7 times I was awestruck in Iceland.

Some relationships are meant to experience exquisite places together. And so, after more than a decade of friendship, four school friends, decided to take the trip of their lifetimes. This is dedicated to them. Nikhil, Chetan and Shruti – thanks for being my wanderlust buddies.

Sir David Attenborough’s Planet Earth series often makes you wonder, will you ever be so lucky as to explore in your lifetime, the places he frequents. The closest I have gotten, is Iceland. Iceland is one of those places that takes you on a magnificent journey through earth’s very origins. Active volcanoes, gurgling geysers, mighty glaciers, roaring waterfalls, spectacular landscapes, mystical northern lights, and well, pure magic. Made exponentially more popular by SRK’s ‘Gerua’ and Justin Bieber’s ‘I’ll show you’, Iceland really needs no introduction.

Here are 7 times I was absolutely awestruck in Iceland.

  1. Witnessing the northern lights in the night sky is a magical experience. Scientifically known as the Aurora, northern lights are an incredible light show caused by collisions between electrically charged particles released from the sun’s flare that enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen. The lights are seen most brilliantly around the magnetic poles of the northern (Aurora Borealis) and southern (Aurora Australis) hemispheres. The probability of catching these depend on a number of variables. A clear pitch black night sky, no-moon night, minimal ambient light from the city, high solar flare activity etc. are just a few, often making it a rare sighting. We caught them three out of our four nights there, pure luck on the cosmos’s part. A high ISO DSLR captures these lights the best, but our iPhones did an okay job too.
  2. Majestic glaciers caving under their own weight, melting at an unforeseen pace due to global warming is the pertinent issue of our times. The Vatnajökull glacier is one of the largest in area in Europe with an ever changing landscape. Giant glaciers provide the chance for us mere mortals to walk on its surface using ‘crampons’ which are claw like contraptions for your hiking boots. The glacial ice which forms from thousands of years of snow, gives in to gravity’s forces and flows more rapidly at places cracking and forming crevasses. Ice caves are also formed under the glacier which should only be explored with an experienced tour guide. A must do in Iceland if you are adventurous.
  3. Roaring waterfalls eroding and sculpting earth in their way will humble you. Melting glaciers give way to some of the most majestic waterfalls in Iceland. While there are numerous waterfalls carving their way to the arctic ocean, the most popular ones at about 200 feet high remain Gulfoss, Skógafoss, and Seljalandsfoss (you can actually go behind this waterfall). On a sunny day, you will witness the most vibrant rainbows dance along its waters, and numerous gulls nesting in its nooks and crannies adding unique dynamism and life to these waters. Hours can go by looking at these falls.
  4. Black volcanic sand beaches of Vik stand testament to the origins of time. Approaching the calming yet rancorous waves that chipped away at the solid volcanic rock into smooth black sand proves how insignificant your time on earth is compared to all else that goes on. So make the most of each moment. Black rock caves formed by waves ten feet high, fjords and apostles jutting out of the sea don’t seem to care for the pesky tourists’ clicking away.They have stood the test of time. A Polish immigrant waiter outside the little restaurant said, “There is nothing to do here on the beach, it’s very lonely. But it is still a far better life than back home in Poland”. Tourism today fuels a healthy economy for Iceland’s 300,000+ population solely reliant on its many natural wonders.
  5. Everyday there was a picture postcard outside my car window. Landscapes which stay with you forever. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
  6. Wild Nordic horses are the gentlest creatures. The best way to experience Iceland is by road. Rent a car and drive away. You will find these patient creatures happily grazing all along the south coast. Stop by, they come towards you in anticipation of a sweet treat. They love sugar cubes!
  7. Finally, soaking in the geothermal Blue Lagoon Spa, sparkling wine and green smoothies in hand with the Aurora Borealis whizzing at the north pole while your face feels the goodness of exotic silica gel masks is easily among my top 2% experiences in life. Composing that long sentence doesn’t do justice to what it really felt like at the world renowned Blue Lagoon Spa at Keflavik. The mind-numb of walking out into -8⁰C temperatures with just your swim suit on was countered by the fuzzy feeling of gliding into a +38⁰C geothermal lagoon in the middle of freaking nowhere! There is a sense of inner warmth when you suddenly realize that this is the stuff that pure indulgence is made of. Just then the mystical northern lights decide to show up across the pitch black sky with countless stars. While they put up a spectacular performance across the night sky, you can only close your eyes, sigh, and take it all in. It feels purely serendipitous that Blue Lagoon happened just because your return flights were cancelled due to a snowstorm back home. #destiny

The one thing that hit home on this adventure was that no photograph/camera/selfie will ever do justice to a place as beautiful as Iceland. We endlessly try to take selfies and pull our cameras out every second, to capture the moment. For that matter, all the natural/ man-made wonders around the world, don’t care for our obsessive photography. They continue to exist regardless, in some cases, in-spite of it. Our photographs are often a futile effort of holding onto a piece of it all. So the next time you experience pure beauty, take a moment and store it in your mind’s eye, for eternity.

Having said that, all pictures used were taken by a standard iPhone6/7. Most with no filter on. Photo Credits: Chetan, Shruti, Nikhil, and Archana’s phones.

A real vacation and its 7 signs.

After much pondering, I figured out why I was so content on my flight back this time. What I just got back from was not just a holiday, it was a real vacation. Below are 7 signs you were on one.

  1. You work enthusiastically leading up to it. Short-term goals, build focus and single-minded dedication towards your teams ensures a truly laptop/e-mail free vacation. Set expectations and boundaries. Only when you value your vacation, others will too. It doesn’t hurt that the magical holiday ball at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts kicks off your vacation week. The Customary Holiday picture on the Grand Stairway – another year in beautiful Boston whizzes by.file_0013
  2. You hang out in more than one country. If you live outside of your home country, the quandary between visiting family back home and visiting new places can be a real head-scratcher. Stop-over journeys are the only solution. Boston-Reykjavik-Amsterdam-Paris-Mumbai flights are cheaper than direct flights from Boston-Mumbai. True story. Time spent in exquisite Europe, absolutely made up for the hop-scotch journey home and making a conscious decision to choose quality time spent with family over the quantity of time, will be worth it.
  3. You discover places you haven’t been to yet. Growing up an Army Brat, thanks to our adventurous parents, I thought I had seen most of India. Incredibly, the places still untouched are countless. The colonial charm of living in Fort William Kolkata, attending fancy horse races with the who’s who, immersing in the rich history of synagogues, Buddhist temples, and Armenian churches, exploring pristine world heritage site of Sundarbans revived a sense of wanderlust.
  4. You don’t count the calories. If only I had a penny for every time I craved mom’s home cooked food and Indian street food. Happens to the best of us. Elaborately planned 7 course menu’s by moms, grand moms, and aunts, months before you arrive throw Pilates, Yoga, and diet regimes right out of the window. And why not? In the age of intimidating super foods, good for you foods, and countless diets, perhaps true comfort food and traditional tastes you grew up on are as primal a need as love!
  5. You soak in all the family love you can. Growing up, I saw my mom and grandmom unconditionally nourish relationships. In times when, ever busy lives, soaring individual ambitions, and materialistic conquests have consumed us all, they remain rooted in the truth that family is not an important thing, but that it is ‘Everything’. No wonder when I look for the happiest happiest times in my mind’s eye, it’s often not academic or professional success, or financial freedom, or the latest material purchase. It’s the warm family meals around tight dining tables, lazy afternoons spent with grandmothers, aunts, mom, Aarati and Oscar all crammed on one bed spilling over floors gossiping, and fuzzy moments knowing your family is always behind you.
  6. You take time and journey back to your true roots. Our most treasured heirlooms are the memories of our childhood. Visiting ancestral homes you were born in and listening to stories about your forefathers’ adventures gives you a unique sense of belonging. Despite traveling the world, I find that Guntakal and Vishakhapatnam remain the points of origin of my universe.
  7. You indulge in an off-the-grid getaway with best friends. Whirlwind travel calls for a vacation from your vacation. A rustic home-stay on a 25 acre coffee estate with absolutely no cell phone coverage was a perfect way to ring in 2017. Long plantation walks, lazy swims in the river Kaveri, warm bonfire and barbecue sessions into the wee hours of dawn, competitive carom and uno matches, authentic Corgi cuisine, and endless conversations is what lifelong memories are made of.

Real vacations are truly rare to make happen. But the next time you take a vacation, make it count. Hoping 2017 brings lots of hard work and tons of harder play time for everyone!

10 things that change when you start working full-time.

It’s been almost 10 months since my last post about ‘Solo Travel in Australia’ and for all these months I have been meaning to write again! “Work has been so busy”, “I feel so lazy” and “Nothing interesting to share really” are all excuses I have given myself every single day since. But do you know what is really happening? Re-runs of friends on Netflix is what is happening! Ouch. Am I really that busy? Is there really nothing else happening in my life outside of work? Why don’t I sit down and write anymore? What has really changed?


One fine Monday morning, when slides were piling up to be created, and data waiting to be analyzed, I decided to shut down all windows and thought deeply about all the ways in which my life has changed and how this routine evolved ever since I started working full-time again after business school. I scrolled, down the “Moments” on my iPhone to see what exactly had I been up to that had taken over my life? What unfolded were 10 things that change when you start working full-time.

  1. You live from one weekend to the next and everything else happens in the middle ‒ Between getting back to the corporate world and barely hanging on to dear life as you work one case after another, the reality is that the week somehow slips you by… Your life’s calendar ticks from one weekend to the next. Laundry, shopping, vacuuming, appointments get moved to the next weekend… every single weekend. The one time you really breathe during the week is when you look up from in between slides to realize how lucky you are to have a desk facing the water front. Lately, you try to sneak in short walks along the wharf or steal coffee dates with your better consultant half in between meetings to fill in new life into the middle of the week.IMG_2160
  2. Home really becomes sweet home (especially when you live by the beach) Someone once asked me where my dream home would be. I said it would be on a mountain by the beach. Living the beach life in your twenties and witnessing brilliant sun-rises and sun-sets each day gives you tremendous perspective on what really matters to you in life. Waking up to the North Atlantic cool breeze each morning, the thrashing and calming waves, long walks along picking shells, and the absolute joy of knowing that your home is next to the beach is simply unparalleled and truly the stuff that ‘chill’ is made of.IMG_2182IMG_2181
  3. Shopping for groceries and cooking food from scratch is suddenly therapeutic As someone who learnt cooking out of necessity quite late in life, there is no greater joy than realizing that you are slowly crossing over to the realm of appreciating the art and science of cooking with fresh and real ingredients. Making sauces, bread, and masalas from scratch, and knowing that it is the one time during the day you create something magical with your own hands which treats all five senses with tender, love, and care is truly fulfilling. And it absolutely doesn’t hurt that your partner is a master chef and teaches you the intricacies of unique techniques, introduces you to new cuisines and names of ingredients you had never heard of in your life!IMG_2164
  4. “Happening” hobbies start happening Some of my most full-filling memories are of times when I ‘created’ during moments of boredom tapping into moments of immense inspiration. A song cover of a popular song, a piece of art which defies traditional ideas of art, building stage props for fashion shows in college…Every now and then getting my hands dirty with oil pastels, charcoal, crazy glue, mud, sand, shells, and magnets takes me back to endless artistic indulgences and feeds the hungry soul. If you look for it, inspiration is right outside the glass door, a random video on you tube, or a Pinterest post.IMG_2176IMG_2163IMG_2168
  5. The daily commute to work becomes your new ‘me’ time Most of us spend a considerable amount of time getting to and back from work.With ever increasing commute times, a lot of us feel like we spend half our lives on the road driving, standing in the subway, hoping on the ferry, or making connections at an airport. But once you are on the familiar path each day, the familiar sights, sounds and smells along the journey become stolen time for yourself. Some days turn into a blur of thoughts about work email, most others immersed in your favorite podcast, many more studying travelers around you, but the ones that really make the journey exciting are the ones where you close your eyes, heave a sigh, and smile… Knowing that you will be home soon.
  6. Nature trumps the Nightclub “Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” – Khalil Gibran. Humans often try to do things that make them feel alive and kicking. In my early twenties, for the most part, partying all night did just that! When people told me that you will get over it in your late twenties, I NEVER believed them.  But now, when I pick going on a fabulous hike, practicing yoga, kayaking in the ocean, biking along the beach, driving by fall colors, skydiving, geeking out over the cosmos with Neil DE grass Tyson, I notice that it brings me one step closer to feeling more alive. The more you get out and experience all that nature has to offer, the more you crave it. There is a reason why every other person I know these days is training for a marathon or learning a sport they never played in their life. Deeply connecting with what is around us helps learn about what really lies within us.
  1. Staying in some nights makes the nights you do go out more special There was a time (not too long ago) that I couldn’t get enough of dressing up and getting out on the town. Now, I spend most nights in, I wonder what changed. But the constant pressure and FOMO on all the restaurants I am not eating at, all the places I am not checking into, and all the coffee shops I am not having coffee at, has surely reduced over time. For me, home has become the new hip place to hang out at. Cooking in, movie nights, ‘hanging out’ with friends around the world, and cozying in with library books honestly make the few nights you do actually go out way more special. And why would you ever want to miss out on the brilliant moon-rises out on the deck?IMG_2179
  2. You learn to appreciate local sporting teams and new cultural experiences Never having heard of, leave alone fanatically rooting for the Red Soxs, New England Patriots, Celtics or the Bruins , it was interesting to see that emotions that are evoked as an Indian during the final over of a close India/Pakistan cricket match are universal in nature. Watching baseball, basketball, and ice hockey matches in swanky box seats, attending classical Mozart concerts and fancy champagne nights out at museums all thanks to working at a firm that makes these experiences seem like business as usual is absolutely welcome while it lasts!IMG_2187IMG_2166IMG_2169
  3. You need to constantly think about your work authorization status If you are on a legal immigrant work visa in the United States, you know exactly what I am taking about! It was only when my lawyers and I realized that my student OPT visa was expiring and that I need to get my H1B visa stamped within a week is when I realized the importance of always keeping track of you visa status. Filling out grueling visa forms, requesting for an expedited visa interview with the US consulate officer, getting the interview request denied, paying for the visa fee twice to get another interview slot, changing the slot at three different consulates in India to get the earliest slot, buying last minute air tickets to India, booking multiple trips between Mumbai and Hyderabad, one visa interview, one H1B stamping, and loads of family love later is when I could safely re-enter this country. Long story short ‘Never ever forget to check your visa status!’ The only silver lining – getting to celebrate your mum’s birthday unexpectedly and getting much needed family and Oscar time. IMG_3351
  4. You cherish the few stolen moments with your family and best friends This is by far the most difficult change to accept. Wanting to follow ever-liberating career dreams with ever-increasing global opportunities, I cannot express in words how hard it is to know that all the moments you experience are tagged with a sinking feeling of ‘how much mom would have liked this flower shop’, ‘how much more incredible this concert would have been with our friends’, or ‘how crazy Oscar would have gone running around in circles in this open meadow.’ Every such moment spent longing for the people you truly enjoy life with is only barely made up for by the surprise trips you make happen or hours of face time chat sessions over the weekends with them. Just only.IMG_2171IMG_2170File_001File_000

When I look back at the past 10 months, each day seems like a potpourri of events both significant and mundane. But one thing is for sure…with each passing day, life seems to get busier and taking time to do things you truly enjoy doing gets harder. But moments of contemplation such as this help slow time down just a tad bit, taking stock of all the ways life has changed you in, and forcing you to evolve with changes ever so much.

Here is to writing more in the future and a lot fewer re-runs of ‘friends on Netflix’!

30 things i learnt about Traveling Alone & Australia!

Solivagant – (noun) a solitary wanderer, (adj.) wandering alone

Reading about and listening to exotic experiences of solo ‘wander lusting’ backpackers fanned a flame somewhere in my soul. I always liked the idea of traveling alone, at least in theory. I knew I would like to travel far by myself sometime in life. But it was not until very recently that I finally decided to embark on my first solo-backpacking trip to Australia! Having always traveled with friends & family, this was a bold decision for me to take.


I read somewhere that, to take a trip alone is to take a journey into yourself. And so, intrigued and wanting to know more, I began my own adventures to the land down under. Here are 30 things I learnt about traveling alone & Australia!

  1. If you want to travel far, wide & happy, travel light! Rucksacks rock! (Thanks for letting me borrow yours Niks!) J You will be surprised how much you can fit in and the freedom it provides. Traveling light is definitely an acquired art. There is a certain skill involved in sorting through all your earthly possessions and picking the most essential belongings. For some it’s their numerous pairs of shoes (I can totally understand this!), and for others it’s their travel journals/sketch books/camera. Think about it this way. If you were stranded in a foreign land for three weeks, what else would you absolutely need apart from your passport and money? That’s what you really require to take along .Same goes for souvenirs;Keep it light. I usually carry back magnets from my travels!12166965_10153107676477477_1496717252_n
  2. Ping friends and family in the countries you go to! It’s a boon to know people who will work around their schedules to come pick you up/drop you off at the airport at all odd hours of the day/night if it’s your first time in the country, even if you tell them a million times that you will take a cab to their place, they won’t hear a word of it. That’s what makes them oh so adorable!
  3. To feel at home, stay at homes! Home stays/hostels with either friends you know, or complete strangers are much more personal & warm rather than staying in hotel rooms. It’s an education in “lives lived around the world!” You get to closely experience someone else’s daily life and routine with them. Make sure you do something special for the people you are staying with. It could be a quick breakfast for someone who almost never eats before going to work or a hot meal after they get home from a long and grueling day’s work. You will almost definitely bring a smile to their face!12076870_10153106348332477_1496607464_n
  4. Australia is a MASSIVE continent! There is no way you can cover all of it in three weeks. You need to make tough choices about where you want to travel and stick to them. This meant leaving Cairns, Darwin, Alice Springs, the great outback, the Great Barrier Reef, and Perth for the next visit. I chose to travel to two major cities (Melbourne & Sydney), drive along/be driven along the Great Ocean Road to see the twelve apostles, visit vineyards & breweries, laze along beaches & light houses, visit a monastery, the three sister’s gorges in the Blue Mountains, and about eat at scores of cafes and restaurants. Managed to fit in a lot more!                                                                                IMG_9624
  5. The northern and southern hemispheres have totally opposite season cycles. My geography lessons escaped me completely. When its summer all over the northern world it would be winter in Australia! So I literally went from a ruthless winter in the United States to a reasonably cold winter in Australia! But thanks to my awesome cousin’s orange jacket, a friend’s Katmandu gloves and a green beanie which literally saved me throughout my travel! Crowdsourcing to the rescue. (& way too many pictures in the same jacket!)                                                                                                      1533513_10153106352702477_68374034_n
  6. Don’t be scared to travel alone. And more importantly, don’t be afraid to like it. One of the best things about travelling alone is that YOU get to decide what you will do every day. It could be, spending the whole day in a museum, going back to the same museum the next day to look at the same exhibits again, sitting at federation square in Melbourne for hours looking at Gulls, riding the city trams all day, public garden hopping, or just sleeping in to take a lazy two hour lunch later in the day! So go solo whenever you feel like it, and can.                                                              12063974_10153106518467477_728944362_n
  7. The feeling of being anonymous in a country/city you have never been to before is oddly unsettling at first. But the more you think about it, the more you realize how this anonymity gives you the freedom to be totally goofy! Feel like singing in the middle of a busy street… Go for it! Want to take a million selfies till you get the one you really wanted without worrying about being thought of as oh so vane… Definitely go for it!12166239_10153106519812477_84279176_n
  8. For once, put down the map and get wonderfully lost! Have a skeletal plan of what you want to do on your travels, but don’t be afraid to steer away from it, a little or even a lot! Lawrence Black once said, “Our happiest moments as travelers always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else”. Like finding a café which had the quirkiest restroom where you could spend hours reading stuff on the walls, while I was in search of another café which closed for that day. I spent the next three hours in the café and restroom. Collectively 😉12063915_10153106540277477_12053846_n
  9. Do as the locals do! Travel books as fun a concept as they are, only showcase the opinions of a chosen few travelers. Use them by all means if you want to, but I found that asking locals and random people on the street for candid recommendations on what to do, where to eat & which to pick has almost always been more rewarding than mechanically ticking off things in ‘Discover Something’ books.                               12077315_10153106358642477_848548794_n
  10. People-watching is super fun! Long layovers at international airports are not all that boring if you start observing the wide range of people around you and make up stories about their lives or why they are traveling! Neither are busy pedestrian crossings in cities. 12167060_10153106358437477_425790912_n
  11. Walking is the best way to experience a new city. You are not limited by traffic, one ways, parking, or even lack of a path. You can almost always make your own. You stumble upon café’s you don’t find on google maps, little book stores, antique shops, and interesting alleyways. You never know what’s around the corner. It could be everything or it could be nothing. But the fun I found is in the pursuit of finding out! 12166335_10153106550277477_460082813_n12166717_10153106367782477_522286207_n
  12. Traveling the way the locals do can be extremely rewarding to view a city from their eyes. Getting familiar with the public transport in a new city quickly can be super useful! Top up travel cards like Opal for Sydney and Myki for Melbourne can be used on bus, trains, trams, even the ferries! Local travel apps also give you timings for all these modes of transport. In my opinion, cabs are extremely expensive and not the best way to experience the city. Of course should be totally used in case of emergencies if stranded in the middle of nowhere!                                            12083884_10153106367867477_533525457_n
  13. Aim to be a traveler, not a tourist. When you are traveling alone, you will find out very early on if you are a tourist or a traveler. For a number of years, I didn’t think there was a difference, until in Sydney when I finally saw the opera house and the harbor bridge emerge on my walk towards the ocean. I frantically took a million pictures and then just felt like putting my phone away. I sat there for hours just watching the sun set and sipping on my hot chocolate. All three days in Sydney, no matter where I went during the day, I came back to the same spot every evening to witness the bridge and opera house light up…if you are only concerned with clicking pictures as proof of visiting a place without actually breathing in & taking in the sights, the people, the air, you haven’t really traveled to it yet; you have only toured it. It’s been a personal mission on this trip to ‘travel’ more and ‘tour’ less.12167392_10153106367792477_1409252606_n
  14. Cooking and eating in a foreign country may be the surest, truest way to its soul. I know in my heart that one of my favorite parts of the trip was searching for/stumbling upon quaint cafes in Melbourne and Sydney. More in Melbourne than in Sydney 😉 Deciding what to eat for brunch each day had become an enjoyable ritual. Australia, I realized very soon, is big on most things organic and responsibly sourced. Hearty & fabulous meals soon fueled my on average 4 mile walks every day! So don’t shy away from that decadent almond croissant or the sumptuous dollop of butter on your whole grain toast! I definitely didn’t and have no regrets what so ever.12166786_10153106564612477_181294002_n
  15. Unlike every other country in the advanced world, Australia does NOT do Starbucks! The first Starbucks opened in 2000 in Sydney. 84 stores and 8 years later it stacked up $143 Million in recorded loses and was forced to shut down 60 stores. It doesn’t take a marketing genius to figure out what went wrong here. Starbucks bombarded Australia with a coffee chain devoid of any real personality, cookie cutter lattes, high prices and questionable customer service – A brew bound to fall flat. In contrast, Australia’s café culture is just too damn good! Along with the 1950’s wave of Italian and Greek immigrants, Australia adopted the art of espresso as part of its very social fiber long before Americans did. People take their coffee seriously! One of my housemates, a total hippie, is a coffee connoisseur, training to work with some of the most authentic cafes in Melbourne. (She is also vegan and only consumes organic, including the water she drinks…not even sure what that means honestly!) It’s definitely a way of life. Despite not being a big coffee drinker, I looked forward to a freshly brewed latte/cappuccino from a quirky new café each day.11997184_10153106555347477_29255006_n
  16. Australians take immense pride in socializing around food and coffee. It definitely compliments their relaxed lifestyle. I would often sit in cafes for hours together and find others just like me. Maybe they were on vacation as well; maybe they were just relaxing, or even working. Who knows & who cares! It was definitely a welcome change from the fast-paced work-oriented constant running around American (and even Indian) way of life I had experienced. Ps: You can run into Bollywood celebrities; I brunched next to Anil Kapoor when he was down for the Melbourne Film festival. Just saying. A second housemate, the hippie housemate’s hippie boyfriend was a musician by day and a food volunteer by night at “Lentils as anything” – a ‘pay as you feel’ community center run entirely on donations and volunteerism. A wholesome buffet style vegetarian meal, cooked, sourced, served entirely by volunteers. Musicians/artists/comedians performing for the pure joy of entertaining. You could spend hours reading quotes and thoughts posted by hundreds of thousands of travelers who set foot each year. Best meal I have had in Melbourne!                                                12064191_10153106368002477_242981630_n
  17. Melbournians are artsy & have a strong rebellious streak. Evident as soon as you step foot in Hosier lane filled with Graffiti on every square inch of wall space along with art installations. I was so smug in the knowledge that I left some of my doodles on the walls for eternity only to later learn that the walls are dynamic, with artists re-spraying every couple of weeks! Well at least I tried leaving a piece of my art behind, on some level of layer 😉 On a similar note, I could write a whole blog post about just the art museums in Australia, so I am not even trying.                 12166410_10153106560627477_819940437_n 12166769_10153106367847477_1294927004_n
  18. Melbourne has quirky buildings. Period.                                         12048422_10153106367937477_1387575830_n
  19. Sunsets have a calming effect no matter where in the world you go. Chasing sunsets at both the St Kilda beach in Melbourne and the Dandenong ranges a few hours from the city will always be locked away in my mind’s eye.12167646_10153106367987477_600544261_n
  20. Australian waters & blue skies are therapeutic. Ferrying around Sydney’s harbor with its blue skies, shifting white clouds, naughty winds, and dancing waters for as far as you could see is a feeling I cannot describe in words. You have to experience it for yourself. The ferry to Toronga Zoo reveals the panoramic view of the Sydney harbor.12064030_10153107977817477_521771581_n
  21. Australia has some of the most spectacular coastal drives in the world. All you need is a cool car, great company, bundles of sunshine & tons of battery on your iPhone. Each bend and curve reveals a delicious blue stretch of pristine beach. I was often lost amidst the windy roads, mysterious looking flora, green meadows with free range animals, and soon found myself again as we ran parallel to the great Indian Ocean for as far as our eyes could see. The quaint surf towns of Geelong, Torquay, Anglesea, Lorne, and Apollo bay gave way to the marvelous wonders that jutted out of the ocean – The Twelve apostles! Suddenly it all felt like I was on another planet. The Great Ocean Road drive was an exotic love affair I will not get over anytime soon…        12053097_10153106605467477_823979080_n12166538_10153106367772477_40830587_n
  22. Vineyards in Australia are as beautiful as the ones in the United States, but a lot larger in acreage and tastings are far more reasonable. It’s hard to not stock up on wine or sign up for membership programs despite knowing very well that you are only on vacation. PS: most wine bottles I encountered were twist offs for some reason – for those of you who aren’t particularly deft at opening cork top bottles, I hear you 😉12167048_10153106569142477_1278336362_n
  23. Public Libraries are a great place to find some quiet (and charging points)! Melbourne’s Victoria State library was by far the most beautiful library I have ever been to. Often a great respite on a rainy/cold/too sunny day if you are not someone who likes malls too much, holds art exhibits in its galleries, and hosted the Melbourne Fashion week & various artists on its grounds outside.                                                  11997270_10153106367952477_530950238_n
  24. Don’t be afraid to walk into interesting alleyways. Of course, don’t be stupid and walk into one that screams “you could get mugged & stabbed here!” You can honestly never tell, but following your gut and instincts is the way to go on this one. I almost walked past a particular alleyway in Sydney before I walked back. It was a thought provoking art installation of bird cages strung across two buildings with speakers playing recorded bird songs of all the birds that have gone extinct due to massive urbanization. Etched in metal in the cobbled road were the names of all those bird species.You could stand in that alley eyes closed for several minutes imagining all these birds around you, before you realize that none of these birds exist anymore.                      12166748_10153107676492477_2070145016_n
  25. When it comes to taking care of yourself, you can be quite a badass! Everything from taking care of your belongings to travel logistics to gauging people’s intentions, to climbing the Harbor Bridge, you will put your self-sufficiency skills to the ultimate test. You will come out with flying colors often. This is a re-assuring & liberating feeling.12025466_10153106564682477_1407285038_n
  26. Kangaroos do not randomly cross streets in Australia (despite what the signs say), just like snakes and elephants do not cross streets in India (except for in forests and some cities). I actually went out the very first night in hope of sighting a kangaroo in a neighborhood where they apparently hop about free all the time! After standing out in the dark and the cold for what felt like hours and after what sounded like a dog barking in the distance, I gave up. Three weeks in Kangaroo land and no kangaroo. (Only some wallabies at the Toronga Zoo in Sydney. Here is ‘hopping’ for better luck next time.)       12166654_10153108041617477_285352008_n
  27. A little history, even on vacation hurts no one. The Sovereign Hill in Ballarat literally lives out history in today’s times. It’s a historical amusement town which plays out life during the gold rush. Candle making, blacksmithing, horse drawn carriage rides, apothecary stores and candy making etc. A goldsmith actually demonstrates smelting a Kilogram of real gold into a brick every half hour. My mom would have absolutely enjoyed the gold museum which showcased the history of how gold gained its status as the most precious metal today.                                                   12167413_10153106367962477_1201980755_n
  28. Don’t be afraid of meeting new people, and don’t be afraid of enjoying & celebrating their company. Partying and traveling with people you just met or friends you met after years is just as fun as with friends back home.12053394_10153106367902477_346146593_n
  29. Learn to enjoy & love your own company. On a solo backpack, you will be alone for the most part. Surprise! You will be walking alone, eating alone at a table, and spending a lot of time with yourself and your thoughts. Being someone who thoroughly enjoys traveling with friends and loved ones, this was a slight transition for me. But it stopped bothering me soon enough because I never once felt ‘lonely’. There is a big difference.IMG_0366
  30. We never remember days, we only remember moments. If you ask me what I did each day in Australia, I will fumble to tell you. But I can most certainly describe what it felt like to sip on hot chocolate on the Yarra River in Melbourne on a chilly afternoon, to feel the wind in my hair looking at the blue Pacific Ocean waves at Kiama beach, and to celebrate life with fabulous Australians at the hippest joints in town…12165953_10153108012862477_1796420883_n

Most of all I have learnt that solo travel is rebellion in its purest form.

We follow our heart. We free ourselves of labels.

We lose control willingly. We trade a role for reality.

We love the unfamiliar. We trust strangers. We own only what we can carry.

We learn to live more with less. We fill our mind with a lifetime of memories, stories and tales.

We figure out what matters most to us. We search for better questions, not answers.

We truly graduate. We are never ourselves again.

We feel a sense of loss after every travel because we leave a part of our soul with the places we step foot on, the people we meet, and the adventures we partake in.

So, no matter what your age, your relationship status, or stage of life…consider taking a solo trip. You never know what fabulous secrets you might discover about yourself…

The biggest party your parents will ever throw you!

A few months before a birthday the biggest question on any child’s mind is, how big is my birthday party going to be this year. Will there be a bigger cake, larger gifts, more friends invited? Parents on the other hand do everything they can to make this day extremely special for their child.

After “almost” three decades of attending fabulous parties thrown by my parents, what they had in store for me this summer was out of this world!

Four years of dating and one spectacular Royal proposal later, parents want the inevitable question answered, “so what kind of a wedding do you kids want?” Is this a trick question? How many kinds are there? Not wanting to know the answer to that question, we ​asked​ them​ if we really needed to even have a wedding ceremony at all?​ Wrong move. You see, honestly, Indian parents wait all their life for this one event. In your growing up years, sentences that start with, “At your wedding…”, “when you get married…”, “for your wedding…” are not uncommon to hear. Purchase of big ticket items and personal indulgences are held off till weddings are on the horizon. So you are almost crushing their dreams when you tell them you don’t want a big wedding. Their immediate response suggests that​ it will be “Something simple and small.” As soon as they uttered those words you knew they would have to eat them!

An Indian wedding is not your regular exchange wows, reception, have cake, and drive into the sunset affair. Approximately a $38 Billion industry, Indian weddings are called “big and fat” for a reason. Mine thankfully wouldn’t qualify for either big or fat! Or would it? Wink.

​What starts off as a small wedding soon snowballs into the most elaborate affair of your life.

Never-ending lengths of guest lists are curtailed unsuccessfully. Budgets for catering, drinks, DJ music, wedding photography, décor, henna artists, multiple sets of clothes for everyone, wedding trousseau, make-up & hair trials, actual hair & make-up sessions,  accessories, flowers, invitation cards, pre-parties, bachelorettes, post-parties, spa-sessions, guest accommodations, guests travel, welcome gifts, wedding favors, wedding priests and so much more are reigned in hopelessly. Of course everything is eventually overshot well beyond anything that remotely resembled a budget proposal and if a CFO existed would have resigned on day zero!

Bride and groom being south Indian, you would think there would be no north Indian festivities like Mehendi (henna ceremony) and Sangeeth (Singing and Dancing). Additionally, non-vegetarian food and alcoholic drinks would be a complete no-no. You think wrong; both sets of parents from the Indian Army having perfected at entertaining diverse crowds all their life, happily agree to a fusion wedding leaving no stone unturned!

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Parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends & everyone practice their dance moves and singing voices for almost a month with of course a little bit of help from Bollywood choreographers of blockbusters movies like Ram-Leela who script a show at par with the Film fare awards in style!

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Was almost a year of constant planning, several Face time sessions discussing wedding details, months of shopping, several exorbitant bills, everyone falling ill multiple times, weeks of physical, mental and spiritual exhaustion, and the logistical nightmare of hosting almost 500 guests at multiple locations, navigating high security given the President of India decided to come stay a couple of miles from the wedding venue at the same time, worth it you ask?

Two months ago, I know what I would have said!

But now, I am not so sure. Because all I remember now is the pure joy and love that everyone put into throwing the biggest party of our lives!

Grandparents beaming with pride to see their kids, grand kids, and great grand kids come together despite the busiest of schedules. Uncles and cousins running around happily helping out with prep for the wedding. Aunts and grandmothers working tirelessly to ensure every flower was in place and the last person had eaten. Friends traveling from all corners of the world despite work deadlines and jets lags from recent business trips, and getting crazy drunk and stupid and showing up late for their dance performance on stage!

My little baby sister throwing me the most special surprise bachelorette, hosting a fabulous show for everyone, and putting up with my every whim and fancy! Moms lovingly putting together my wedding trousseau keeping in mind my favorite colors and my taste! Dads being their cool and calm self, firefighting and ensuring everything went off flawlessly. Finally, photographers scampering around to capture every emotion and moment.

So was the cake bigger? Were there larger gifts? Were there more friends? Hell ya! It literally was the biggest, all expenses paid for party of my life so far, and I think sometimes I am still recovering from the hangover. I only wish I had given my parents the biggest hug once again for hosting it! This goes out to all the lovely parents who strive each day to make their children’s lives so very beautiful and magical!

Leaving you with some magical moments from the biggest party of my life!

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Making room on Life’s Shelf.

Shelf life – A concept that is often used in context with food products at grocery stores. Milk. Fruit. Eggs. Vegetables. Groceries. Even cosmetics in some cases. They all have a limited shelf life. After a certain point in time the product is rendered useless.

The day I got back home for the summer, I stood in front of my overflowing wardrobes. Clothes which hadn’t been worn in more than four years, some even ten, were still nearly sitting in there. I thought about the two other fully functional wardrobes I had half way across the globe. Why was I hoarding all these clothes when I had no intention of ever wearing them? A sequined piece of clothing from when I was a teenager, pants which shouldn’t be taken out anymore, belts which felt like they were from an ancient era, shoes not worn even once, sweaters and jackets which honestly would never be needed in this part of the country, junk jewelry which I cannot pull off anymore, and fluorescent colored hair extensions which…err… let’s not even go there.

After digging into study table draws and cupboards, I found unused diaries, notebooks, dried out or half used art supplies, shells from Goa and other beaches, too pretty to be used stationary and numerous other trinkets that sat there solemnly, never touched. If I wanted to, wouldn’t I have used all these by now?

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I wondered why we hold on to things in the hope that we would use them “someday”. Why do we hang on to things that we don’t need anymore?

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The more I thought about it, the more it became clear that we do this even with people, relationships, and experiences. We try and hold on to school and college friends who clearly seems to be slipping away amidst changing jobs, moving countries, getting married, having babies, and just living life. We keep memorabilia given by long past ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends despite everyone having moved on, multiple times. We stack away souvenirs, maps, brochures from travels to faraway lands in the hope that we will revisit someday. We document application forms, acceptance letters, and store wine bottle corks of endless parties from undergrad and graduate schools despite knowing very well we wouldn’t ever need them for any practical purpose.

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Which brought me to the question – Do some people, experiences, and relationships have a shelf life too? Should they be cleared out in a spring cleaning spree, sold off in a Garage sale, and gracefully let go once you knew there was nowhere to go from there on?

The very thought seems so depressing. If something was so darn fun, why did it need to end? If only we could collect all our favorite people, places, and experiences and never let them go, what fun that would be.

Maybe that’s exactly what we are trying to do. Somewhere between growing up and trying to be responsible adults, we all are trying to hang on to a little something from the good old crazy times when we were younger, wilder, eternal optimists, and incorrigible dreamers. Each picture, each song, each movie ticket stub, each sea shell, and each hideous sequined dress enables us to revisit and relive the person, the place, the relationship, and the experience that made us who we are today. As short a shelf life as it might have had, it added something to us and will forever be a part of us despite any number of garage sales, spring cleanings, deleting pictures, and changing numbers. Once every often, we find comfort indulging in ecstatic memories long forgotten, great friends long lost, and epic parties long ended. Before of course we all need to get back to the inevitability of today and now and the sweet uncertainty of what tomorrow holds for each one of us.

In the end, I did manage to clear out all the “clutter” from my room, neatly packed into boxes to be given away or discarded. After all, I wanted to make room for everything new and exciting that life will unravel in the years to come. New relationships, new travels, new experiences. Of course, safely smug in the consolation that pictures and people will always have an unlimited digital and virtual shelf life. Always just a click away; if one ever wanted to reach out.

As for everything else, there is always storage. I managed to safely tuck away a funky belt, some unused diaries, and a couple of Ecuador maps. After all, you never know when I might need them!


The Darden i will miss.

When you finally get ready to leave a place as beautiful as Darden and Charlottesville, you try and soak in each and every part of it one last time. As I walked the 3 minutes from my idyllic apartment in Ivy gardens to Darden last evening, I thought about the numerous early mornings I thanked my stars for the perfectly located apartment to get to an 8:00am class! As I strolled about, I realized how I had seen this path snowed up in winter, rained in when it showered, bloomed up during spring, colored up during fall, and bared up during autumn. The Darden edifice itself humbled me with its regal brick red and strong sparkling white pillars. The meticulously manicured lawns and immaculately pruned roses filled me with a sense of pure joy. The grand piano room and the elegant hallways brought back so many memories from my wonderful time here.

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I thought about how much I was going to miss all these aspects of Darden. But all of it lasted for a few minutes before I started feeling really alone. And then it hit me that the physicality of Darden I was experiencing has been here for years and will be here for many years to come but the Darden that I was going to miss was so much more than that.

What I was really going to miss had a lot to do with the people who made Darden what it was in my heart. Classmates who inspired me to be more than I thought I could ever be, faculty who pushed me harder than I thought I could take, the student affairs executive who taught me the real meaning of going out of your way to help, the IT desk, canvas, and qualtrics team who taught me how to be calm during a technology crises, the first coffee, abbot dining hall servers and the admin who demonstrated the value of being consistent even when no one is watching, the librarian who instilled the value of always smiling even when you are having a bad day, the career services team who taught me to never give up in the face of rejection and garner faith from corners of your mind you knew didn’t exist, the random Virginian at the corner who taught me the value of being cheerful and read to greet even when it’s cold and slimy outside, the roommate who keeps dinner for you when you haven’t eaten all day, the friend who makes sure you are back home from every single Thursday night drinking club, the Australian exchange students who teach you the value of being open and welcoming of every experience that comes your way in a new country, the classmates who shared their life story with Darden TALK, the girls who share their hopes, dreams, and aspirations over a fun night of wine and cheese, the aussie roommate and crazy friend who believe in opening at least 4 bottles of wine along with thumping Bollywood music every single night be it a weekday or a weekend, the endless nights of partying till 6:00 am, the numerous ‘last’ going away parties, the learning team dinners and hours of cards against humanity, the quiet nights at home when you just want to not think of any more alcohol and just have gatorade water and dinner for a change, the innumerable gossip sessions with your girlfriends over home cooked meals, the fiance who puts up with your every whim and fancy unconditionally, and finally my lovely family who supported me through every single step of the Darden journey believing in me more than I ever believed in myself sometimes!

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As I look out at the beautiful Flagler court today, I know that it’s all these people, and experiences, the good, the great and the ugly, is the Darden I take back with me in my heart.

Of course the physical presence of Darden and Charlottesville with be missed dearly, but only because of the friendships and memories I made here… for life… This one goes out to each one of you who made Darden a very special part of my life! Till we meet again 🙂 So long Darden! You have been a fantastic two years!

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