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.

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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.

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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.

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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.           

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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!

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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?

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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Celebrating the credits

Non-essentials apart, I’m still hanging in there, partly thanks to a deliberate, deep dive into the world of bylines. Off-roading into more familiar territory, with a mission to refuel my creative engine, as a legit writer. Stoked by the challenge of unexplored topics. Fired by the push of non-negotiable deadlines. And charged by a voracious appetite to write. Hitting the high notes with over a dozen travel articles published in the last 8 months in a handful of inflight magazines (Air Vistara, Air India, Air Asia, Jazeera Airways) and a leading travel website (Matador Network) thrown in for good measure. And the most rewarding…an unexpected release in India’s top travel magazine (Outlook Traveller). Scroll through my published works here.

Personal drumroll moment? Four of these articles mysteriously synchronising their appearance in four different magazines in the very last month of my third year, inflating my balance sheet of happiness to full-blown proportions. Yayy! How does that happen out of the blue? Who’s been eavesdropping on my dreams?

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Memorabilia of moments

Note to self. Blogging or byline, ultimately both are incidental offshoots. So, rewinding to my favourite memories from the heady concoction of trips and trails from the year gone by. Starting from my own backyard. And what a backyard. A fascinating walking tour of Chawri Bazaar and Jamia Masjid in Old Delhi, where streets are still named after ancient trades. A bedazzling day gaping at the priceless collection of the royal Nizam’s Jewels, including the famed Jacob’s Diamond, in a once-in-12 years, heavily guarded exhibition in the capital’s National Museum. Impromptu self-guided photography expeditions to unearth lesser-known monuments hidden in the urban sprawl. Attending expert-led talks on a wide range of subjects ranging from religious symbolism to the evolution of magic. And a wondrous soak in a Dastangoi session, reviving the lost art form of 13th century Urdu oral storytelling in the country. No shortage of brushes with heritage in Delhi. Phew!

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Adding first-time experiences to my growing treasury of travel. Fighting irrational fear with a rowboat ride along the crocodile-infested Mahanadi at Satkosia Gorge in Orissa. Learning about age-old art of Pattachitra in the crafts village of Raghurajpur. Plunging into lost heritage during a temple trail in Bhubaneshwar, getting a lump in my throat watching a beautiful Odissi dance performance and picking up my jaw from the floor at the majestic complex of Konark. Wow!

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Following my instinct and discovering the magic of Madikeri, Karnataka…kissing clouds, picking strawberries, going on coffee tours, and understanding the local Kodava culture. Driving with rolled-down windows and windswept hair around North Goa, in search of unknown churches, sleepy villages and vibrant Portuguese mansions. Giving in to gluttony like famished victims during food trails in the streets of Amritsar and Lucknow. And absorbing the silence of offbeat British cantonment towns of Kasauli and Dagshai in Himachal, where the thing to do is ‘smell pines and do-nothing’.

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Across the borders, fulfilling a long-overdue fantasy in the captivating capital of Turkey. Tirelessly tracing miles along the blue Bosphorus, unveiling the secrets of the harem in Topkapi Palace, craning my neck at the glorious mosques of Sultanahmet, wandering through the maze of the grand bazaars, listening to the musical azaan and staring transfixed at the Whirling Dervishes. Thinking why one trip is never enough, no matter how long.

And, it’s a wrap

Solving every dilemma, wiping away every doubt with my very own ‘never-fail’ quote, “Do what you do if no one was watching.” From almost-trapped-in-the-abyss of a social-media driven existence, to a free-willing-waltz down an alternative avenue of my own design, its been a liberating third year. I still do a small jig when blog traffic spikes and crease my forehead into a frown at all-time lows. But the obsession for visits, clicks and views has melted away, leaving behind the soft silt of peace. Even Instagram is not that close a friend anymore. Sticking my neck out, in admitting that the follower game seems so last-season to me now. But there can be no raves without rants. So, despite all the intelligent improvising, fatigue still manages to raise its ugly head sometimes. Fortunately, a gentle inner voice whispers in parallel, “Remember, this is the life you wanted desperately”. Always works.

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Endnote, then. Living a dream is nothing like it sounds…it has its own share of tedium, trauma, toil and tears. Ok, much less dramatic. So, reality bites for all those glamour-stricken 20-somethings, mid-career shifters and everyone else who harbours the illusion that a life revolving around travel is a cakewalk…have you ever tried walking on cake? Meanwhile, Year 4. Bring it on.

 

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From travel blogger to legit travel writer in my 3rd year of travel blogging #travelwriter #travelblogger #travelblogging #blogversary #travelphilosophy #travelwriting

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.

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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.

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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!

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Five peaceful spots in Cesky Krumlov that you need to see

Cesky Krumlov, the offbeat way

Gawking over the iconic sights in a fairytale town like Cesky Krumlov is a given. Who can escape the attraction of the dreamiest of settings…medieval castle overlooking a time-warped, red-roof huddle of houses, and a gushing river wrapping it like a satiny ribbon. But there’s another Cesky Krumlov, hidden, and off-the-beaten path. Tempting you to wander into nooks where few others are venturing. All you need is your incorrigible curiosity to lead the way. The rewards? Unanticipated discoveries. Here are my favourite five solitude-filled spots to swoon over, in the cutest town of the Czech Republic.

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