Why Connemara will make you sing with joy

Best day trip from Galway…

Every guidebook waxes eloquent about the raw appeal of ‘Wild Connemara’. Luring you with vivid landscape photography that makes you go weak in the knees. Enticing you with fantasies that seductively whisper ‘pick me, pick me’ for your ears only. Leaping out of your screen tantalisingly as a ‘dare-you-to-not-ignore’ mandate for your semi-frozen Ireland itinerary. Cakewalk, declares the visual pasted on your desktop. Because you’re sold, too soon. Dreamy-eyed every second till you reach the destination that’s been haunting you non-stop. And head-over-heels, even after.

Dragging yourself away from the captivating charms of Ireland’s second city, Galway proves to be a challenge, especially if you haven’t set aside a couple of days to soak in its culture-rich, bohemian vibe. But the European Capital of Culture for 2020 is set right in the heart of the spectacular 2,600 km Wild Atlantic Way and Connemara is calling. So, jumpy-happy with anticipation, shielding against the windy drizzle, you’re all set for an early start. The grey pallor of the skies retreats into powerlessness as you embark into the ride of a lifetime.

Soon the city is left behind and you’re surrounded by a patchwork of fields knitted by rough-cut stone fencing. How history merges magically with contemporary here! You can feel the unmistakable aura of an ancient land awash with ancient tales. The legacy of the Conmacne Mara tribe, which gave the land its name, seems to own the entire space, even the floating mist outside. You’re secretly wishing for an aerial view of the coastal region that you’re traversing…that spectacle of coastal peninsulas, inlets, moors and grasslands. Instead, it is a delicious, languorous journey through the vastness, where revelations are waiting to happen, one at a time. Eyes glued to the remote landscape and euphoria levels on the highest octave, you’re thinking how futile the camera-clicking exercise is. Because you want to capture every inch, 360 degrees. No matter how many shots you take, its never enough. Don’t even bother thinking of which Connemara characteristic entices you the most…because there’s no first among equals.

Connemara_Ireland_stone walls.jpg

Uplifting mountains

Driving past kilometres and kilometres of gigantic mounds on both sides of an infinite, deserted road, you have an inimitable sense of being dwarfed, which is curiously rewarding. Mellow sunshine and grey clouds alternate to create ever-changing light effects and with every curve in the road, the eternal mountains reveal new facets of their persona. You are visualising 2,957 hectares of the Connemara National Park sprawling over North West Connemara, picturing the entire range of its lofty mountains including the famous quartzite Twelve Bens, the Maumturks and Killary Fjord, Ireland’s only fjord standing as a natural border between Galway and Mayo counties. Intermittent rain is playing spoilsport, dark skies are affecting the clarity of the view and the vast emptiness is all-pervading. Yet you’re in the highest of high spirits.


Connemara_Ireland_Killary Fjord_1

Connemara_Ireland_Killary Fjord_2

Bewitching bogland

Golden brown was never as appealing. Miles and miles of peaty bogland stretch out as far as the eye can see, broken only by a never-ending strip of road. Suddenly, the edges have hazed out and the pixels have thickened. In slow motion, the scene has morphed into a masterpiece, and you’re a speck inside a gigantic oil painting set in a large gilded frame. Melting into the ruggedness of the landscape, feeling the softness of the blooming heather, touching the roughness of the unkempt grass, and caressing the vibrant yellow flower bushes that splatter the land. You could be here forever, lost to the world, in these surreal surrounds. The stark beauty of this wet ecosystem is giving you goosebumps, yet you can’t stop smiling.





Four-legged eye-candy

Innumerable dots of white specking the velvety green carpet laid out below were a visual delight, even from the tiny window of your aircraft as it hovered over the Emerald Isle. But out here, in Connemara, they multiply the magic of the moors manifold. You can never tire of those fluffy sheep and fat baby lambs filling the lush fields, crossing the road, munching away ceaselessly, getting soaked in the rain. All scenes to soothe the soul! But also keep your eyes peeled for the Connemara Pony… a native breed, originally of Scandinavian descent, brought to Ireland by the Vikings and inter-bred with Andalusian horses from the Spanish Armada. Short, stout, muscular and so apt for this untamed terrain. These little fellows, though a rare sight, are found grazing on the grasslands in solitude, taking children on hesitant, maiden treks or gracing local equestrian shows. Happiness has a permanent home in Connemara.




Blues to die for

Dark skies have been heightening the drama and you have been in a ‘please-don’t-wake-me-ever’ trance. Then it gets even better. The clouds disperse and when the sun makes a dramatic breakthrough, washing the landscape with its brightness. It feels like someone just replaced the movie set before you could blink. Or applied a clever light filter to adjust the colour balance. And the rainbows! So many rainbows! Unbridled grey streams racing past the roadside and lavishly proportioned lochs in vast valleys now acquire a new life, dazzling you their sharp, almost unreal blues. The rippling waves glint and glisten like a million sapphires. You stare and stare, following every microscopic move of the waters till you can crane your neck no more. Is this for real? Or did you just die and go to heaven?







Unspoilt local scenes

No monumental structures to gloat over, no queues for tickets, no brochures, no audio guides and certainly no thronging squares. In these untouched quarters, it is the mundane that steals the show. A quaint stone bridge over a gentle stream against the backdrop of the Irish countryside, begging to be photographed. An abandoned farmhouse with a wheelbarrow parked outside a broken window. A solitary bench against a wooden fence that borders expansively luxurious grassy plains. A traditional thatched roof home with a red door. And the ever-so-gorgeous Atlantic Sea flaunting a rocky coastline and secluded beaches. Are you thinking of giving up that boring job and moving into paradise? Whoever defined the word ‘ecstasy’ must have driven up here. Unquestionably.

Connemara_Ireland_stone bridge




Connemara_Ireland_traditional house

Stuff of storybooks

You take a deep breath as you spot it from a vantage point far away. Elegantly draped in all-white, lovingly encased in the cradle of rich green forestry and mighty mountains, it stands extravagantly on the shores of a lake, silently proclaiming a romantic story. The 19th-century Kylemore Abbey, gifted by Mitchell Henry to his wife, Margaret, is now owned and run by Benedictine nuns, lives up to its reputation as one of the prettiest castles in all of Ireland. The small Gothic Church and Victorian walled gardens in the complex make lovely pitstops. But it is the stroll through the thickly wooded complex with its ivy-draped gnarled trees that will burn into your memory for posterity. Poet, painter or musician…you’ve already converted into one. Because your heart is singing the sweetest of songs.

Connemara_Ireland_Kylemore Abbey_2.jpg

Connemara_Ireland_Kylemore Abbey_Gothic church.jpg

Connemara_Ireland_Kylemore Abbey_8.jpg

We went on this incredibly scenic and inspiring trip from ‘Galway to Connemara & Kylemore Abbey’ with Lally Tours. The tour was flawless in every way and our guide made the tour extra special. All opinions are my own.

Pin this post for later!! 

Best day trip from Galway #connemara #daytrip #moors #Ireland #bogland #kylemoreabbey

What makes a trip to the Giant’s Causeway so epic?

Day trip to Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland…

Ireland, Dublin and the Giant’s Causeway…the path is inevitable, almost prescribed. Two possible reactions. Curious and keenly inclined towards Northern Ireland’s solo World Heritage tagged (and most visited) site, that saw over a million footfalls in 2018. Or blasé to the point of brushing it off as yet another over-crowded tedium. Either way, we’re all adequately Google-rehearsed and Instagram-prepped, so nothing should stir up a surprise, right? Wrong. Freshly juiced from a trip to the Emerald Isle, I say this with the deepest of conviction. No amount of preparation matches up to the real deal. In this case…seeing truly is believing. And that is no exaggeration.

‘Giant’ is the theme of the trip from the word ‘go’. Driving through the legendary Boyne Valley with Wild Rover Tours, contemplate on ‘larger-than-life’ timelines of its mega landmarks like the 5000-year-old Hill of Tara and Newgrange Stone Age tombs. Hearing narratives of the side-effects of the ‘Troubles’, trace the depth of the scars left on countless affected locals and their families. And as you cross the border into the north of Ireland seamlessly into Belfast, you find yourself hard-pressed to negotiate the biggest dilemma of the day. So, will it be a vintage taxi ride reliving the war-torn past or an emotionally-tinged, state-of-the-art Titanic Visitor Experience? Both options equally enlightening, equally tragic, equally epic in proportion, so pick any. First feelings of fulfilment are guaranteed in each case. And that is just a modest introduction to a day packed with plus-sized revelations.

Boyne Valley_Ireland_1.jpg


Titanic Visitor Experience_Belfast_Ireland_1Titanic Visitor Experience_Belfast_Ireland_2

An abundance of drama build-up

Eye-widening and spine-stretching are endless all along the North Coast and the Antrim Coastal Drive. Tall stony cliffs stand eternally against crescent-shaped secluded sandy beaches and rock-smashing frothy waves. Fluffy sheep and oreo cows graze on velvety green carpets. The allure of wooded glens and shadowy mountains continues without a break all the way to the famous whiskey village of Bushmills. Here, balanced precariously on the cliff edge, 100 feet above the brilliant blue of the ocean, the forlorn Dunluce Castle makes a haunting picture. Fairytale romance to distressing siege to wretched ruin, it seems to spell out its eventful account in stony silence. Even from that distance, you can hear it all. Oh, and you’re almost there.


Boyne Valley_Ireland_3


Infinity of walking trails

Finally, disembark. Car park to Causeway will be a walk. And what a fitting curtain-raiser to a stage designed to enthral even the most jaded of jaded. A downhill walking trail of about a kilometre leads to the causeway. Aptly labelled the Blue Trail, this divine 10-15 minutes walk gives you the blues, literally. Bending and curving seductively along the lava-rock studded coast on one side and lofty mountains on the other, the Blue Trail is a picture of pure Ireland.…raw, rugged, majestic, mesmerising. Red Trail offers an advanced version…a longer stroll along the upper cliffs, with views of the entire coastline…about 3 kilometres each way. And for the active hiker, there’s the Yellow Trail, following the entire Causeway coastline from Runkerry House to Hamilton’s Seat and takes several hours. Not far away is the vertigo-inducing Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, suspended 100-feet over an ocean chasm. Plenty of mountain trails there too…with opportunities to ogle at fabulous bays, silky beaches and wild grass-strewn landscapes. If only time would stop, while you soaked in all this glory. Still, enough to spoil you silly for a day.

Giant's Causeway_Ireland_1.jpg

Giant's Causeway_Ireland_2

Giant's Causeway_Ireland_19

Giant's Causeway_Ireland_14

Giant's Causeway_Ireland_16




The magnitude of natural wonders

Meanwhile, back onto the Causeway, the wonderment continues unabated. Ogle at the amphitheatre-shaped cliffs. Decode the mysteries of nature. Be drawn to the intriguing symmetry of the columns. It is a voyage back in time…60 million years ago when a series of volcanic eruptions launched the beginning of a spectacle. Time suddenly has a new meaning. Now get your head around the fascinating facts. 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. 15 to 20 inches in diameter and up to 82 feet in height at places. Spanning almost 29 kilometres of coastline. Pentagonal or hexagonal, so tightly packed that they look like man-made pavement tiles. Locate the most spectacular example…the “Organ” with long regular-shaped columns resembling the pipes of a giant organ. And then, let the heart rule. Feel the wind in your hair as you navigate the softy curved surface of the hardened lava under your feet. Watch the foaming waves swim through the scatter of rocks. Notice the sunlight and clouds create varying shades of gold to brown over the upright columns. Perch on the fabled ‘Wishing Chair’ in faux adoption of the ‘faith’. Let your thoughts flow unbridled. Just surrender to the magic.           

Giant's Causeway_Ireland_13.JPG

Giant's Causeway_Ireland_3

Giant's Causeway_Ireland_4

Giant's Causeway_Ireland_8

Giant's Causeway_Ireland_10

Giant's Causeway_Ireland_6

Giant's Causeway_Ireland_7

Giant's Causeway_Ireland_5

Towering heights of legends

Drop that science hat and slip smoothly into the mythical world. For a change, embrace belief in old Irish legends and imagine Finn McCool, that mythological Irish warrior, who is associated with the creation of the Causeway. Could the 54-feet tall giant actually have used the Causeway as a collection of stepping stones to travel to the far Scottish Coast? Pre-Celt Irish locals swore he did…they actually referred to the place as ‘Clochan na bhFomharaigh’  or “Stepping Stones of the Fomorians, much before it was discovered in 1692. Then scout for unusual rock formations and indulge your inner child by interpreting their shapes. Giant’s Loom, Giant’s Coffin, Giant’s Cannons, Giant’s Boot and Giant’s Eyes are just some of the well-known ones. Particularly arresting is the Giant’s Harp, with massive curved columns sweeping down to the shoreline.

Giant's Causeway_Ireland_11

Giant's Causeway_Ireland_12

The sounds of the crashing waves continue to echo in your ears till you’re miles away. And the winding trails that lead to the evenly-carved stone columns sprouting from the earth continue to fill your mind’s eye, even till your head touches the pillow that night. No blueprint, no technology, no rules. There will be no architect to beat nature. Period.

Our ‘Giant’s Causeway, Belfast City & Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge Day Tour from Dublin’ was generously sponsored by Wild Rover Tours. Insightful commentary and well-organised itinerary made it the perfect choice. All opinions are my own.


Pin this post for later!!

Day trip to Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland #ireland #giantscauseway #unescoworldheritage #titanic #belfast #Carrick-a-Rede

Three exquisite handicrafts from Odisha that will inspire you

Traditional crafts of Odisha…

Odisha’s magnificent temples and silky beaches have been working overtime to pull in the throngs forever. But there’s so much more under the shroud of modesty surrounding this nearly-neglected eastern state of India. Like its untouched forests, secret gorges, abundant wildlife and a rich treasury of traditional arts and crafts. From elaborate stone carving and mask-making to fine silver filigree and handloom, a handicraft tour of Odisha can prove to be an adventure as well as a challenge. Smart traveller alternative? Kala Bhoomi, the Crafts Museum in the capital city of Bhubaneshwar. Every local art form lovingly curated, impeccably designed exhibit galleries and in-depth expert-guided tours by Ekamra Walks make it a mecca for the artistically inclined. Set aside an afternoon to soak in the soul of the city through the unspoken stories of its centuries-old crafts. Here’s a lowdown of three exquisite handicrafts from Odisha that left the deepest impressions on my heart.   

Painstaking palm-leaf narratives

Celebrate the tradition: Flash-backing to 2000 years may seem like a feat, till you come across a specimen of a time-worn Talapattachitra (literally ‘palm leaf illustration’). In the heritage of village of Raghurajpur, just an hour away from Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneshwar, yesterday merges seamlessly with today. Lipikaars (scribes) spend their entire lives creating hand-written copies of sacred verses and ancient literature on palm leaves, just like ancient times, when they did so under the patronage of kings and temple authorities. From decorative manuscripts to illustrative fables and folklore to art form…its no surprise why this rare craft is also Odisha’s most beloved. After all, the roots of its inspiration are Lord Jagannath and the Vaishnava cult.

Applaud the craft: Imagine a vintage-style scroll made of faded, hardened leaves that cleverly packs up into a compact pile of slim folds, held together by fragile thread. Etched meticulously and minutely with finest of stencilled drawings using an iron stylus. Recounting episodes from mythology, including Ramayana and Mahabharata. Flaunting lace-like finery. Duping you with a print-like quality. Always intricate and very expressive. Bold and striking in lamp black or vibrant and bright in natural colours. Every medium it has touched beyond the original palm leaves (cloth, paper, terracotta and even walls) over the centuries, has only added to its undying grace. A quintessential symbol of Odisha culture to treasure for all times.






Ganjifa_Kala Bhoomi_Bhubaneshwar

Embrace the art: Watch a magical specimen come to life under expert hands in one of the hundreds of workshops in the houses of Raghurajpur. Let your heart be the judge, as you scrounge for a piece that will find a place of honour in your own home. A set of Ganjifa cards, that ancient palace game (a Persian import), which the masses made their own. It even served as an intricate recitation of Hindu scriptures because of its detailed and varied imagery. An irresistible indulgence…whether as a card game, framed wall hangings, or even glass coasters. Or a classic black beauty in true talapattachitra style, like the one that I fell for?

Muted metallic monologues

Celebrate the tradition: Its a timeline of at least 5000 years. Indigenous tribes stumbled upon the abundance of natural resources in the mineral-rich central Indian belt and a streak of ingenuity transformed lifestyles forever. A never-seen-before line of craftsmen hit the market with uniquely handcrafted metal ware, Inspired by indigenous folk culture and traditional motifs, such as animals, birds, cattle, humans and gods-goddesses. These metal-smiths of the nomadic Dhokra tribe went from one village to another earning a living by selling their goods, mostly ceremonial and religious figurines, ornaments and kitchen ware. The craft has miraculously survived the test of time. Odisha is still proud home to the distinctive Dhokra art.

Applaud the craft: Have a soft corner for the delightfully disproportionate, charmingly crooked and perfectly imperfect? Then the primitive starkness of Dhokra’s old-gold, antiquity will fascinate you. Until you step behind the shopping shelf into the workshop. Where artisans fashion metal objects from bronze and copper-based alloys using an unusual method called ‘lost wax casting’. Bees-wax wires are wrapped around a coarse clay model till a clearer replica emerges and coated with a second, finer clay layer to create a final mould. Molten metal is poured into the mould, the cast is removed and ornamental finishing touches are added. A single piece could take up to a month or two to be created. Factoid: one of the earliest known lost wax casting artefacts known to mankind is the legendary dancing girl of Mohenjodaro. Head bow!

Dhokra art_Kala Bhoomi_Bhubaneshwar_2

Dhokra art_Kala Bhoomi_Bhubaneshwar_1

Dhokra art_Kala Bhoomi_Bhubaneshwar_3

Embrace the art: Made of scrap metal and eco-friendly, but that’s not the reason Dhokra continues as an unbroken tradition. Reinvention is. From one-of-a-kind utility items like door handle, ash-tray, candle-stand, photo-frame and tissue box to unique home decor, buttons and tribal jewellery, creators are determined to stick around for eternity. My find? An languidly reclining, skirt-clad lady with a literary bent of mind. What better quirky addition for the home library?

Dhokra art.jpg

Eloquently earthy tales

Celebrate the tradition: An unexpected choice, in comparison to other better known crafts synonymous with Odisha, but terracotta makes a prime target for its ancestry…it’s as old as the Indus Valley civilisations of Harappa and Mohenjodaro. One of the earlier mediums used by humans, to promote settled living…whether as vessels, houses, decoration, jewellery, art, toys, religious figurines, using clay from rich alluvium silt of river valleys, it continues to reign supreme in its own way, even in the millennial age. Which medieval town would have its medieval tag without those red-brick roofs?

Applaud the craft: Huge cooking pots, massive storage containers, everyday utensils, lamps, animal figurines, roof tiles and deity images…terracotta offers flexibility for endless applications. Not just utilitarian, but heavily adorned with colors, artistic outlines and scalloped edges too. Items created in clay by the terracotta process are treated with partially dried refined clay and then then cast into a mould, cooked in a hot furnace or over combustible material and dried in open air. A process which looks fairly simple but requires dexterity and delicacy of hands. One trial pottery class moulding wet clay into the simplest of shapes on a revolving potter’s wheel, is revelation enough. A split-second distraction can spells disaster. Best recommendation for site visit beyond the city? Baleshwar in western Odisha. Where traditional terracotta is still churned out tirelessly as the local mainstay.

Pottery_Kala Bhoomi_Bhubaneshwar_2

Pottery_Kala Bhoomi_Bhubaneshwar_3

Pottery_Kala Bhoomi_Bhubaneshwar_4

Pottery_Kala Bhoomi_Bhubaneshwar_1

Embrace the art: Eyebrow-raising element that will up the fascination factor? Unique roof figurines in terracotta that locals have been using to decorate the clay roof tiles of their houses since eons. Birds, squirrels, monkeys and mice, planted to scare away wild animals the way that scarecrows work in fields. With the cutest of expressions…confused to woeful to furious to suspicious…these symbols of earth and nature are worth collecting to add to the atmosphere of one’s urban garden. Emojis of the past…and endearing symbols of the deeply-ingrained culture, binding us together, across the length and breath of our country.


Pin this post for later!!

Traditional crafts of Odisha #talapattachitra #pattachitra #dhokra #pottery #kalabhoomi #ekamrawalks

How I made the most of my 3rd year of travel blogging

From travel blogger to legit travel writer…

129 blog posts. 1,30,000 words. 1000 days of blogging. Whoosh! I must have blinked. Pinch me…has it been three years already since a nervous newbie first bared her soul online in the coveted cosmos of travel ‘influencers’? It’s been a joyride, this 3rd year of my third career, riding on wings of un-jaded exuberance and unscathed passion. Would it be too presumptuous to pat my own back just yet? Considering that one of my several vices happens to be an irreversible and intense intolerance for routine.

Continue reading “How I made the most of my 3rd year of travel blogging”

Do you know of the five best neighbourhoods in Lisbon?

Exploring Lisbon’s best areas…

An unmistakable Mediterranean-ism and a wild Atlantic coast! Europe’s westernmost country literally has the best of both worlds. Voyage-driven history, staggering landscapes, Moorish roots, and a unique culture that changed the face of its colonies for posterity. Certainly a destination to redefine your vision of the continent. So give in to the pull of Portugal. Submit to the lure of Lisbon. With my rundown of the top five most atmospheric neighbourhoods in the capital.

Continue reading “Do you know of the five best neighbourhoods in Lisbon?”

Soak in the splendour of the Royal Palace of Madrid

Inside Madrid’s Royal Palace…

You turn a final corner and there it is in front of you…the grand 18th-century Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace of Madrid). Protecting the largest royal palace in Western Europe is an elegant, gilded decorative iron fencing in bold black and gold, offsetting the purist white of the magnificent structure beyond.

Continue reading “Soak in the splendour of the Royal Palace of Madrid”

Escape to the joy of simple pleasures in Kasauli

Charming hill getaway from Delhi

Hazy outline of towering hills and a wide open highway. Loaded fuel tank and overdose of healthy munchies. Chirpy laughter and five light hearts. Road-trip, mini-getaway and squad goals. Kasauli calling!

Continue reading “Escape to the joy of simple pleasures in Kasauli”