooting my first assignment and a few tips for your first modeling job as well!
Kochi was not a part of my original South India travel itinerary. It was instead an impromptu plan that the volunteers made with the director of Poornodaya Vidyanikethan, Anish, on a Friday evening. If you don't already know, I went to Kottayam after Munnar to volunteer with a school, Poornodaya Vidyanikethan. I worked with the institute for a week and documented the complete experience here.
PS: The experience at the school is very close to my heart. Especially since the last few places I was at before Kottayam, I was touring alone, staying alone, and in desperate need of a good company.
Apart from a beautiful experience with the kids of the school, it was amazing to know other volunteers, the school founders, and the teachers.
We decided to spend my last weekend with Poornodaya touring together. It took us a little more than an hour to reach Kochi from the village where our school was.
It was a pleasant ride that started with green paddies and ended with water on both sides!
Kochi is most famous for Fort Kochi, the fortification that was built around the city a long time back. You do not see the fort anymore now, but most of the points of interest lie within its plausible boundaries.
We stayed at Anish's parents' house for the day right in the city center and at a walkable distance to the famous Chinese Fishing Net viewpoint. The city itself is not too big, so wherever you plan to stay, it will not be very far from the points of interest.
You can see most of the city in one day on foot! Amazing right?
So if you are on a tight schedule, this is how you can plan your time to explore Kochi.
Walk Walk Walk!
The first step to exploring Kochi, the culturally and artistically vibrant city is by walking on its streets. As you walk around, you'll walls full of murals, some light, and fun, and others motivating and educational.
Kochi is an amalgamation of multiple cultures, which is evident in its art and architecture. In case you don't know already, Kochi being a seaport, was a very convenient stop to enter for explorers, traders, and merchants from around the world.
Kochi was one of the first colonies of colonized India, and the architecture of the city reflects the rule of different cultures and beliefs over time.
Visit the Mattancherry Palace
Kochi was first occupied by the Portuguese during its colonial era. Mattancherry Palace was a gift to the then king of Kochi by the Portuguese to please him after they destroyed a revered temple. Later, when Dutch arrived in Kochi, they took over the palace and renovated it.
The palace is now under and maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.
PS: Cameras are not allowed inside the palace, so whatever I have written is from bits of my memory and some online research.
There are portraits of kings of Kochi inside the palace halls and a chronological description of the historical events of the city. In other rooms, you'll also find ancient murals depicting Indian mythology. Some of these murals are incomplete, and it creates an unknown sense of curiosity.
Shop in the local market
As you walk around the city, you'll cross many streets selling spices, handicrafts, art pieces, dress pieces, etc. Make a stop at one or more of the shops to take a look at these items. Bazaar road is one such area, where you'll find shopkeepers calling out to tourists to pay a visit to their shops and buy something.
PS: Don't fall into the trap of these calls. You do not necessarily need to entertain them and buy something only if you genuinely like it.
In addition to this, be wary of the auto-drivers (tuk-tuk drivers) who'll request you to visit a shop with them. The drivers get a commission cut for themselves from these shops for bringing in a customer. Although this is a no-gain, no-loss situation for you, visit the shops only if you have ample time in hand.
Visit the historic Jew Town
If you continue to walk towards Fort Kochi from Mattancherry, you'll reach the quaint Jew Town. You can do local street shopping here as well.
You can also visit the Jewish Synagogue, which is one of the very few synagogues left in the city.
PS: The Synagogue is open on all days except Saturday from 10 am to 12 noon and from 3 pm to 5 pm.
Unfortunately, it was a Saturday when we were in Kochi, so we could not visit the synagogue.
Make a stop at the Old Syrian Church
St. George Orthodox Koonan Kurish Old Syrian Church is so unlike the churches that we usually see. We were walking from Dharmanath Jain temple (which by the way was closed too) towards Fort Kochi when this church suddenly caught our attention.
The distinguished architecture of the church is so intriguing that you'd want to go inside and take a look. Do spare 5 minutes of your day to admire this ancient beauty.
Stroll by Mahatma Gandhi beach
Take a stroll by the Mahatma Gandhi beach and watch the giant cargo ships anchored in the sea. Although I must warn you, the water is quite contaminated here. But despite that, you will see many people taking an evening walk by the beach here, so suit yourself.
See the sun go down behind the magnificent Chinese nets
As the evening approaches, walk to the other side of the Mahatma Gandhi beach. When you reach near Fort Kochi, you'll start seeing the traditional fishing nets. The sight of the sun setting down in the waters behind these large fishing nets is overwhelmingly impressive.
PS: When you are in Kochi, do not miss to try some local cuisine and also sit in the cozy western cafes.
You can also watch the traditional Kathakali dance martial arts show at the Kerala Kathakali Centre.
The 5th stop of my South India travels was Coimbatore, one of the major cities of Tamil Nadu state. I made a stop here to take a break from a continuous two weeks of travel across tiny villages. Here is a detailed Coimbatore Travel Guide to help you spend your time in the city pleasantly, without worrying about the “big city” noise and pollution.
Ooty was the fourth stop of my South India travel spree in the months of June-July.
Nestled in the Nilgiri hills, Ooty is a famous hill station of South India. And despite it being touristy, the city is a sure treat to the eyes.
Ooty has welcomed tourists from all around the world for leisure and recreation for more than 50 years. And many people say it still looks the same - serene, quaint, and beautiful.
Use this travel guide to make the best of your time in Ooty.
How to reach Ooty?
I was in Wayanad before Ooty, so I had took a from there. Two buses go from Wayanad to Ooty in a day. These buses leave from Sultan Bathery KSRTC bus stand, one at 8:00 am and another one at 12:30 in the noon.
The nearest airport to Ooty is in Coimbatore (~88 km from Ooty). After flying in Coimbatore, you can either self-drive, take a taxi, bus or train to Ooty. You will find many TNSTC buses that commute between the two cities daily.
Where to stay in Ooty?
Ooty shares a border with another beautiful Niligiri town of Coonoor. Some people prefer to stay in Coonoor and drive to Ooty, but many others look for accommodations in Ooty itself.
If you have your vehicle, it doesn't matter where you stay of the two cities, Ooty or Coonoor. But if you don't have one, it is better if you stay in or near the Ooty city centre, since it is closer to the most points of interest, and you can also get a TukTuk(auto-rickshaw) from there conveniently.
I stayed in a BnB, Prabhu's Place, a 2-minute walk to the main road but in a quiet locality. The place was pretty basic but had a cozy and a homely vibe to it. There was a large organic farm as part of the property, which serves as a source of job for many local women.
Things to do in Ooty
Visit a tea factory
Ooty is well known for its tea plantations, and I can swear on the tea I had there. It was one of the best flavored teas I had.
There are two tea factories in Ooty that I know of, one is the Benchmark Tea factory which is famous among the tourists, and which is where I went. It was extremely crowded at that time, and although I was able to see the whole tea making process, there wasn't much guidance. In addition to this, the factory is commercialized so much so that it took its charm away.
The other one is on the way to Dodabetta Peak and seemed less crowded from outside.
PS: Don't miss to taste the tea of Ooty and also get some for home!
Ride through the Nilgiris in the Nilgiri Mountain Railway
If you are a Bollywood fan, you'd know the song "Chaiyan Chaiyan" has been shot on this train.
But if that does not interest you, I believe there are more reasons to take this ride. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is one of the most scenic rides in South India. The train passes through beautiful mountain ranges and inside the caves, that makes you want to take this ride.
PS: The seats get full soon, so buy the ticket from the counter at least 4 hours before the train departure, or book an online ticket in advance.
I missed the train twice, only because all the tickets were sold out.
See all of Ooty from Doddabetta Peak
I was in Ooty in June'19, and at that time the path up the peak was closed due to ongoing construction. The walk to the starting point was very scenic though. On the way, you will also see the tea factory that I mentioned above, so make sure to make a stop there as well.
Dodabetta Peak is not very far from the city center. It will take an hour and a half to reach the starting point of the peak, and another few minutes to climb up.
Spend time walking in the market
End your time in this beautiful touristy city by walking in its crowded yet impressive market. There is so much to see and buy from the market, varying from chocolates, to tea, to intricate craftwork, organic fruits and vegetables, masalas, and so much more.
The first and foremost thing that caught my attention was the ideology behind Poornodaya. It resonated with my idea of education. Read more about my experience!
Crazy greens, cozy homestay, lovely hosts, and scenic views – my experience in Wayanad was full of it. Explore the best of the city with me in 2 days.
I am currently touring across South India, and Coorg (or Kodagu) was the second stop I made after Mysore. Also known as the Scotland of India, Coorg is a perfect stop for nature lovers. It is a hilly district of the Karnataka state, which is why the temperature here is a little more cooler.
I met my friend from college, Ankita here and we spent two days exploring this beautiful town. So here are the top things to do in Coorg - a 2-day itinerary.
How to reach Coorg?
If like me, you are coming from Mysore, catch a KSRTC bus from the city that takes you to Madikeri in around 4 hours. The ticket cost me around 110 INR.
In case you are coming from Bangalore, you can take an overnight sleeper bus to Madikeri that will take around 6-7 hours to reach the city.
If you are coming from a faraway city, you can take a flight to Bangalore or Mysore, and then take a bus from these cities to Madikeri.
PS: You can also rent a two-wheeler or a car from your city and drive to Madikeri. You'll need to take extra care during monsoons since the roads are a little slippery during that time of the year.
Where to stay?
Coorg is full of tourists all around the year because of its beautiful weather, and especially during the weekends when most of the people from Bangalore visit it.
Coincidentally we were in Coorg on a Friday and a Saturday, and most of the accommodations were full during that time. So we switched our accommodations on these two days, both of which were pleasant and comfortable stays.
Our first stay was at the Mayura Valley View hotel by KSTDC, with literally the view of the green valley right from our wall-length window. The hotel is very close to the market, and yet a little secluded from all the noise. The rooms were spacious, and clean, but the food, however, I think they can improve. So you can have your meals either at some restaurant outside the hotel or just ask the chef their specialty.
The second night, however, we stayed at Kushalnagar (an hour drive from Madikeri) in an Oyo room. The room was basic as opposed to the first day, but I really loved the location of the property. It was situated in a village surrounded by tiny houses, and the market was just a 10-minute walk from here. Breakfast was included as part of the reservation, which they probably got from a restaurant, but it was good though.
Day 1 - Spend time touring the attractions in Madikeri
We started the day with the very tourist Abbey Falls. It's a little far from the main town of Madikeri, so you can either rent a two-wheeler from Royal Brothers (the only scooter rental in Coorg) or take an auto that takes you to the falls and bring you back to the town.
Since it was raining that day, we took an auto to the falls, and it cost us around 300 INR for the round trip.
Even on a Friday, the place was crowded with tourists, and you could hardly get enough place to stand. Find a corner for yourself, where you can stand leisurely for some time and enjoy the waters gushing down the rocks.
As a plus, you can also see the coffee plantations on one side as you walk to the falls.
This is my personal favorite for two reasons, one there were not many people here, and second, the view of the city and hills are astounding from this place.
There are three tombs, two of the kings, and one is of the priest of the royal Kodava kingdom. These tombs are surrounded by a garden on all sides that gives it a beautiful aesthetic touch. Climb atop a small cliff at the entrance, and you'll get a panoramic view of the surrounding hills and the city below.
Once the leisure spot for the king to spend time at while they enjoyed the beautiful scenery in front, Raja's seat has now become one of the most famous tourist attraction in the town.
With a view of the valley and hills, it is a perfect point to sunset from.
We were there on a clouded day, and although it looked beautiful then, I think it would have been even more stunning on a clear day.
Day 2 - Explore the nearby town of Kushalnagar
The next day we took a bus from Madikeri to Kushalnagar that cost us 33 INR per person. After checking into our stay, we rented a two-wheeler from the Royal Brothers and set off on exploring the place.
I love visiting peaceful monasteries nestled between the hills with beautiful scenery. The Namdroling monastery is around 5 km from Kushalnagar and located within the Tibetan settlement.
The day we visited, there was some performance happening, which we were lucky to witness - although I am not very sure of the story behind that weekly performance. I asked a few monks, but not many people knew about it.
After visiting the monastery, treat your tastebuds to authentic Tibetan food. We went to a tiny multi-cuisine restaurant in the market just outside the monastery, but if you walk a little further from the monastery, you'll see many small Tibetan restaurants that serve only Tibetan food.
Located at a distance of around 10 km from Kushalnagar, the roads to the Harangi Dam passes through quaint villages and green pastures. The whole place is well maintained with manicured gardens around the dam. It is a great picnic spot, but if you walk further towards the dam and away from the gardens, you'll see the secluded and the less crowded area, the pathway that leads you to the dam.
Although the dam gates were closed at the time, and there was not much water in the tributary, the whole place was quite scenic.
Apart from these places, you can also visit the Mandalpatti, Elephant Camp, Chiklihole Reservoir, Nisargadhama Deer Park, or trek to Thadiandamol Peak if you have more time in the city.
Having stayed in Bangalore for some time, I had heard a lot about the city of palaces from friends. Mysore had been in my “must-visit” list for a long time, but somehow I never made a deliberate plan to visit it.
I was in Hyderabad when at an impulse, I decided to do a South India tour before I returned home. I planned Mysore to be the first city that I’ll visit as part of the “official” tour. Here’s a complete personalized guide to help you plan your trip to the “City of Palaces”, Mysore.
The top places to see in Mysore.
I have lived in Amritsar for almost 18 years, and the city has changed so much over time. But the things that remained constant are the Golden Temple, Jallianwala Bagh, Wagah/Attari Border retreat ceremony, and of course the crazy food of the city.
In this post, I show you around Amritsar, and give some insider local tips, that you might not find anywhere else!
Places to see
Start from touring the older city of Amritsar. Walk through the narrow alleys and be astonished by the crafts work that goes on inside the tiny old shops.
After strolling through the old city, and observing little things around yourself, head to the other highlights of the city.
Heritage Street Walk
Almost a kilometer long walk that takes you from interiors of the city to the Jallianwala Bagh and Golden Temple, the street is adorned with statues and buildings signifying Punjab's culture. You'll also see numerous shops selling traditional food, clothes, footwear, and much more.
This place attracts a lot of tourists all the year round, so while it is a great spot to do the traditional shopping from, you'll get similar things at better prices in other parts of the city.
More tips in the Shopping section below!
It is a historic site, signifying 1919 massacre where hundreds of Indians were murdered in cold blood by the British troops. You'll be able to visualize history as you start walking inside the garden.
There is only one point of entrance and exit to the garden, and that too is very narrow. Once you are there, you'll be able to imagine how the only point of escape was blocked by the Britishers so no one could exit the garden.
Inside the premises, there is Amar Jyoti, the flame that burns day and night throughout the year, to pay respect to the people who died on that unfateful day.
Walk a little further, and you will see the wall that bears the marks of the bullets that were fired by the troops. You will also see a well, into which many people jumped, to protect themselves from the hurling bullets.
There is also a museum that showcases the pictures with details of the freedom fighters.
Golden Temple or Harmandir Sahib
You can easily spend 3-4 hours in the holy temple, Harmandir Sahib. Visited all the year around, by so many tourists, it is one of the main highlights of the city, and a must visit when you are in Amritsar.
Surrounding a sacred pool (Sarovar) is this gold plated shrine. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the holy literature in the Sikh religion lies inside the temple and is revered as the purest and the most spiritual authority in Sikhism.
You will see people from everywhere, without any bias, serving the visitors, by offering them water, also regularly cleaning the temple premises. You'll be amazed by how selflessly people are providing their services here.
After walking around the temple, head out for the Langar (free kitchen). The food here is cooked by the volunteers and is served to all free of cost.
Wahga-Attari Border is located between the Attari village of India and Wahga village of Pakistan. It is around 30 km from the city of Amritsar. The retreat ceremony at the border happens every evening, just before the sunset.
The ceremony starts with a parade on both sides of the border and just when the sun starts setting down, the gates open and the two nations lower their flags in coordination. It is followed by a quick handshake between soldiers on both sides before the gates close again.
You'll be amazed to look at the enthusiasm and energy of the crowd that has gathered and immediately become a part of the excitement too.
PS: Reach at least 2 hours before the retreat ceremony, especially during the holiday season, as the place gets crowded very quickly and it is hard to find a perfect spot to get a good view of the procession.
You can also buy VIP passes to reserve seats in advance.
Gobindgarh Fort has opened recently to the public after almost 200 years. The fort is a walk, straight into the history of Punjab. There are many attractions within the fort, including, Toshakhana or Treasure house that was once home to the Kohinoor diamond, the Warfare Museum that displays different artillery used in the ancient times, a Turban Museum that displays the turban styles around the world, and how the tying of turbans has evolved over time.
There is a stage inside the fort where you will see live performances, including Bhangra - traditional Punjabi dance form, Gatka - traditional Sikh martial arts, and much more.
You can watch the light and sound show that walks you through the history of the fort, a 7D show that shows history about Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji.
There are several small food shops that you can sit and eat at, while you take a break from walking all around the fort.
Places to shop at
There are specific areas in the city that are best for a certain kind of shopping. Here are a few places that you must visit if you want to do some local street shopping.
Katra Jaimal Singh
The whole street is clustered with the wholesale cloth and garment shops. You can buy a variety of traditional dresses from these shops that include salwar kameez, phulkari, and saree. You can even buy good quality western wear at a lesser price than the branded showrooms.
And of course, there is a lot of scope for bargaining in these shops too!
The best place to buy Punjabi Jutti or the traditional Punjabi footwear is opposite Hall Gate. There are several shops lined up that offer different varieties of jutties, ranging from fancy to casual wear.
You can arrange at these shops too!
PS: Do not shop these items at Heritage Walk unless it is very necessary because the difference in the rates is very significant.
But if you want to buy Kada or the traditional Sikh Bangle, then heritage Walk is a great choice.
Places to eat at
Amritsar is a foodie's paradise, and it offers a wide range of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes with the best taste.
Find Amritsar's detailed food guide here.
The holy city of Amritsar has so much to offer, and I hope this detailed tour guide is helpful to you as you plan your visit to the city.
Mahabaleshwar is one of the most visited hill stations in the western ghats, especially by the people from Mumbai, Pune, and few places in Gujarat.Also known as the strawberry city, Mahabaleshwar is full of strawberry fields all around, and even one of the most famous sharbat/squash brands, Mapro, started here. With so many viewpoints, you can spend an entire weekend visiting these and be taken aback by the breathtaking views of the surrounding hills.
Tik Tok Tik Tok Tok Tok Tok
Past the houses, the shops, the rickshaws, the autos
There's a bunch, a never-ending bunch,
That looks at me, turns its head, then smiles, and flees!
But what do I do?
Tik Tok Tik Tok Tok Tok Tok
Ignoring the bunch, I continue to walk!
I felt a brush, or was it in my mind?
I straightened my spine, I looked up
It was that bunch, just mixed in the crowd!
I increased my pace, to walk out of it,
But it was a bunch, a never-ending bunch!
Music in my ears, I divert my attention, and
Tik Tok Tik Tok Tok Tok Tok
I continue to walk!
The bunch looks lecherously at my legs,
As if that is the only important thing in its life!
Old and Young!
Rich and Poor!
All beliefs alike, form the bunch, a never-ending bunch!
Hey You! You! and You!
It's my skin, it's not your meat!
I shout in my head, but
Tik Tok Tik Tok Tok Tok Tok
I keep my calm, and I continue to walk!
What is your education?
What is your qualification?
Now seem baseless questions!
Why? You ask me!
Because what defines you, is what you are at the core!
But Hey Hey!
There are people, a very few people,
Not part of that never-ending bunch!
That do not make me uncomfortable!
That do not tell me, how I should dress,
That do not scare me, if I walk alone in the streets at night!
That let me be me!
Because that's just me, a part of me,
I am the girl in the shorts!
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I had spent almost a month of solo backpacking in Europe, exploring its mountains, fairy-tales villages, cobblestone streets, colorful houses, historic palaces, and much more.
Before even returning to India, I had made plans with my friends back home for a short trip from Delhi. I reached Delhi from Budapest on the morning of 9th September'18, and we still hadn't decided a place yet.
By night, we had already done thorough research of all the places we could visit and explore in the given 2-day time frame. And just when it started to seem that there won't be any plan, two of my friends took the initiative and finalized Gwalior and made the required bookings.
Phewww!! Finally, we were going to take this trip!!
We had to leave for Gwalior the next day early morning, so I had almost one day to rest and rejuvenate before going for the next trip.
How to reach Gwalior from Delhi?
One of my friends had his car in the city, so we decided to self-drive from Delhi to Gwalior. Gwalior is around 330 km from Delhi, and if you take the Yamuna Expressway, it will take you about 6 hours to reach Gwalior. I would advise you to leave early morning to avoid city crowds.
It took us almost 3 hours to reach Agra from Delhi where we made a quick stop for breakfast at a funky hostel. And from Agra, it took us another 3 hours to reach Gwalior.
PS: We had decided to stop in Agra on our way back. You can do the other way too!
We reached Gwalior around 2:00 pm. After a quick nap and freshening up, we left for Gwalior Fort. Since it was almost evening, instead of hiking up the fort, we decided to take our car to the top to save some time. But I'm pretty sure that hiking must be a great experience - enjoying every part of the fort as you walk up.
TIP 1: If you are planning to take your vehicle up to the fort, navigate to Urvai gate where you'll find a dedicated parking spot. Do not get swayed by the people at the main Gwalior gate who might offer you to show the right direction and get paid for almost nothing.
Trust your google maps 🙂
The fort has two main parts - Man Mandir Palace and Gujari Mahal. Enter the fort through Hathi Pol and be welcomed by glazed blue and brown tiled ochre walls.
Continue to the lower level rooms, and you'll see the dark dungeons where people were held captive and tortured.
As you step out of the prison rooms, walk to the Johar Kund, where the Rajputani ladies used to perform mass Sati if their king lost a battle.
Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to explore Gujari Mahal as it was already the closing time.
Gurudwara Data Bandi Chhorh
After touring the fort, we went to the nearby Gurudwara Sri Data Bandi Chorh which also has strong historical links.
History of the Gurudwara
Once, when the Mughal ruler, Jahangir, fell sick, he was suggested that a religious person, specifically Shri Guru Hargobind Singh Ji, needs to pray for his wellness in the Gwalior Fort. Jahangir asked Guru Ji to stay in the fort and pray for him. Given his good relations with the emperor, Guru Ji agreed to it. During his stay in the fort, Guru Ji met 52 Rajput rulers who were captured by Jahangir and tortured in the fort.
Days passed, and Jahangir got unwell again. This time his wife was told that the emperor is holding a holy man as captive, and they need to release him for the well-being of the whole empire. Jahangir ordered for Guru Ji's release, and that's when Guru Ji put a condition that he will leave the fort only if the emperor agrees to release the 52 arrested kings along with him.
Jahangir agreed to Guru Ji's condition stating that only the rulers who'd be able to hold Guru Ji's veil would get released. So, all the 52 Rajas held Guru Ji's veil as he walked out of the fort. And that's how the name came to be - Bandi (Prisoner) Chhorh (Release).
We stayed in Gurudwara for some time - paid our respects and ate Langar, before heading back to the hotel.
The next day, we ate Gwalior street food for breakfast before starting our journey back to Delhi. On our way back, we made a stop in Agra to see Taj Mahal, the unbeatable beauty of India.
The Taj Mahal
It has been in my list for quite some time now, that I had to visit one of the wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal.
We got a little late in leaving from Gwalior, and it was almost 4 pm when we reached Agra. By this time the weather had cooled down a bit, and it wasn't as hot which made exploring the place easier for us - so getting late was, in fact, a blessing in disguise.
We took the West side entrance and parked our car there. It was around a-20 minute walk from the parking lot to the main entrance gate.
TIP 2: Try to park your vehicle in the dedicated parking spot of the Taj Mahal premises. It is cheaper and more reliable.
TIP 3: It is generally suggested to take the East side entrance because it is less crowded. But depending on the day of the week and time of the day, you can also take the West gate. For us, we didn't have to wait in a long queue primarily because it was a Tuesday evening.
As you enter from the West Gate, you will see a red sandstone building, known as the Fatehpur Begum. It serves as the main entrance, and as you walk through it, you'll have your first look of the Taj Mahal.
Walk around and click lots of pictures.
Head to the sacred tomb after that. Wear the throw-away shoe covers that you must have received at the ticket counter before joining the queue that leads you inside the hall. Keep in mind that photography is restricted there, so try to take in every moment as you walk through it.
TIP 4: As you walk towards the Taj Mahal from the parking area, you'll see many vendors trying to sell you the shoe cover for a price a little higher than what you'll get inside, so keep that in mind, just in case you get inclined towards buying it from them.
It costs 5 INR for a shoe cover at the counter.
Be greeted by views of the river Yamuna as you walk out of the hall.
Spend some time appreciating the architecture, and gardens of the Mahal before heading back.
Agra Street Food
After Taj Mahal, we made a stop at Sadar Bazar Agra, for the much-known street food of the city. We tried food from many stalls and ate to our heart's contentment.
Do get yourself the famous Petha (an Indian sweet) packed from Panchi Petha before you leave.
Almost 8 pm by now, we had a 3-hour journey ahead of us before we reached back home. We just had to be a little careful of not dozing away after all the food that we had at Sadar Bazar.
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"I had always fancied the idea of going to a random place and exploring it on my own. And when I finally did it, I learned to overcome my own inhibitions that not only concerned travel but so many other things too."
Before moving to a new place, I always make a lot of plans related to my daily schedule, lifestyle, and so many other things out of which most of them remain unaccomplished. So in Nov'18 before I moved to the US, I had big plans in my head of leading a healthier lifestyle, involving myself more in the art and creative stuff, meeting people from different nationalities and making new friends, and traveling more - definitely a few more that I don't remember now.
So I went to the US around the time when everyone starts planning for the holidays. While some reunite with their families back home, the rest plan for a vacation with their families, friends, a group of strangers, or even alone.
Initiation of the plan
Within a few days in the country, I had already started exploring MeetUp groups that interested me. There was this one travel group that had a plan to visit New York during New Year's. I was aroused by the idea of going to New York and watch one of the Broadway shows. I found the idea of traveling with a group better than traveling alone because of the reasons like - a planned itinerary, no effort needed to meet new people as I'd have lots of them as part of the travel group. The only downside to all of this was some initial payment to be a part of the group and this really blew me off.
I checked a lot of other Travel MeetUp groups that I could join, but there weren't any that would fit in my budget at the last moment. That's when I decided that even if I don't find a group to join, I'm definitely going to celebrate New Year's in a new city.
I finally did it
I stumbled upon a few places, starting from the nearest cities- Portland, Salem, Eugene (in Oregon) to farther ones like Orlando, Salt Lake City, San Francisco. After around three days of pretty good research, I finalized San Francisco. I booked my tickets immediately after deciding the place to avoid any second thoughts affecting the whole plan.
Tips for your first solo travel
It was final - I'll be celebrating New Years in a new city with a group of people I'd be meeting the first time. Since it was my first solo trip, I did a lot of research and here are a few things that you can keep in mind so that you are also prepared well for your first solo trip.
Go for a movie, dinner, or shopping alone and see if you are comfortable being just on your own
Is it safe?
Read about the city and experiences of other travel bloggers. Keep in mind any precautions that you need to take care of when you are in the city.
Book a hostel
Hostels are a great place to meet new people and make plans with. You can stay in a hotel towards the end of your trip to relax or once when you get used to traveling alone.
Pre-book any tours
You can join a city-tour group for your initial few trips. Viator is one such site, there are many more that you can check and book a tour from. It is another way of meeting new people and exploring a new place with.
Keep it relaxed
Don't fall into the trap of hurrying around to visit every point of interest. Take a little time off to relax, and just absorb in the energy of a new city and it's culture and lifestyle.
Join a MeetUp group
Yet another way to meet locals and other travelers. I went out with a group of 100 random people on the New Year's Eve and all through a MeetUp group. Undoubtedly I met quite a lot of interesting people.
Benefits of traveling alone
Traveling alone can be very liberating sometimes. It changes you gradually and your outlook towards life. Here is how traveling impacts you.
Teaches you to rely on yourself
It pushes you out of your comfort zone, and you learn so many things about yourself that you never thought even existed.
I remember missing my tour bus back to the city from Muir woods on the very first day of my first solo trip. There was no scope of crying and being sad about the situation. I had to work something out really fast, given that there was no phone connectivity in that area and the sun had almost set.
That's when I got out of my comfort zone of not asking strangers for help and did my first hitch-hiking with a family back to the city.
The flexibility of planning out
With only one person to take care of, that is of your own self, the whole hassle of planning out the itinerary becomes easy. You can plan your trip according to your interests, take rest-stops whenever you want, eat whatever you prefer and maybe not eat at all, whatever suits your schedule without worrying about affecting someone else's plans.
Meet new people
It is highly unlikely that if you are traveling with someone, that you'll stop by to have a conversation with a total stranger. If you are alone, you'll probably make an effort to initiate a conversation with someone from your hostel, tour group, random person you meet at a cafe, and so on. This, in turn, helps you to open up and make friends with strangers and learn about a new culture, lifestyle, and so much more.
Pay more attention to your surroundings
This has happened with me quite often that when I'm with a group, I'm like a non-stop talking birdie and I keep walking without looking around. But when I am traveling alone, I am more aware of my surroundings and pay attention to smaller details around me.
Traveling alone has helped me get over my fears and discomforts, and I have made a lot of great friends along the way.
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Just a walking distance from the stop was the main city center, adorned with colorful buildings and flags. The city center was a little touristy, but as you walked through the narrow alleys across the main street, you'll see many local people just sitting and chilling in tiny cafes.
After having my coffee, I decided to explore a little bit since I still had time. And that's when I found those hidden streets and pathways that I mentioned above - quiet and undisturbed.
And just like that, it was time for my bus, but I was so glad that I had this mini stop in between.
I was just so refreshed and full of life now.
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How to manage to travel while working full time? Tips from my own experience – 7 new cities in 7 months
."I wish I could travel as much as I wanted."
"You are not working full-time, so it's easy for you to travel so often."
"I don't have time to travel. There's just so much work that I need to finish."
These are a few common statements that I hear from so many people I know who wish to travel but don't because of some or the other reasons.
While it's completely okay not traveling frequently, but it is not okay wishing for something, but giving reasons for not being able to do it.
The best part about traveling is, it is not rocket science that a selected few can only do it. It is easy and solely depends on the traveler how they want to create their travel experience.
Before we get into the details, let me remind you, there are a few days that are meant for doing what you love and taking a little break from your routine lives.
I have always been an avid traveler. But my frequent travels started early this year only when I was still working as a full-time software engineer. I too had to complete projects, and meet deadlines. But then instead of working on piled up tasks on weekends, I started investing my time either in traveling to new places or planning for them.
Traveling is like an addiction, the more you do it, the harder it gets to control it!
So the simple answer to, "Is it possible to travel frequently while still continuing to work full-time?" is "yes, it is possible.". But the answer to how you can do that can sometimes be overwhelming.
With this post, I'll try and help break some myths about travel and share a few tips from my personal experience on how you can manage to travel more often without leaving your jobs.
Although I travel quite often now, there used to be times when I waited for the right time or the right place, or the right people to go on a vacation.
And I am sure a lot of you would have similar thoughts before you start making any travel plans. But let me explain to you how you can resolve these unnecessary doubts of your mind.
There is no right time for going out and refreshing yourself!
Like any other important work, traveling needs to be a priority in your life if you enjoy it. It doesn't mean going out on an extravagant or a lavish holiday. Just a day out from your regular work and home life is sufficient to explore a new place.
You do not even need a whole day for that. A few hours exploring your own city or neighborhood will freshen your mind. Not only that, it'll add a lot to your experience and you'll be all set to take the challenges of life.
Traveling is like meditation - it brings peace and makes you calmer!
You can choose any place to explore and indulge in
It can be as small as your neighborhood or as big as a new country or a continent, doesn't really matter as long as you are liking it.
Starting small is always helpful because it slowly makes you more comfortable with the change. You start to learn little things about yourself which adds to your travel experience and personality as a whole.
What's better than being in your own company!
While a good company is always an added positive for a great travel experience, but no company or an average company should not stop you from exploring places. Soak yourself in the destination, and you'll find solace in just being by yourself.
What I usually did and follow now as well
I decide a time in mind, do not do a lot of calculations, decide a place, do not do a lot of research and book my tickets. Once that is done, if I am not too much inclined on going on a solo trip, I ask my friends if they want to accompany me. If they agree, voila! I have a great company and if not, what's better than your own company.
I love traveling alone because it helps me focus on myself and my thoughts without any kind of outside disturbances. It does not mean I don't like going out with my friends. Those kind of trips are full of laughter, and I come back more rejuvenated than I imagine of.
When I first started traveling frequently, I was in the US working as a Software Engineer. I used to combine the weekend with an additional Friday or Monday if possible and traveled to a new place every month.
I was able to explore places, including San Francisco, Portland, Austin, Death Valley, Las Vegas, Victoria (in Canada), Denver, Vancouver (in Canada) in a span of 7 months along with other small day trips.
Benefits of traveling often
Before ending the post, I'll discuss a few benefits of traveling that I believe in and have experienced myself.
Traveling is a break from the hustle bustle of daily life, boredom at home, weekend shopping, and dining. I come back home fresh and full of new energy. My thoughts become more clear and creative. My outlook on life has improved so much. I meet people from all around the world, and I understand more about the cultures and lives of people in other parts of the world than I did before.
Traveling is not merely seeing new places, it's more of a learning experience!
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I am the kind of girl who jumps on every opportunity to travel to a new place. As much as I'd be excited about the trip I'll be apprehensive about the challenges that I might face - be it from a very basic one like getting up on time to a little more complex like walking drenched in rain or in an extremely cold weather.
As I started traveling more, I became more comfortable with the discomforts that accompany it. I won't say I can now survive in any condition because I still need to overcome a lot of my inhibitions.
The major highlight of all these progressive changes in me was my trip to Bled in Slovenia.
A travel story of the past
Before I start talking about Bled, I'll tell about another trip to a place in India. I went out with a friend and her colleagues for a trek to Tadiandamol in Karnataka. The weather conditions and the trekking trail were totally out of my comfort zone. It was everything that I dread before a trip.
I get cold very easily and I don't like to get soaked in rains when I am traveling. I hate when my feet dip in the mud. I hate walking through the forest and touching mosses for support from trees. I am scared of heights and I am scared of falling down a cliff. - these are the things that make me the most nervous whenever I listen to "Let's go for a trek".
I sure still get a little apprehensive about all these things that I have mentioned above, but with every such experience, I am becoming more prepared both mentally and physically to take the challenge.
A Travel Story in Bled
Why Bled and Why the Hikes?
Bled was a random google search result to must-visit places in central Europe. A friend of mine from European Summer School convinced me to visit the place and without a lot of research, I blindly followed my friend's and the internet's suggestion.
I knew this much for sure that Bled was famous for the beautiful views of the Lake Bled and the Bled Castle on a clear sunny day.
But as luck would have it, rains were predicted for the duration I was going to be in the town. I didn't want to miss out on a place and just sit back in the hostel or a cozy cafe waiting for the rain to stop. I wanted to get out and see the much-praised postcard views of Bled.
My hostel's host suggested two viewpoints that I must visit to get the panoramic views of the lake. And as unplanned and under-prepared I am, I didn't do any research and just asked him the difficulty level of both the hikes. I needed this information to gauge my capability of completing these hikes by myself and also the motivation to actually go for them.
The first hike according to him was easier and the second one a little advanced. With this, he also explicitly mentioned that the views from the second hike were unmatched.
Anyhow, it was raining the morning I had to go out for the hike, so I postponed my plan until the rain stopped. Around 10:00 am it finally stopped raining, and that's when I hurried out of my room with my impatient feet eagerly pushing me.
First Hike - Straza
The starting point of the hike to Straza was very near my hostel, so I decided to begin with it and follow the trail to the next hike at Ojstrica.
There were two trails that I am aware of to reach the top, one amidst the forest and the other one through the meadows. While climbing up, I took the easy one which was through the meadows. It was more like a relaxed uphill walk.
Incidentally, there was not a single person around the area, both while coming up and going down and I had the whole place to myself.
On my way back, I didn't want to re-iterate the path I had already taken, so I decided to go down the forested trail.
While I casually climbed the hill, it was a lot trickier hiking down. You may know by now that I am scared of heights, forested, and mudded trails and a little more worried about who'll inform my family if something happens to me. Lame as it may sound, it becomes huge when you are in that position and over-thinking and exaggerating your fears. With constant pouring of the rain and leaves brushing against me, I somehow managed to come out of my tiny scared self and reached down in one piece. It was a joyous little moment for me overcoming my inner fears!
Oh! I completely forgot about the views - It was clouded so I couldn't see the Bled castle as clearly, but the clouded greens were so picturesque that I could have stayed there longer had it not started raining again.
By the time I got down, I was already drenched in water and in dire need of a restroom and some hot coffee. So I stopped at a restaurant for a snack and from there decided to go back to the hostel to get some rest. I thought to myself that it's ok if I am not able to make it to the second hike - it was anyways a little difficult.
After reaching the hostel, I told my host about the Straza hike that I just completed and was feeling super proud of.
And just when I thought I have accomplished something, he said, the second hike, though not very safe and a little difficult during rains has amazing views
The words that stuck in my mind and kept repeating in a loop were, "but it has the most amazing view". At that very moment, I decided to go to Ojstrica and check these views for myself.
I dried myself and quickly changed. I could not wear my shoes again as they got wet in the rain, therefore I wore flip flops instead assuming it'll be fine and the hiking in them won't be too difficult.
Given that it had rained all afternoon, wearing flip-flops was not a very good choice it seems.
Anyways, there was a whole lot of adventure before I even reached the starting point of the hike!
Second Hike - Ojstrica
I started following the walking trail as shown on google maps, and it led me to two apparent dead ends. I retraced back my steps only to end up in an open meadow with no visible ins and outs.
In all this confusion and hopelessness, I saw a dog coming towards me. I actually felt a little relieved on seeing another soul in the middle of nowhere. Soon after, the dog's owner followed it and I was literally smiling with joy when I saw her. I asked the lady for the directions to Ojstrica and followed the path she showed. The route she directed was quite easy as it was through a jogging trail and there were more people than I had seen the entire day.
After walking for around 20-25 minutes, I was finally able to see the starting point of Ojstrica hike.
I started hiking without giving much thought to the difficulty level. It was a minute after walking on the muddy trail, I asked someone who was already descending, the difficulty level of the hike.
I was actually suggested to not go further because I was wearing flip-flops and the rocks were very slippery.
I would say that it did not affect my determination because, one, I had already walked a lot after I left my hostel to do that hike, second, I wanted to see the view that was so talked about. So undeterred, I kept climbing unaffected by the people who crossed me wondering how I am going to make it. I kept my pace slow and steady without trying to hurry up.
As I started nearing the top of the hill, the muddy path became rockier. I took extra care to not slip on a wet rock. Towards the end, I used my hands to get an extra support and when I finally reached the top.....
It was a perfect spot to view the sunset from, but I did not stay back because I wanted to get down before it got dark.
On my way down, I tried to take a shortcut, and that was the only time, I fell down, my hands and butt soaked in mud. Thank goodness, there were other hikers who were climbing up that pulled me and helped me get on the right trail.
Lesson learned - unverified shortcuts make you fall!!
At the end of the day, here I was, after having experienced, the rain, the mud, the forest, and the height. I was super happy and though I caught fever a day after, it was one of the proudest moments for me as I got over my fears and discomforts.
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