A Delightfully Disturbing Evening in Hampi – by Arya Malayali

I was always fond of travelling. Who isn’t? But every journey told me different stories. Nothing was ever same.

Few years back, I happened to pack my bags to Hampi. Being an UNESCO heritage site, it does what it should. It depicts the story of Vijayanagara empire through many temple complexes. From the art to architecture to every single tiny element you see there fits there and only there, it’s unbelievably beautiful.

One evening there, I climbed up a relatably small rocky hill unsure of what was waiting for me behind a Stone temple. It wasn’t much, just another sunset but not like any other. I could see the entire stretch of Vijayanagara empire till my eyes could see. The ruins of an age bygone that still seemed charmingly rich. I wanted the years to go back and I pictured myself living as one of them. It left me with thoughts and imaginations that were unknown to myself till then.

Arya Malayali - AAO Travel Tribe Stories


But it wasn’t just the picturesque view, I tell you. I realized I was surrounded by so many people so the silence around me was as surprising. They were all waiting at peace for the sun to disappear. Maybe they were also thinking about how it would have been to be living there, like me.

Strangers, they were all yet I felt connected to every one of them. I am sure everyone around me felt that way too. So different we all were but tranquil we felt inside.

The place was delicate and dynamic at the same time. Giving all the answers and making me ask questions to myself. Confusing yet contenting. Delightfully disturbing.

This surreal evening is probably one of my most precious memory I cherish and hence an achievement.

– Travel Story submitted by Arya Malayali

Solo Trekking Experience of a little girl from ‘Dangerous Delhi’ – by Charishma Thankappan

Growing up in Delhi, raised by conservative parents, I had never been allowed to venture out on my own. Educated in a girls’ convent school, play time with friends – strictly girls, a trip to the shops down the road, or even opening the door at the sound of the bell; were all actions that needed to be performed under the supervision of either of my parents. Accompanying me to the school bus and escorting me back home was a routine that my parents never missed until the last day of my 12th standard. As friends and peers made fun of me, I silently bore the embarrassment with resent at the lack of freedom. It was only after entering college that I realised, that it was not freedom that I was deprived; but the unconditional protection that I was given by my parents.

Traversing narrow deserted alleys, walking by unblinking stares, dodging arms ready to grab; I made my way through college. In the five years, I had experienced enough and more of eve-teasing and molestation in just my journeys to and from college. I thought I might as well euthanize the aspiring traveller within me, hoping to see the world someday.

Moving to Mumbai, I thought I was free from the clutches of that horrific breed of men that Delhi was known for. But soon enough I learned that the city that was touted as the safest for women was not at all different from the city of my birth. Some of the experiences I encountered were, in fact, worse than those I had ever experienced in Delhi. With the end of 2012, during which I had also spent two years in the Maximum City, I was saddled with hatred towards my country, which was shared by perhaps most women around India at that time. I desperately sought to escape from this hell-hole that India seemed to have degraded to.

Yet, after moving to Oman, the by then almost dead traveller within me took a rebirth. In one and a half years, I had travelled almost the length and breadth of the country. An unexpected return to India left me unprepared and restless, having tasted the addictive apple.

Being blessed with an equally enthusiastic travel maniac of a husband, we made plans for our first visit to the Himalayas. As luck would have it, an emergency drew my husband to our hometown of Kerala on the eve of our scheduled trip. While I stayed back in Delhi, awaiting his return, it was not to be as a personal loss in his family put an end to his return altogether. It was a testing time for me as I had to make some decisions. At an unprepared juncture in life, I took some resolutions that could have cost me much. At the risk of facing censure from my husband’s family for not being with them at a crucial time and the hazard of missing possible job interviews; I resolved to do something I had never imagined in my existence so far.

I boarded the bus from Majnu Ka Tila and reached McLeodganj. Finding my way around, I trudged about, slowly gaining confidence and comfort in the crowd of enthusiastic travellers. I explored the entire place and then went on to embark upon the Triund trek on my own.

Arming myself with information from the internet, I set out on the day trek alone. Donning the spirit of adventure, I took the longest route, where I found myself alone for most of the time. I found a handful of fellow trekkers along the way after much of the climb and found more people at the fag end. Reaching the peak was a most exhilarating moment, as I delighted at the achievement of having attempted and completed a solo trek, even though it was a relatively easy one.

Subsequently, I chose to ride along the wave of confidence that I was overcome with, and I made plans for extending my solo sojourn further. The next morning dawned with me boarding a bus to Manali.

The experience at Manali was entirely different from the time spent at McLeodganj. While the latter is a place brimming with backpackers and solo travellers, including women; my reception at Manali was met with wonderment by the locals. Manali turned out to be a family vacation spot, outnumbered by Indians, and there was hardly any other solo traveller, that too a woman. But while it made me a bit uncomfortable, making me wonder if I had made a mistake; it also turned out to be advantageous. People were more forthcoming and helpful towards me as a solo woman traveller and offered help and support that exceeded my expectation. They made sure that I was comfortable and safe. Though I had a completely touristy experience at Manali, I did enjoy my time there nonetheless.

Charishma Thankappan - AAO Travel Tribe
























Thus ended my maiden solo trip and solo trekking experience, bolstering my confidence to pursue it further – in another land; at another time. The little girl from ‘Dangerous Delhi’ who had never stepped out on her own is now making her parents proud as a voracious traveller, discovering new sights and sounds.

– Travel Story submitted by Charishma Thankappan

Free Diving with the Manta Ray Sharks in Indonesia – Travel Story by Abhishek Dugar

Solo Adventure to Indonesia!
Location: Manta Point, Nusa Penida, Indonesia
Activity: Free Diving with the Manta Ray Sharks

Brief account of what transpired:

Hands down the highlight of my trip was swimming with the magnificent Manta Rays. Although these creatures can be quite intimidating because of their massive size, they are pretty much harmless. They apparently have the biggest biggest brain to body ratio found in any water species and are known to be very curious beings.

Before we took off in our boat, we were told that spotting a Manta had become a rare occurrence because of the large number of tourists who visit the spot. When we arrived at the point, we could already see about five boats packed with snorkelers and divers, waiting for the fish, ready to pounce in the water on first sight.

Abhishek Dugar - AAO Travel Tribe StoriesOur shrewd boat captain was able to spot a few baby Mantas away from the crowd and asked us to gently get in the water so that we don’t attract the attention of the other boats. I followed his instructions and quietly dived in…. right over the mother Manta! She was about 9ft wide! I won’t lie, it freaked me out a little.

I calmed my nerves quickly and stayed rooted to my spot. The next few minutes were some that I will never forget. The mother, along with babies, started closing in towards me and the other two divers from our boat. The curious giants got quite close, about a a couple of meters away, playfully circling around us. They would move in closer and move right back out, as though testing if we posed any danger. This carried on for about 3-5 minutes. They would get close enough for us to see the unique patterns on their bellies, their eyes and even the inside of their huge mouths.

Abhishek Dugar - AAO Travel Tribe Stories - Manta Indonesia

Just as we were getting accustomed to their movement patterns, we heard a series of small splashes all around us. The other boats had discovered our little secret and the tourists had all started diving in, creating chaos in the previously calm waters.

The Mantas, in the middle of all the confusion, darted away.

– Travel Story submitted by Abhishek Dugar

Yes, love can happen at first sight – Travel Story by Niharika Arora

My old fears were far from the ones I have now. They were materialistic and egoistic. Now that I get exposed to such beauty, I have a realization which keeps the power to stop every raging useless war within me. And, Edmund Hillary said, “it’s not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves.”

Delhi to Chhitkul, Himachal Pradesh, India is a voyage of 15 h (602.3 km), covering the deadliest Hindustan-Tibet road. It is caprice as the charm of Devbhoomi unfolds, a different language, exquisite and enchanting & an addictive natural beauty. The experience of driving beneath millions of stars is inexplicable, with the beauty around pacifying fears.

After an arduous journey on the precarious route, we reached Chhitkul at around 4 am in pitch darkness. We had to sojourn in the car, wrapped in blankets and still our breaths were going heavy and bodies shifting to numb mode.

We tried to sleep in the hope of a new and a better day, strengthening our psyche and will.
It was 7 am & we stepped out of the frosted car to rejoice our frozen bodies with the sight of a sunlit village in front of us.

Yes, love can happen at first sight.

AAO Travel Tribe Niharika Arora

There was a smile on each person’s face, a thing common in the entire village, a symbol of pure happiness and contentment that binds them in a single thread and gives them the strength to face difficulties together.

I had this unquenchable feeling while returning, not knowing if anything else would ever transcend this heaven again.

– Travel Story submitted by Niharika Arora