If you’re thinking of taking up archery, it’s vital you have the right equipment. If you don’t have good quality equipment before you start, you might struggle to grasp certain fundamentals.
Here’s our guide to the archery equipment every beginner needs to hit the ground running with their training.
Ensuring you have the right bow is the most obvious – and essential – place to start.
When it comes to finding the right bow as a beginner, there’s no right or wrong approach. You just need to find the one that you feel suits you best.
The best thing to do is to go to a store that sells archery equipment (if you Google ‘archery equipment store near me’ you should get loads of relevant results) and try as many bows as you can. Try and get a feel for them and see which one makes you feel comfortable. Ideally, the bow should be within two inches of your height and it’s okay if your bow is taller than you.
If you’re looking for a bow that’s easy to set up so you can start shooting immediately, then a recurve bow is the best option. This recurve bow from Samick Archery would be a great choice for beginners and is available at a reasonable price.
Arrows can be quite difficult to buy when you’re a beginner. You need to know your draw length in order to buy the right arrows, so it’s vital that you visit a store. There, you’ll be able to get your wingspan measured and use this measurement to calculate your draw length.
As a beginner, you don’t want to spend loads of time building your own arrows, so don’t be afraid to spend a little money for some pre-built arrows. It’ll pay off in the long run.
Using a glove is a good idea when you start out. Not only can a glove help to protect your hand, but it can also aid you with your release. It’s also one of the better options if you decide to start with a recurve bow (there are more details of other options below).
Gloves also add a level of comfort and they can last a long time. This Bearpaw summer glove is a great place to start and it isn’t too expensive.
If you’re not a fan of the idea of wearing a glove, then using a finger tab is a great alternative. The tab covers the palm on your draw hand and is a good choice for people who find wearing a glove too constrictive.
Much like gloves, finger tabs are easy to find online and don’t cost too much money. This platform tab from A&F is a good choice for beginners and it’s available in a range of sizes.
Naturally, as an archer, you’ll need something to help you carry your arrows. This is where a back or hip quiver comes in handy.
Whether you choose a hip or back quiver depends on what you’re most comfortable with. A hip quiver will keep your arrows facing out in front of you so you can grab them from your side. Back quivers, on the other hand, keep your arrows behind your head, so you’ll have to reach behind you to grab your next arrow.
Whichever option you choose, there are plenty of stylish options out there. This Easton hip quiver is available in a range of different colours and is made of a woven fabric that makes it very comfortable. If you’d prefer a back quiver, though, then this more traditional quiver from Neet is a great option and is made of high-quality leather.
Specialist archery insurance from Gunplan
Once you have all the equipment you need, it’s important that you get the right insurance. Without it, you could end up having to pay out if you damage your new equipment or if you damage equipment that belongs to a fellow archer.
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The Shooting Star Diaries is a new series to reflect on the month that was, share stories Iâve enjoyed writing, recommend offbeat books and films, showcase new eco-friendly / vegan-friendly findsâ¦ and check in on you! Welcome to the June 2021 edition.
As I write this post, Iâm mentally preparing myself to move to our eighth rental since March 2020.
You read that right. Weâve moved eight times over the last 15 months â in the midst of a goddamn pandemic!
Admittedly a couple of these moves were out of choice. Like in June last year, when my partner and I â stuck in different corners of the universe â decided to move to Goa, the only Indian state that would take us in back then. Or in March this year, when life finally seemed to be normalizing, we took a leap of faith to move to the middle of nowhere in the Garhwal Himalayas.
But in between, we found ourselves living in what we jokingly called âthe jail,â got chased out by inconsiderate owners, and lived in a place where the wash basin was inconspicuously missing from the bathroom! And donât even get me started about rentals with mouldy walls, dated furniture and design so unaesthetic, it hurts the eye. Hopefully, itâs a case of eighth time lucky.
Iâve long believed that weâre a product of our choices.
I, for one, chose freedom over the stability of a long lease or ownership, and flexibility over the security of a full-time job â and was secretly proud of my choices. But when the pandemic hit, these choices became the bane of my nomadic existence!
In my story on The Dark Reality of Not Having a Home During the Pandemic on Journeys, I delve into all the unexpected challenges and deep introspection that have plagued my life over the past 15 months.
Other stories I loved writing
When I first began working full time and earning a sizeable salary, I experienced a constant urge to buy the next great thing to feel fulfilled. On the road, I slowly learnt to fight and block out that urge.
But the absence of travelling has created a void in my life, and my mind has begun to find other tangible ways to fill it.
During my solo land voyage from Thailand to India via Myanmar, I unexpectedly found myself on a different kind of journey â searching for a long lost family member in Yangon!
When things get better (and they will!), escape to these idyllic getaways in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh for a workation, hike or detox.
In Iran, I came to realize that what I felt within me was a deep ache of being separated from a people, land, culture and identity that felt part of my own. As though I wasnât an outsider at all. I was merely coming homeâ¦
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Books and films I recommend
Iâve heard much about the British-led exploitation of Uttarakhandâs forests, but never knew the history or extent of it. Through the life story of âPahari Wilson,â a runaway Englishman who married two Garhwali women and settled in Harsil, investigative journalist Robert Hutchison recreates life in Garhwal in the 1800s. A delightful read, if somewhat painful to think of the wilderness weâve lost.
A fascinating book about the Tarahumara, an obscure indigenous tribe in Mexico, considered the worldâs greatest ultra-runners! At a time of no travel, this book by Christopher McDougall took me virtually to the most inaccessible reaches of Chihuahua, a state I had eyed longingly on the map while in Mexico.
A charming Hinglish film based on the young son of a Hindu-Muslim couple who quit their high-flying jobs and moved home to India to chase the dream of making a film. Available on Netflix.
A bizarre, bizarre film based on a true story that played out multiple times in fast food chains across the US. Available on Prime Video.
The true story of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsberg and her early battles for gender equality. Gives me hope that one person (supported by others) indeed has the power to change an entire system! Available on Prime Video.
Stuff Iâm loving
Turns out, weâve been eating chocolate all wrong! Nitin and Poonam Chordia â Indiaâs first certified âchocolate tastersâ (yes that certification exists!) â have developed vegan-friendly dark chocolates with Indian cacao that are a sensory experience.
They include a cute note on how to taste it (a bit like wine) â and instead of the regular packaging, the chocolate comes in a wrapper made of upcycled cotton and cacao husk, in a thick aluminum foil that can be reused. They also do a lot more in a bid to be sustainable â see my Conscious Vibes video about it.
Assav Organics â A zero waste store in Dehradun, finally!
Every time I visit my folks in Dehradun, Iâm so excited to see how the valleyâs evolving despite being plagued by traffic and chaotic construction. The latest jewel in its crown is a zero waste store set up by ex-armyman Colonel Arvind, that sells certified organic groceries sourced from across India. Take your own containers or get them in paper bags.
From founder Pardita Mascarenhasâ kitchen, Break of Dawn delivers fresh homemade vegan feta cheese and almond milk (Iâm mad about the rose flavor) at doorsteps across Mumbai â at the break of dawn! Over almost six years of being vegan, Iâve tried many vegan milks and cheeses â and Parditaâs raise all benchmarks. Lucky you, Mumbai.
My latest video
For World Environment Day 2021, I imagined that our Planet Earth is calling us humansâ¦ my latest video is an interpretation of her message.
Howâre you doing 15 months into the pandemic? What kept you busy in June? What stories, books, films, videos and finds did you enjoy during the month?
The post The Shooting Star Diaries: The Dark Side of Being a Digital Nomad During a Pandemic. appeared first on The Shooting Star.
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A few months ago, I embarked on an unexpected journey to explore rural India. I walked precariously on a centuries-old hanging wooden bridge (only 5 remain to this day!) that connect the most remote villages of Ladakhâs Zanskar Valley. Witnessed the intimate love stories of four generations of women in a remote Uttarakhand village. Joined the ancient tradition of worshipping wild tigers in rural Maharashtra. Walked several kilometers in Keralaâs Wayanad district with a 63-year-old âwalking libraryâ who delivers books to those who love to read but have no access. Learnt how the tribal culture in Meghalayaâs South Garo Hills is helping preserve local biodiversity. And tried lost ancient superfoods with a 70+ year old Himachali coupleâ¦
All without stepping out!
Can we really explore rural India without leaving home?
Exactly a year ago, I was pacing up and down my terrace in Dehradun, feeling deeply concerned about how Indiaâs tourism industry â especially community based tourism in India â was going to survive the pandemic-induced lockdown. I longingly recalled many heartwarming moments I had shared with homestay hosts, guides, dhaba owners, craftspeople, natural medicine practitioners, musicians, local environmentalists and others over the past decade, on my quest to explore India beyond the beaten path.
Even though my income as a travel writer had dropped to zero, I had the privilege to dip into my savings and pivot into new digital opportunities, while sheltering at home. On the other hand, despite growing access to smartphones and the internet, the lack of digital skills and tailored opportunities in rural areas in India held people back.
This context sparked the idea of Voices of Rural India.
Voices of Rural India: Leveraging community based tourism in India to upgrade digital storytelling skills among rural communities
In August 2020, I joined hands with Malika Virdi, sarpanch of the Sarmoli Jainti Van Panchayat in Uttarakhand, and Osama Manzar, founder of the Digital Empowerment Foundation, to launch a not-for-profit digital initiative: Voices of Rural India.
Weâve been working towards revolutionizing digital storytelling in India by bringing stories from rural storytellers across the country â from Spiti to Kerala â in their own voices.
In the short-term, Voices of Rural India is creating a revenue stream for remote communities through digital journalism. In the long run, it aims to develop digital storytelling skills at the grassroots level, along with becoming a repository of local culture and knowledge, documented in local voices.
For the rest of us stuck at home, this is a chance to explore remote corners of India virtually, through the words, photos and videos of the very people we travel to meet. Personally, it has grown my post-covid bucket list to include some inspiring, amazing villages in India!
Our team has grown to include Namrata Shah, a travel buff who quit the corporate world to explore new avenues, and many passionate volunteers to support us with editing, publishing, social media, SEO, creating training materials, managing our whatsapp group and more.
If youâd like to volunteer with Voices of Rural India, please see current opportunities here.
A successor of @VoicesofMunsiari: Indiaâs first Instagram channel to be run entirely by a village community
Back in 2016, when I spent a month in Sarmoli, I was surprised to discover that this remote village in Uttarakhand comes together every summer to go birdwatching, practice yoga and run high altitude marathons! Thatâs when the idea of @voicesofmunsiari came about â an Instagram channel that would be run collectively by the village folk, sharing their everyday lives with the outside world. In subsequent years, we organized a smartphone collection drive through my blog, as well as a photography and Instagram workshop in Sarmoli village.
@voicesofmunsiari, which was purely driven by the passion of local creators, convinced us of the untapped talent and the need to create more digital storytelling opportunities.
When it gradually became obvious that rural tourism is unlikely to recover in the foreseeable future, Voices of Rural India was born â more ambitious in scope, with funding from the Digital Empowerment Foundation to pay storytellers directly in their bank account for every story published.
Now, as the second wave rages across the country, this time not even sparing remote places in India, the threat to lives and livelihoods feels even more real than before, compelling us to continue our mission with renewed fervor.
Missing rural tourism in India? Experience village life in India, virtually
Voices of Rural India is currently working with rural communities in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Meghalaya and Gujarat, through on-ground community-based tourism organisations: Global Himalayan Expedition, Spiti Ecosphere, Himalayan Ecotourism, Kabani, Himalayan Ark, Grassroutes Journeys and Cherish Expeditions â all glowing examples of rural tourism in India.
The storytellers are typically guides, homestay hosts, people involved in tourism, and youth and women from the community â and through our intensive storytelling process, we hope they can come to proudly own their heritage, traditions, culture, food and connection with nature.
Popular stories on Voices of Rural India
Over 40 stories so far, the themes on Voices of Rural India span everything from the age-old traditions, to the architecture of old village houses in India, to women empowerment in rural India, to lost Himalayan superfoods, to the challenges of conservation and development in rural India, to how Indian village life has changed over the decades.
Weâre humbled to see Voices of Rural India featured on The Times of India, The Hindu, Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveller, FirstPost, Outlook Traveller, YourStory, Homegrown and other publications. And immensely grateful for all your support.
Stay home, stay safe and continue to explore rural Indiaâ¦ virtually.
Have you met inspiring storytellers on your travels in rural India?
PS: Hope you and your loved ones around the world are safe and well. If youâre battling Indiaâs second wave, Iâve found Twitter to be immensely helpful in supporting people looking for oxygen, beds, plasma etc. If your appeal needs amplification, please tag / DM me on Twitter @shivya.
Stay safe, stay sane, and know that weâll get through this.
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Sustainable luxury travel sounds like an oxymoron, but it doesn’t have to be. One sustainable luxury hotel in Kerala is showing the way.
As a travel writer, I’ve had the chance to sample many high-end accommodations and luxury wildlife lodges. Despite the comfort and pampering, I’ve often left feeling conflicted about their enormous environmental footprint.
Those cards floating about in the rooms, saying they care about the environment and wouldn’t want to wash sheets and towels everyday, that’s mostly greenwashing.
What is sustainable luxury travel anyway?
Simply put, it is the idea that high-end comfort can coexist with eco-friendly, socially-conscious, low-impact tourism practices.
Is luxury travel in India sustainable?
Unfortunately, most luxury hotels in India tend to generate huge amounts of single-use plastic trash through bottled water and toiletries. Many don’t bother to segregate their waste, contributing to landfill and ocean dumps. And the carbon emissions generated by their indiscriminate use of electricity, air-conditioned rooms and food imported from around the world are significant. Sustainable tourism examples in the luxury space are only a handful.
As someone who tends to gravitate towards small, eco-friendly homestays, I suppose I’ve often looked at luxury travel in India – and elsewhere – with a critical eye. But that changed when I visited Spice Village in Thekkady last year. Here’s why:
The cozy huts at Spice Village are thatched and cooled naturally with dried elephant grass
Grown and harvested with the support of the forest department. It helps create a fire line to control the spread of forest fires.
Located just across the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady
Perfect for an early morning walk in the forest with a local guide and ranger. We saw a tiger kill on ours
The art of natural cooling was once practiced by the local Mannan tribe – but nearly forgotten
Until Spice Village decided to recreate their traditional architecture, eliminating the need for an air conditioner even on hot, sunny days! The thatch has to be replaced every alternate year, creating employment and continued practice for local tribesmen who have unfortunately replaced their own thatched roofs with concrete.
Nearly 75% of all electricity at Spice Village comes from solar energy
Used for powering the rooms and huge boilers for hot water. Instead of storing the excess energy in batteries, it is channeled to the grid for debit at night and in the monsoon months.
After estimating that the resort discards 45,000 plastic mineral water bottles annually, they installed their own RO filtration and bottling plant
Filtration is done via reverse osmosis, then bio dynamization adds mineral back to the water. Drinking water is now served only in glass bottles – perhaps the first hotel of this size in India to do so!
Instead of single-use plastic, toiletries are available in cute, reusable ceramic jars, along with paper-wrapped handmade soaps
All waste is segregated and sent for recycling, composted for manure or made into biogas for cooking
According to an estimate by Spice Village, 250-400 kg of food waste is composted annually, using vermi composting and micro organism composting. Do other big hotels send that much or more unsegregated waste into landfills?
Rainwater harvesting and a well on site supports almost all water needs
All sewage generated by the resort is recycled, converted into odorless waste water and used to irrigate the organic garden
Building a circular system from rainwater to waste water to organic produce to compost for manure and biogas for cooking.
Old newspapers and magazines are recycled in-house into handmade paper, and used for stationary
I was blown away by the handmade paper unit, where travellers can try their hand at making recycled paper! This handmade paper is used for guest registration, scribble pads in the rooms and the outer layer of pens (though the refill is still plastic).
Much of the furniture is handcrafted from recycled pine wood
Over 50% of staff is employed locally, from the towns and villages of Idukki district
Photographed here is Baby with his wife, who oversees sourcing from local entrepreneurs.
And many everyday supplies are sourced from rural entrepreneurs
I was lucky enough to go behind the scenes and meet some entrepreneurs who supply reusable cloth bags, dustbin liners, paapad (poppadum) and candles. Hearing about their journey, from joining Kerala’s Responsible Tourism Mission training, to setting up their own small business, to supplying in bulk to Spice Village and gradually scaling up, was incredibly inspiring.
One of the two restaurants at Spice Village serves seasonal food sourced ONLY within 50 miles!
The in-house organic farm grows all kinds of herbs and leafy greens, while women in nearby villages supply pesticide-free veggies from their kitchen gardens. The chefs actually climb trees in the backyard for truly farm-to-table meals! I only wish there was a greater focus on vegan food, given the high footprint of meat, seafood and dairy.
After the lockdown, Spice Village has been reopening slowly – 40 out of 52 rooms are now open with serious covid-safety measures in place
Spread out over 12 acres of forest and spice plantation, the huts are naturally geared towards social distancing. Rooms are thoroughly sanitized and the staff encouraged to wear masks indoors. Safety protocols laid out by WHO, industry experts and the government are being followed closely.
While international travel remains a distant dream, so many incredible, less-explored, eco-friendly, socially-inclusive gems await in our own backyard in India…
Tourism – whether its family luxury travel or solo luxury travel – if done right, can help protect the local way of life, create respectable employment opportunities and positively impact the environment. Spice Village is showing the way!
Have you experienced sustainable luxury travel in India or elsewhere? Is Spice Village on your bucket list?
*Note: I was hosted by CGH Earth at Spice Village. Lucky me!
For more sustainable ways to travel, sustainable luxury hotels, sustainable adventure travel and other sustainable travel ideas, check out this collection.
The post Can Luxury Travel be Sustainable? What I Learnt Staying at Spice Village, Thekkady. appeared first on The Shooting Star.
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Meet the Indian Solo Traveller Who Quit His Job Set Out for His Dream Trip in 2020 and Got Locked Down in Colombia!
While browsing through my Instagram DMs a few months ago, there was one that really jumped out at me. The world had been catapulted into a global pandemic and borders were shut, and Saurabh Gupta aka @anindiantraveler – a solo backpacker from Mumbai – found himself stuck on the other side of the globe, in Colombia!
In February 2020, after working, saving up and quitting his job of many years, he finally embarked on his dream solo trip to South America. But just a month into his travels, he found himself locked down indefinitely at a hostel in Medellin, far far away from the familiarity of home – an adventure no one could’ve anticipated.
I got chatting at length with Saurabh about his decision to quit his full time job, his past travels, what took him to South America and how he spent 6 months locked down in Colombia. Gear up for a fascinating, inspiring story.
An introvert banker turns full time solo traveller
“World cinema introduced me to so many different cultures, people, languages, regions and landscapes. At one point I wanted to experience them in real life. So I decided to travel solo.” ~ Saurabh Gupta
For much of his life, Saurabh had felt stuck in a loop. Work, office, home, repeat. As an introvert, he found refuge in world cinema, especially films by the likes of Krzysztof Kieślowski and Satyajit Ray, which induced in him a desire to explore the world out there.
Like many fellow Indians, he was in awe of the western world, but when he travelled to Western Europe and the US, he felt a bit underwhelmed. It was in Central Asia that he hitchhiked for the first time, and felt a strong draw to the unique culture and hospitality of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
This trip gradually nudged him to quit his banking work of more than a decade, sell the outsourcing sales agency he ran with his older brother, and travel and write full time. As a budget traveller, Saurabh says he tries to hitchhike, couch-surf, volunteer and cook whenever possible. His savings and investments pay for his basic costs.
After he quit in late 2019, he spent two months exploring East Africa – seeking out mountain gorillas and hiking to a crater lake in Rwanda, exploring the beaches and wildlife of Kenya, and volunteering at a coffee farm and reforestation project in Uganda. His travels then took him to Northeast India, where he trekked in the Dzukou valley and explored Manipur and Mizoram among the other seven sisters.
Gradually, he began dreaming of travelling without a set itinerary, without a return date. Little did he know that the future was going to offer literally that.
Setting out on his dream trip to South America… in late Feb 2020!
“I wanted to travel extensively across South America for atleast a year. It was supposed to be my longest trip… which it still is, but under completely different circumstances!” ~ Saurabh Gupta
Saurabh had put off travelling to South America for a long time, constrained by time and finances. After much planning, he finally boarded a flight to Colombia on 19th Feb 2020. He dreamt of journeying from the northernmost to the southernmost point of South America, going with the flow along the way to let people and places mold his plans.
But 2020 of course, had its own agenda…
Getting locked down in Colombia for 6 months
“I had travelled solo to four continents but never lived in a foreign country, nor did I intend to. But the universe had different plans for me.” ~ Saurabh Gupta
Saurabh explored northern Colombia for about a month, where he attended the Barranquilla’s Carnival – the second largest in the world, travelled to Punta Gallinas – the nothernmost point of South America, saw sand dunes along the stunning beaches etc. Then he took an overnight bus from Cartagena to Medellin. As he began exploring the city, he noticed that many attractions were closing down. It was mid-March and most people were not taking the coronavirus news too seriously.
After a few days in Medellin though, news suddenly broke out that almost the entire world was going into lockdown – Medellin, Colombia, South America, India. Saurabh anticipated that it would be a short term state of affairs, and decided to stay on in Medellin to avoid buying a highly overpriced ticket back to India. In the meantime, airports, schools, colleges, offices, shops, malls, transportation, everything shut – and Medellin went quiet.
During the initial lockdown, he could only step out twice in 10 days to stock up on groceries or use the ATM, monitored by the last digit of the cedula (the Colombian National ID card) or the passport number. He was staying in a budget hostel at the time, and rather enjoyed the experience of hanging out and cooking with travellers from across the continent.
But as he lost hope of returning home or travelling again, frustration gradually set in. To keep his spirits up, he decided to change hostels and neighborhoods.
Discovering slow travel and creative pursuits
“I used to think and laugh about the fact that I quit my work of so many years because I didn’t want to be stuck in one place for my whole life. But ironically, I felt stuck again even though I was travelling.” ~ Saurabh Gupta
Colombia had one of the world’s longest lockdowns – 6 entire months! Over the course of this time, Saurabh moved 3 hostels, 2 Airbnb rentals and undertook a 3-week stint volunteering in exchange for stay and food. He lived in several different neighborhoods in Medellin, of which his favorite was Envigado, quiet and close to the mountains, waterfalls, nature walks and parks. The houses and infrastructure there reminded him of his childhood in Panchkula.
Once he set his mind to spending his energy on positive pursuits, he immersed himself in learning Spanish, which he could practice everyday with native speakers. He got better at cooking, practiced salsa, took to Spanish music and signed up for an online writing course. When the restrictions eased up a bit, he would go out on long walks, bicycle rides and hikes, often covering 15-20km a day, sometimes solo and sometimes with resident friends. He met many new people and shared meals, cooking recipes, dance steps, music and long conversations – and perhaps that’s what kept him going in dismal times.
During the fifth month of his lockdown life in Medellin, Saurabh even got invited to a local radio show, where the RJ quizzed him about Medellin, India and his time in lockdown!
Also read: The Joy of Slow Travel
The end of the lockdown, finally
“I don’t feel disheartened now. I’m glad I had the experience of living in a foreign country under strange circumstances – something I won’t forget for the rest of my life.” ~ Saurabh Gupta
Saurabh had been in touch with the Indian embassy all this while, and at some point, was seriously contemplating returning back to India. The evacuation flights however, were priced rather high, and he had also begun to feel a sense of belonging in Medellin.
By now, he would walk several hours everyday, listening to Spanish music, discovering different parts of the city. On one such walk, he recalls, he went to La Sierra – labelled one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods of Medellin. There, he met a guy who instantly recognized that he was from India and invited him home for a cup of coffee and oblea (a local sweet). Having worked in the Middle East and made Indian friends, he was delighted to see Saurabh in his neighborhood.
Despite having an Indian passport, Saurabh’s US tourist visa allowed him to stay in Colombia for upto 6 months – and the Colombian government eased up visa restrictions during the lockdown too.
When the lockdown finally ended in Colombia in September 2020, he explored a bit more of the country. A couple of weeks ago, in February 2021, he eventually boarded a flight from Mexico to India – one whole year after his departure.
Words of wisdom for those whose travel dreams were shattered by the pandemic
Saurabh: “After I started travelling full time, strange things have happened with me again and again. I went to Kashmir with my brother and had to return early because of the suspension of Article 370. Then during my solo trip to East Africa, I had to return early to India to attend to an urgent family matter. When I travelled solo to Northeast India, I wanted to explore all states but had to cut my trip short due to the CAA/NRC protests. And now the lockdown during my Colombia trip…
2020 has been really challenging for most of us, but it has taught me that with an adventurous mindset and a positive attitude towards people and life, we can make the most of even such unpredictable times. My lockdown story is an apt example!”
All photos in this post belong to Saurabh, used with permission.
What’s your lockdown story, and how did this time affect your travel dreams? What have you learnt from it?
This post is part of my “Solo Travellers from Asia” Series – which aims to shed the spotlight on courageous souls who are challenging conventions in their own fierce ways, yet are typically underrepresented in the travel space.
If you’ve met inspiring solo travellers from Asia who I could consider featuring in this series, please connect us!
Other posts from this solo travel series
Meet the Indian Solo Traveller Who Quit His Job, Set Out for His Dream Trip in 2020 and Got Locked Down in Colombia! published first on https://airriflelab.tumblr.com
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When it comes to finding a new rifle for hunting deer, it can be quite a daunting task. You need to consider a lot of factors before you pick the rifle that suits you best. We’ve looked into these factors and selected the best rifles for deer hunting. Read below for a lowdown on each rifle and what makes them unique.
A few things to consider
Here are some of the things you need to think about when choosing a rifle for deer hunting.
Setting a budget
Before you start looking through the range of rifles, you should take a moment to decide how much you are willing to spend. Rifles can range from a few hundred pounds to a few thousand pounds, so there are plenty of options available to suit your budget.
Straight pull or turn bolt action?
Think about what kind of action you are looking for in a rifle. Remember that this can affect your hunting efficiency. For example, straight pull has a faster action, so it is more suited for hunters who need to be able to move quickly.
Buying second-hand is worth exploring
Buying a brand new rifle can be quite expensive, so looking for second-hand models is definitely worth your time. This is something that has grown online quite quickly over the last few years, so finding the model that you want at a more reasonable second=hand price should not be too difficult.
What are the best rifles for deer hunting?
This rifle is, versatile, well-built, and has increased in popularity over the last few years. It’s considered to be a more traditional rifle, but it comes with a range of modern functionalities that make it very reliable and accurate when you are out in the field.
It is one of the more pricey rifles available on the market, but this is reflected in its overall quality. And it is designed to remain at a high quality for years.
The Highland model is one of the most iconic provided by Rigby. Since they started to go back into production in 2014, they become instantly popular with experienced shooters. Much like the Sauer 202, the Stalker combines both tradition and modernity in a way that makes the rifle aesthetically pleasing.
This is a handy rifle when it comes to long-range shooting. The 22-inch long barrel and slow taper are welcome additions when it comes to assisting with accuracy. This makes the Highland Stalker an ideal choice for novice shooters.
If you are looking for a rifle that is a little more affordable without sacrificing too much on the quality, then this rifle is a perfect choice. Available for less than £1,000, the Steyr Mannlicher Pro Hunter is particularly popular among hunters who spend a lot of time in dense woodland.
This rifle carries a decent amount of weight, making it comfortable to handle for long periods. You can also adjust the trigger through a screw in the trigger blade, so then you can give the pull the right amount of weight for you. Given its price and general practicality, this is another good rifle for a novice shooter.
This is a great choice of rifle for someone who wants to purchase something that they feel is uniquely their own. The Remington 700 can include a wide range of modifications and accessories, meaning you can essentially design the rifle around what you want and the way you hunt.
While many feel that the Remington 700 has become outdated since more modern rifles have become available on the market, it still has a classic feel and reliability that makes it one of the best rifles available. For both beginners and seasoned hunters, this remains one of the more reliable and best rifles for deer hunting.
Specialist shooting insurance from Gunplan
Once you have chosen the rifle you feel suits you best, it’s vital that you have the right insurance before you start your next deer stalking trip. With our specialist shooting insurance, you can insure your new rifle against theft, loss, and damage. Complete an online quote within minutes today.
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There are plenty of generic lists of things to do in Fort Kochi out there. But you could look beyond popular places to visit in Fort Kochi and instead, connect with locals over music, poetry and cleaning up Fort Kochi beach, spot humpback dolphins, try yoga, discover traditional food and unique cafes in Fort Kochi, and more!
This post is part of my series to discover India and the world more mindfully in the new “normal”. Please see my detailed safety tips while travelling and recommendations for socially distanced hideouts.
It wasn’t love at first sight when I first visited Fort Kochi some 8 years ago. Merely passing through the city, perhaps the riot of sights, sounds and smells overwhelmed my senses.
But on a trip at the beginning of last year, I took it slow, discovered many unusual things to do in Fort Kochi and overcame the initial sensory overload. Indulging my taste buds in the fusion of hipster cafes and traditional thalis, cycling along the quaint by-lanes and aroma-filled streets of Mattancherry, and connecting with locals over music, poetry and art, I felt my every sense indulged.
I must admit though, that the more I went beyond the regular places to see in Fort Kochi checklists, the more I felt an ache about the city’s lost potential. If some streets were turned into walking-only streets, the old houses of Jew town better preserved and all Fort Kochi hotels compelled to build in the heritage architectural style, we could have a most unique living heritage destination!
Nonetheless, nostalgic tales from the days of the city’s ancient trading past continue to live on here, and we must wade through many layers to find them.
Meaningful things to do in Fort Kochi
Behold, some of my favorite discoveries, unique places to eat in Fort Kochi and Fort Kochi attractions beyond the beaten path:
In this post:
Try plant-based food and yoga at Loving Earth Cafe – one of the best cafes in Fort Kochi
There are plenty of Fort Kochi cafes to choose from, but after nearly a month of living in a stunning little village in Tamil Nadu, I wanted creative, clean, healthy food to pamper my taste buds. Just an hour after arriving, even before I began to explore Fort Kochi, I found my way to Loving Earth Cafe – a gorgeous space with a tropical decor, warm vibe and innovative plant-based menu that immediately lured me in.
The refreshing “Mint my day” smoothie, yum-hum (hummus and home-baked focaccia) toasts and the fudgy chocolate chunk brownies were just the comfort food I needed.
At a time when ethical, environmental and health concerns are making many people reconsider their dietary choices, indulging in a meal at Loving Earth is testimony to the fact that food without animal products doesn’t have to be boring! Infact, I found the food so much more creative than other cafes in the vicinity (especially the popular Kashi Art Cafe Fort Kochi), that I went back multiple times.
Our search for yoga classes in Fort Kochi even led us to their cozy little upstairs studio for an afternoon of intense yet rejuvenating hatha yoga.
Cruise on a boat made in the original Brunton boatyard – and if you’re lucky, you might spot Indian Humpback Dolphins in Fort Kochi!
Back when Fort Kochi was a bustling trading settlement, it was home to a heritage boat building site called Brunton Boatyard. CGH Earth – which now runs one of the most unique hotels at Fort Kochi on this site – managed to get back a boat built there nearly 81 years ago, retired from service in the Lakshadweep islands, and refurbished it for a sunset cruise!
On board this historic vessel, we set sail on the Arabian Sea, where a school of wild Indian Ocean Humpback Dolphins swam just metres away from our boat, as the golden light of the setting sun danced on the waves. Threatened by overfishing and habitat changes, the numbers of these gentle giants have dwindled over the years, so spotting them in the waters off Fort Kochi gave us a glimpse of what we stand to lose.
As we drifted along small coastal villages, Brahmini Kites spread their massive wings above and swerved in the breeze. The iconic (and now symbolic) fishing nets of Fort Kochi made me feel like I was in a time warp.
Help clean up Fort Kochi beach every Saturday
Some four years ago, local residents, including Fort Kochi hotel and homestay owners, came together to clean up their beach. They gradually established the Clean Fort Kochi Foundation, and clean-ups happen every Saturday now.
Joining a beach cleanup drive might not feature on a regular traveller’s agenda during a stay in Fort Kochi, but given that we’re definitely going to relish a sunset or three on the beach, it definitely should be. It’s a great way to learn about the city’s ecosystem, connect with locals and question our own consumption.
Indulge in a true blue organic Kerala thali at The Village – one of the best restaurants in Fort Kochi
I might never have stumbled upon The Village, given the wide (and confusing) variety of places to eat in Fort Kochi, had it not been recommended by a newfound friend, Krithika – who moved to Fort Kochi a while ago and runs a boutique travel company called The Wander Bug.
Run by two friendly Malayali brothers, this rustic eatery serves up the most delicious, wholesome, organic Kerala thalis, whipped up with locally sourced ingredients and traditional family recipes. Many delights on offer can be customized without animal products, and there’s usually even a daily special vegan dessert on offer. What better way to support a local business while delighting your taste buds?
Go cycling in Fort Kochi under the moonlit sky
I can still sniff the humid sea air and see the moon peeping out from behind the clouds in the vast skies above. On quiet nights, instead of wondering what to do in Fort Kochi, we borrowed bicycles from our hotel, zoomed into a map of Fort Kochi and cycled under the spectacular umbrella-like canopies of ancient rain trees.
Past colorful little cafes and boutique shops we rode, along the coast we rode, to the empty beaches with the moonlight crashing into the waves. What a feeling!
Keep an evening for open mic poetry, music, art and clay oven pizzas at David Hall Fort Kochi
There are plenty of art galleries and old structures all around, but at David Hall, the history of Fort Kochi seems to come alive. Tucked away amid the rain trees, this 17th century Dutch bungalow has been restored into an art gallery that showcases the work of both local artists and international art inspired by Kerala. We were lucky to catch a block painting art exhibition, beautifully depicting local life in the city and the pace at which it’s changing.
David Hall is one of the few places in Fort Kochi where every evening, local and visiting musicians and poets gather together for an open mic – a cosy venue for some creative inspiration and intimate culture swap, worth ditching other bars in Fort Kochi for! And while you’re at it, give their clay oven-baked cashew cheese vegan pizza a try – DELICIOUS.
Stay in a time warp at Brunton Boatyard – possibly the best hotel in Fort Kochi
When I first arrived at Brunton Boatyard, I was convinced it was atleast a 100 years old. The intricate wooden ceilings with Dutch and Portuguese influences. The “pankhas” – once manually worked by a “pankhawala” to keep it cool. The tea lounge reminiscent of the British era. The arched walls and windows. The old school switchboards. It felt stuck in time…
Much to my surprise, it turned out that it was built only about twenty years ago, by a Swiss architect who specializes in the old architecture of Fort Kochi. It is located on the site of the original Brunton boatyard though!
Besides being an ode to the local architecture, Brunton Boatyard practices rainwater harvesting and is a single use plastic-free zone. They have their own bottling plant to serve up drinking water in glass bottles and offer natural toiletries in ceramic bottles. The eco-friendly practices clubbed with a laidback luxurious experience makes it one of the best places to stay in Fort Kochi. Now open with limited inventory in the new “normal”, they seem to be exercising every safety caution to host travellers.
For Fort Kochi attractions beyond the beaten path, explore little-known villages and backwaters with a local
I sorely wish I had planned to spend atleast one more day in Fort Kochi, for the idea of cycling beyond the beaten path caught my fancy. As part of the Art of Bicycle Trips, a Kerala local offers a half day trip exploring the coastal villages, rice paddies, organic farms and pristine backwaters just beyond.
Having explored the outskirts of Bangalore on one of their cycling trips, I imagine this one too would’ve taken me to a palm-fringed, traffic-free, tourist-free side of Kochi. Atleast I have an excuse to return.
Also read: God’s Own Island by the Kasaragod Backwaters
Your questions about Fort Kochi
Best time to visit Fort Kochi
I visited Fort Kochi in the second half of February, and even though the afternoons were hot and sultry, the early mornings and evenings were wonderfully cool. The winter months from November to February are ideal for exploring this tropical nook of Kerala.
Avoid the busy Kochi-Muziris Biennale (an international art festival) dates – which attract big crowds and a hike in accommodation prices – unless of course you’re an art aficionado.
Best place to stay in Fort Kochi
When deciding where to stay in Fort Kochi, think about the experience you’re after – and your budget of course. On my first trip, I was strapped for cash and stayed at a low budget homestay. On a work assignment this time, I was lucky to be hosted by CGH Earth. I hope to discover and share more eco-conscious hideouts on future trips.
Best restaurant in Fort Kochi
There’s no dearth of good restaurants in Fort Kochi, but some of my favourites are:
I hope to try the food at Veda Wellness and Aruvi Nature Life on my next trip!
Shopping in Fort Kochi
As someone who aspires to minimalism, I rarely shop on my travels, but I was delighted to stumble upon Kalpa – an organic health store that stocks local grains, artisan chocolates, all kinds of superfoods, handmade soaps and more. It’s located right next to The Village restaurant.
Jew Street also has a treasure trove of stores with unique antiques from the times gone by.
Things to do in Fort Kochi at night
Other unique places to visit in Fort Kochi and Mattancherry
I need to plan a third trip to leisurely explore the wonders of Jew Town. If the Fort Kochi synagogue is anything to go by, four centuries of history linger beyond the off-putting traffic and sellers that now line its streets. I’ve heard of some restoration initiatives in the area, and sure hope some of Kerala’s unique heritage can be salvaged before it’s too late.
Getting to and around Fort Kochi
Bike rental in Fort Kochi
Most hotels and accommodations offer a bike rent in Fort Kochi – and even if they don’t have their own bikes, they can definitely arrange one for you. Ask ahead of time.
You can also get in touch with BLive to do one of their e-bike trips.
Fort Kochi ferry
For the price of a few rupees, you can hop on to the Fort Kochi ferry to Ernakulam, Vyleen or Willingdon Island – a great budget way to experience the water and the local life around.
Airport to Fort Kochi / Ernakulam to Fort Kochi
Last I heard, multiple air-conditioned buses now ply from Kochi Airport to Fort Kochi. It’s best to arrive during the day and ask at the information desk. It’s also possible to take the ferry part of the way to cut down the travel time.
Cherai Beach to Fort Kochi
On my first trip to Fort Kochi, we did the long drive on a scooter to Cherai Beach, to be somewhat disappointed by our destination. I hear it’s a lot more popular now, and don’t particularly recommend it.
What are some interesting things to do in Fort Kochi you’ve discovered on your trip? What are you most looking forward to?
*Note: I travelled to Fort Kochi on assignment for CGH Earth. As you know, opinions on this blog are always my own.
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A collection of organic farms, silent meals, and unique cafes and restaurants in Auroville – including the best restaurants in Pondicherry nearby – to indulge your tastebuds.
Guest post by Vinita Contractor
I first travelled to Auroville on a quick day trip from Chennai some 20 years ago, and was surprised to discover this land of possibilities. With my ecological and spiritual bent of mind, it felt like a place so within reach, yet rare to find.
Over the years, I’ve been back in Auroville to volunteer at Sadhana Forest, take a course on raw food and explore the township on a family vacation. Its natural, organic and sustainable farming revolution has led to an explosion of cafes and restaurants in Auroville that are healthy yet soul-satisfying.
Also read: A Slow Travel Guide to Auroville
Whether you’re staying in Auroville, visiting Auroville for a short trip, volunteering in Auroville or just spending a day in Auroville, these are my favorite restaurants and cafes in Auroville:
In this post:
Best restaurants in Auroville
Maiyam Past Food Restaurant
What first struck me about Maiyam was the signage outside. It read “past food”.
For a second I thought it was a typo, as we are so accustomed to hearing about fast food. But then I realized that this is a special place that serves up traditional South Indian / Dravidian fare, made fresh in small batches.
Maiyam has an earthy feel from the moment you enter. The low seating, chattais (woven mats) on the floor and solid wood furniture give it a very warm, homely vibe, with lots of character. The shelves lining the restaurant are stocked with organic, heirloom varieties of grains and legumes, jaggery, pickles and natural products.
The menu changes every day, with set meals for lunch and dinner, and a small range of homemade snacks. I’ve tried their thinai (foxtail millet), knolkol (turnip), thoran (dry seasonal dish), kozhambu (tamarind based curry) and other dry and curried vegetable preparations, with lightly spiced chutneys and mango pickle. This wholesome, authentic and delicious meal is best rounded up with ragi laddoos for dessert. I even indulged in a rare cup of coffee with coconut milk (without having to customize it), flavored with their melt-in-the-mouth, caramel-like jaggery!
Most of the food is accidentally vegan, but it’s best to double check before ordering. I absolutely loved everything I’ve eaten at Maiyam, and if I ever stay in Auroville long term, this would become my frequent lunch spot.
Satchitananda Raw Food Restaurant
Tucked away in a quiet pocket of Auroville is the Satchitananda Raw Food Restaurant, started by Anandi Vaithialingam. Having been around for almost a decade and known for their commitment to healthy, clean eating, it is considered an institution among those who live in Auroville.
Everything served here is raw, but don’t let that put you off. The set lunch menu, which includes delights like flax seed crackers, tomato rasam, sprouts salad, wraps and patties, raw sabzis, vegan cheesecake and homemade kombucha, is freshly made, and I could actually sense and perceive its aliveness. It’s neither heavy on spice nor salt, so I could enjoy the taste of each ingredient and experience a fullness I could never imagine from food that isn’t cooked!
I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time learning from Anandi in her kitchen, and also to see the Kottakarai Organic Food Processing Unit (KOFPU) next door which she set up. That is where much of the packaged health food like kombucha, herbal teas etc. are prepared and supplied all over Auroville and many other cities in India.
Also read: Auroville: Utopia or Something Like It
The first thing that struck me about Sakura Sushi is the huge mural on the side wall of the restaurant, which shows an old Indian woman, nose ring et al, eating sushi with chopsticks.
Inside this cozy little place is an open kitchen, where you can watch sushi rolls being prepared fresh and feast on them with your eyes first.
I thoroughly enjoyed the cucumber avocado spring onion sushi, grilled marinated capsicum maki, tempeh in teriyaki sauce nigiri, and the red beans with fermented cabbage, among the many vegan options.
The owner Arun used to be a chef in Germany, and has truly introduced a slice of Japan in Auroville. His wife stocks ferments, dips, dressings and desserts at the restaurant. Don’t forget to pick up something healthy for later.
Also read: The Ultimate Vegan Travel Guide to Japan
Best cafes in Auroville
Neem Tree Eatery
This lovely home-style outdoor café near the Auroville Library, is built with exposed redbricks which are so quintessentially Auroville.
I loved sitting under the lovely neem tree to enjoy the fare at this quaint cafe – perfect to while away an afternoon instead of rushing to figure things to do in Auroville. The open kitchen allows a chance to chat with the local staff too.
The menu at the Neem Tree Eatery is pretty varied. Juices, South Indian fare, international food, mini meals, sandwiches, beverages and desserts – all very fresh and reasonably priced. I’ve indulged in the ragi dosa, red rice puttu, mixed veg parathas, appams and vegan chocolate cake, and my favorite might just be the indulgent chocolate dosa!
Bread & Chocolate
If you’re a fan of Indian raw cacao, the Auroville-based brand Mason & Co is no stranger. Bread & Chocolate is their hugely popular cafe in Auroville, so much so that you could be looking at long waiting periods over the weekend – and for good reason!
Their delicately crafted sourdough sandwiches, especially the summertime tartine with oven roasted tomatoes, marinated onions, vegan cream cheese, microgreens and basil pesto is a winner. My sons couldn’t get enough of their homemade vegan ice creams, especially the chocolate orange!
I have pretty much tried everything on the menu – and love everything about it: the portion sizes, the food plating aesthetics, the high quality ingredients and of course, the food itself. I dream of the Miss Saigon Abundance bowl, the breakfast board, the Elvis and the Cocoa Granola!
Don’t leave without a glimpse of their separate take away section, where homemade chocolates are available per piece; the almond praline is divine!
Dreamers Café Auroville
Chances are, you’ll wind up at the visitors centre, looking for places to visit in Auroville. Stop by at the busy and popular Dreamers Cafe if you manage to find a table. My family and I spent a lovely afternoon there, gazing at people walking by, while enjoying our succulent smoked tofu sandwiches and refreshing lemonade.
The Right Path Cafe
Just a few metres away from Dreamers Cafe is the Right Path Café – with the largest selection of thin-crust vegan pizzas in all of Auroville (it could give Tanto Pizzeria Auroville a run for its money)!
Think vegan cheese, along with a large range of international and Indianized options. Who knew having too many choices of pizza can be a problem?!
Unique Auroville Food Experiences: Organic farms, health stores and silent meals
Krishna McKenzie’s Solitude Farm is based on permaculture, where homegrown organic produce is used to create delightful, wholesome food. Farm to table in the true sense!
Their lunch thali is the real deal. A complete winner for a person like me who loves simple, healthy food, in the natural setting of a farm.
I especially loved the interesting mix of greens used in the salad – ‘chicken spinach’, sweet potato leaves, guava leaves; so refreshing and different from the usual salad leaves like lettuce and arugula.
If you’re thinking of volunteering in Auroville, opportunities are available for those who’d like to learn more about permaculture and sustainable living. If you already live / work in Auroville, Solitude Farm offers a weekly farm produce subscription!
For me, Goyo has been the most unique dining experience ever!
We pre-booked a meal, then went on something like a treasure hunt to look for the place. Along the way, we met a few others seeking to experience it too.
We were served a welcome Korean green tea, while sitting on rocks and logs under a beautiful tree. Then led to the main dining area – aesthetic, soothing and eclectic, all at once.
The community table was laid out with Auroville earthern ware, and the hostess settled us in. She then explained the concept of a “silent meal” and shared some words for us to ponder on while we eat.
The meal was laid out on the table and everyone served themselves. We savoured the meal in blissful silence. The unexpected riot of tastes, the ambience and the music playing in the background all made for a truly unforgettable experience.
Energy Home serves raw health food and doubles up as a health-conscious store. Their shelves and walls are filled with health powders, medicated / essential oils, crystals, and natural and organic products. I spent hours pouring over the many things this gem of a place has gathered.
For breakfast, I tried the raw idli and raw upma – which definitely take time to grow on you. The winner was a herbal drink with 9 different leaves and herbs, and for that alone, I can definitely recommend a visit to this family-run place.
Vegan desserts in Auroville
Gelato Factory was like heaven for my kids (and me!) with an array of 18 vegan ice cream flavours to choose from! Think hazelnut, pistachio, chocolate orange, stracciatella, sorbets – served up in vegan ice cream cones.
Even though on holiday, we made sure we had lots of fruits, salads and wholesome food through the day – so an ice cream a day is permissible, right? We went there every single day on our five-day family trip!
Other places to eat in Auroville
There are plenty of other interesting, vegan-friendly cafes and restaurants in Auroville, which are very well known and never fail to please. Each is unique in its own way, symbolizes the philosophy behind Auroville and serves incredible food. Some of these include:
Try the Moroccan chickpeas tagine, smoked tofu burger, fruit sorbets and coconut carrot cake at Naturellement.
The menu at Marc’s Cafe consists of an extensive coffee list, and includes sandwiches, juices and smoothies. I liked their vegan biscotti and balmadi coffee.
La Terrace Café
The hummus plate, marinated mushroom salad and vegan chocolate ice cream at La Terrace Cafe are worth a try!
The Solar Kitchen
Serves only lunch, needs to be booked a day in advance and offers simple meals made by volunteers, that change every day. Only the Auroville card is accepted here.
The homemade bean burgers, falafels, hummus, salad – everything on the Mediterranean menu at Well Cafe is to die for. They also work to empower women from nearby villages and retail upcycled, handmade accessories.
Also read: 6 Offbeat Experiences Near Hampi
Best restaurants in Pondicherry
Vegan Zeals is Pondicherry’s first all-vegan restaurant, which serves everything hearty, from pasta to noodles to parathas and varieties of rice. I tried their vegan zeals veggie pizza and mushroom stragonoff, and while the food could’ve been better, it was lovely to attend a movie screening there over a light snack.
Surguru’s South Indian thali, with several dry and curry preparations, as well as a la carte tiffin dishes are finger-licking good. Vegan options are not marked, but once you explain your dietary preference to the staff, they will happily omit any dishes that are not suitable.
Earth Story is a popular store selling organic and sustainable products, and has outlets in several parts of Southern India now, with the most recent one in Pondicherry. Housed within the Vegan Zeals restaurant, you can grab Papa Cream’s creamy vegan ice cream, smoked tofu by Aurosoya, oat and cashew milk by GoodMylk and many other vegan delights.
What are your favorite Auroville food spots? Which of the above would you most like to try?
*Cover image: Maiyam Past Food.
If you’d like to contribute a guest post to The Shooting Star, please see guidelines here.
About the guest author:
Vinita Contractor is a holistic nutrition and lifestyle coach, traveller and free spirit, who believes in conscious living and simple eating. She founded The Leaf E-academy with an aim to make healthy cooking accessible to everyone. She believes in making mindful choices as they impact our planet, other sentient beings and our own health. Her Youtube channel offers plant-based recipes, easy-to-make substitutes for dairy, and useful tips and inspiration for those looking to transition to a plant-based lifestyle. Connect with her on: Website | Instagram | Facebook | Youtube
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I have no doubt that a few years from now, we’ll look back at 2020 as a bad dream or something out of a sci-fi movie. It’s been labelled the darkest year in recent times – but as with all bleak years, this one came to an end too.
Our ancestors braved famines, world wars and pandemics, and their travails make ours seem relatively mild in comparison. They couldn’t fall back on Netflix, food deliveries or Zoom calls for support or distraction!
I’m sure we all have our stories of survival though. Being stranded away from loved ones, coping with mental health challenges, juggling household chores with fulltime jobs, dealing with a loss of income, or worse, dealing with Covid-19 itself. If you’ve lost someone, or are struggling to cope, I truly hope you’ll find the strength to face this difficult time. Know that our lifeboats might be different, but we’re all sailing through the same storm.
When I first sat down to write my annual reflections post, only the difficult moments of 2020 surfaced. I had to carefully reminisce through each month to find some uplifting moments, and hope to hang on to them as we move into 2021.
Beginning the year in Lesotho and Kruger!
It feels surreal to recall that just at the beginning of 2020, my partner and I were hiking amid the magnificent mountains and waterfalls of Lesotho – a small, stunning country in Southern Africa, home to the friendly Basotho people and the complicated Sesotho language! From there, we drove down to the great wilderness of Kruger National Park in South Africa, for a self-drive safari among hyenas, African lions, hippos, giraffes and zebras!
Our time in South Africa was incredible in many different ways, but I think of it even more fondly now since it was my last international adventure before the world was catapulted into this new “normal”.
A renewed connection with my hometown
Since I moved out of Dehradun at age 17, I’ve rarely been back for longer than a week or two at a stretch. Much of the Dehradun of my childhood has been swallowed up by traffic and concrete, so shorter, more frequent visits to see my folks have become the sweet spot.
When India went into a 21-day lockdown, which gradually got extended to 3 months, I decided not to try to rebel, accepting that the universe wanted me there. With all this time in hand, I re-bonded with my folks over baking and table tennis, somewhat revived our vegetable garden, finally got my folks on board to segregate our waste, connected with a group of organic farmers and even found a couple of secluded hiking spots with a friend!
Co-founding Voices of Rural India
Starting in March 2020, I watched in slow motion as the majority of my work as a travel writer came to a standstill. After some delayed payments, I was left with no choice but to dip into my savings. It’s been a tough year for the travel industry, but even more so for rural communities across India who can’t look to the digital world for alternate opportunities.
So, during the lockdown, I joined hands with Malika Virdi, Sarpanch of the Sarmoli Jainti Van Panchayat and Osama Manzar, founder of the Digital Empowerment Foundation, to create such an opportunity.
Voices of Rural India is a curated platform that hosts stories by rural storytellers – typically guides, homestay hosts and other members of the community, especially women – in their own voices, and pays a fee directly in their bank account for every story accepted for publishing. Through this initiative, we aim to build digital storytelling skills, create an alternate source of livelihoods and preserve indigenous knowledge that is slowly disappearing.
For the rest of us, at a time of no travel, I hope VoRI becomes a channel to discover remote corners of India from the comfort of our homes.
Some of my favorite stories on Voices of Rural India so far:
Winning “best communicator” at the WTM Responsible Tourism Awards (India)
My journey towards becoming an advocate for responsible, meaningful and environmentally-friendly travel began way back in 2011, when I took a sabbatical from my full-time job in Singapore to volunteer-travel with Spiti Ecosphere, a grassroots responsible travel enterprise in the Indian Himalayas.
Learning to cook and bake, finally!
As a nomadic vegan, my culinary skills were limited to simple smoothies, hummus and avocado on toast. Then the pandemic hit, and I had to transition from eating out most of the time to eating in entirely!
My taste buds soon began to crave Mexican burritos, red rice idlis, Thai stir-fries, Guatemalan beans and rice, Georgian badrijani nigwitz, vegan chocolate cookies and oat muffins – and there was only one way to satisfy them: Learning to cook and bake myself.
I now own a small oven, have bookmarked many easy and delicious vegan recipes, stay in touch with local organic farmer groups in Goa for seasonal produce and constantly surprise myself by whipping up edible food
Audio book release of The Shooting Star
Over two years since its release, I still receive messages from people who’ve recently read my book – amazing me at the longevity of those pages. In 2020, my publisher, Penguin Random House, surprised me with an email saying that The Shooting Star was going to be released as an audio book, read by Karen D’Souza!
I’m now on the lookout for a Hindi translator and a local language publisher, so the book can begin to transcend domestic language barriers. If you know one, please connect us.
Launching “Journeys” – exclusive stories for a niche audience
In December 2020, I launched “Journeys” by The Shooting Star – offering my loyal readers exclusive, subscription-based stories, delivered to their inbox once a week. These are stories I’ve never told before – secret finds, confessions I’d rather not share publicly, practical tips to grow in different spheres of life and a more intimate glimpse of my personal journey.
It took some serious contemplation to move into this direction, one that I hope will gradually allow me to become less dependent on social media and brand collaborations – and focus entirely on writing meaningful stories. I’m thrilled to share that early bird subscriptions ran out within two weeks of its launch and there’s been a steady stream of subscribers since.
Most popular stories on Journeys so far:
Also read: How I Lost My Way as a Travel Writer
Pandemic life in Goa, which never stops surprising!
I’ve now spent eight monsoons and one winter in Goa – and still continue to discover all kinds of secrets lurking around in its rivers, backwaters, islands, hills and villages! Confined to one place over the past seven months, I put on my explorer’s hat and discovered places so un-Goa-like, that I often felt like I had arrived in a different state or country.
Despite all the challenges of living long term in India, Goa constantly reminds me just why this country is so damn incredible – and helps keep my wanderlust alive <3
THE BAD & UGLY
The worst the travel industry has ever seen…
Most of us think of travelling as a luxury or frivolous extra in life – and I suppose in some ways it is. But it is also a source of livelihood for 1 in 10 people globally – and many others indirectly. I’ve been in touch with female mountain guides who’ve had to resort to manual construction work during the pandemic, the owners of some of my favourite cafes and restaurants who’ve shut down temporarily or permanently since travellers were their primary audience, and plenty of family-run, environmentally-conscious homestays who’ve lost their only source of income.
Being part of the travel industry for the past decade as a travel writer, and before that as a digital media strategist at the Singapore Tourism Board, it stings pretty bad to think of all the turmoil 2020 brought with it – with no perceivable end in sight. It’s going to be a long, hard road to recovery.
Living long term in India
Someone recently tweeted, living in India is like an extreme sport. That indeed sums up our past 7 months in Goa – it’s been thrilling, uplifting and draining in equal measure. We’ve had to move ‘homes’ four times for different reasons and constantly been plagued by erratic internet, electricity and water supply. This rant stinks of absolute privilege, I know, but that fact makes me feel even more helpless.
Truth is, India is perhaps one of the least suited countries for digital nomads. You can’t book an Airbnb, show up and expect to plug and play. Each place comes with its own laundry list of issues, and any half-decent accommodation costs an arm and a leg. I sorely miss the standard of living we could afford in other middle-income countries like Thailand, Georgia or even Guatemala.
As we look to move towards the mountains in the summer, I just hope the universe will conspire to reveal an unexpectedly perfect place to call home for 4-6 months!
What about the future?
Friends from Europe and the US seem quite confident about resuming their travels by the spring or summer, but I have serious doubts. Even though the vaccination process in India is now underway, it’ll take forever to vaccinate a country of 1.3 billion people. Besides, we don’t know if vaccination means we can shed our masks, stop social distancing, hop on to public transport without fear of spreading the virus and be accepted by local communities again.
Besides the usual visa restrictions for Indians, will we need to travel with a vaccine passport to resume international travel? What vaccines will qualify for such a passport? What about new strains emerging in many parts of the world? Will we need to quarantine for 14 days after every flight? And even if we miraculously manage to tackle covid in 2021, what about the looming threats of climate change, biodiversity loss, water crises and other zoonotic diseases?
As much as I’m determined to make the most of 2021 no matter what life throws my way, the traveller in me longs to return home. Back on the road.
What are some 2020 moments you hope to remember – and what are you most looking forward to in 2021?
Reflections on earlier years:
The Good, Bad and Not-So-Ugly of 2020. published first on https://airriflelab.tumblr.com
via Tumblr The Good, Bad and Not-So-Ugly of 2020.
Ever since I emerged from my “writing cave” after working on my first book, I’ve felt a deep void within. The publishing journey was challenging, fulfilling and joyful in equal measures – and consumed so much of me. After the initial excitement of the book launch, my soul started to feel inexplicably restless.
I suppose I did try to satiate it with some epic adventures in Myanmar, Iran, Bhutan and South Africa last year. Then the pandemic hit, and left me no choice but to hang up my travel boots.
A new era of travel blogging
I thought this could be just the pause I needed. I would re-focus my attention on this travel blog that I’ve nurtured over so many years but recently neglected. Unfortunately, travel blogging has changed much over time. It has become much less about experiences, and much more about Google rankings.
Every time I sat down to write about a misadventure in Nicaragua that could’ve been my last, or how solo travel can make or break a relationship, I wondered, would anyone search for this? Does this story have the potential to appear on Google’s first page?
An ethical dilemma
Even if the story did stand a chance of making it to Google’s first page, I felt conflicted about whether to write about “hidden” places in such a public space. I mean, we’ve all seen the downfall of once-pristine places, especially in the Instagram era.
I shudder to think how a remote high altitude desert like Spiti or the sleepy interiors of Goa have changed in the past few years – with trash, traffic and overtourism adversely impacting local people and biodiversity.
Yet I sorely miss the joy of writing about low-key discoveries on my travels, for a smaller group of readers with a stronger bent towards responsible travel.
Drying up income
When India began to open up a few months ago, I took an ethical stance not to travel or promote travelling during the pandemic. I’m taking a cue from rural communities who’ve chosen to keep their borders closed despite the loss of livelihoods, and the growing discontentment among locals in places where the wearing of masks and social distancing rules are largely ignored by tourists.
With borders closed, all my international collaborations are on hold indefinitely. I’m choosing to say no to domestic airline and hotel collaborations that require me to travel. As a passionate advocate of veganism and sustainability, I continue to say no to lifestyle brands that test on animals or represent fast fashion. And I’ve long taken a stance against filling my blog with annoying ads.
That means in the past few months, except for the odd partnership, all my income has dried up.
So what now?
Now that I’ve had plenty of time to reflect, I’ve gradually realized that somewhere along the way, I forgot the very reasons why I first pursued travel writing.
I dreamt of bringing stories from the road that had rarely been told before. Stories that inspired unconventional ways of thinking. Stories that offered a glimpse of unfamiliar worlds.
Instead, I’ve been keeping many epic finds, unexpected encounters and life-defining moments on the road, to myself – because they don’t belong on Google, Instagram or any public space.
But I think I’ve finally found a new direction…
Introducing “Journeys” by The Shooting Star
I’ve spent the past few months contemplating how I can continue writing about places, people and finds that’ve deeply impacted me – without the risk of subjecting them to irresponsible travel or constantly worrying about search engine and social media algorithms.
Thus was born the idea of “Journeys” – exclusive, paid stories delivered to your inbox once a week.
My goal is to slowly reach a niche set of readers with a similar bent of mind, who yearn for places that don’t come with Instagram hashtags or google searches, seek to pursue the unconventional in life, and are genuinely curious about the world beyond what can be depicted in a pretty photo.
Upcoming stories on Journeys:
I’m excited to share that I’ve already penned down the first four “Journeys” – to be delivered to you weekly. These aren’t stories that you’ll find in my book or on this blog.
What it’s like to travel as an unmarried couple in India and elsewhere – Some shocking and amusing episodes. This story is already live; read it here.
Secret hideouts in India to rejuvenate your pandemic-weary soul – I reached out to some of my favorite accommodations naturally set up for social distancing, and included only those who are taking enough safety precautions.
When I dream of the wild, I dream of… – If there’s only one national park you visit in your lifetime, let it be this one.
The little big things that have shaped my writing journey – Practical writing tips and some confessions from a bestselling author (yours truly ;-)).
How much does a subscription cost?
To be completely honest, I’ve gone back and forth several times over the idea of introducing paid stories, but focus group interviews with some long-time readers of The Shooting Star convinced me to take the plunge.
I’ve tried to keep subscription rates low, with early bird rates and annual discounts. Monthly subscriptions are equivalent to the cost of a nice coffee or meal. Annual subscriptions give you two months free!
First 100 subscribers: ₹250 / ~3$ per month
101 – 1000 subscribers: ₹350 / ~5$ per month
1000+ subscribers: ₹500 / ~7$ per month
Annual subscription: Save 2 months cost!
I know that the internet is full of free travel content. Yet I hope that through “Journeys”, I can continue to add unique value to your life and travel choices.
What about this blog and my social media channels?
I’ve been meaning to invite guest writers with inspiring stories to this blog for a long time, and am finally getting around to doing so.
Earlier this year, Parita Bhansali wrote an insightful guide to sustainable fashion in India. Coming soon, are recommendations on Auroville’s coolest cafes by Vinita Contractor, and insights on what it’s like to be a vegan Muslim by Nina Ahmedow. I’m excited to move into a largely editorial role on this blog with occasional posts written by me.
I’ll continue to engage with you on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, but perhaps at a reduced frequency than I currently do. I hope Journeys will take away the need to channel an income through constant engagement on social media – and allow me to build deeper connections with long term readers.
A word of gratitude
At this time of isolation, the world has felt out of reach and nudged me to examine many of my life choices. My attempts at travel writing, as I can see now, took a direction I never anticipated. Yet you’ve stood by me, continued to read my posts here and on Instagram, and sent many heartfelt messages and emails over the years. For that, I’m forever grateful.
As I embark on what feels like a new chapter of my virtual life, I hope to continue taking you to faraway places, both geographically and within. I hope you’ll join me on these “Journeys”. There’ll be no flowing dresses, I promise
What do you think of the new direction I’m moving towards? What would you most like to read about on “Journeys”?
How I Lost My Way as a Travel Writer… published first on https://airriflelab.tumblr.com
via Tumblr How I Lost My Way as a Travel Writer…
Physical Educator and sports coach from 6 years , with degree in sports science and physical education from RLT University in US. Coach of football, skating, hockey and rugby teams. Now working as Sports development officer in Perth city.