Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Scenic and Surreal Iceland-I

There are always a million reasons not do something but all that matters is that one reason which makes all the difference 
My trip to Iceland was one a perfect example of this thought

How this trip came to reality was an adventure in itself. My very good friends Amandeep Boparai and Nayan Chaudhary met sometime earlier in the year and decided that we should go on a trip somewhere (somehow we all three end up in the most unexpected of places). Someone suggested Iceland and because of the absurdity of the suggestion we thought we should take this seriously. After some help and consultation from our good friends google and trip advisor we came to know how beautiful is Iceland. 

Then came the question of how to fund this trip. All of us are master students studying in different universities, two of us are in US and another one is in Paris. I borrowed money and booked the cheapest flight tickets(NON-Refundable(very important)) on impulse.

Now there was no going back. Once we booked the tickets we registered for VISA; there are just few consulates in US that give Icelandic Visa and they don’t conduct interviews every day. I had to fly to Houston on my birthday to get my VISA. We had to take various permissions from the college(But I think I have the coolest program director) for VISA. Just getting to Iceland had costed us lot of money.

Our home in Iceland
After working late nights for weeks to plan for the lost classes and trying to be on top of all assignments and submission we finally flew to Iceland. Iceland greeted us with the coldest breeze outside the Keflavík  airport. It was so cold that we had to go inside the airport and get our caps and gloves out. We had already booked a 2015 Land Cruiser (it’s a super car). I recommend if you travelling to Iceland rent from "Reykjavik Rent a car" and don’t forget to take all kinds of insurance since the cars are super expensive (SCWD is a must).

Me and Chaudhary had to pick Bopa from Reykjavík to complete the pack. We planned the itinerary before so that we are not lost but as always is the case we made many impromptu decisions on the way.

Our first stop was Þingvellir National Park (for game of thrones fans it is the place where the Brienne of Tarth defeated the hound ). It's one of the most beautiful places  I have seen with plenty waterfalls, green rocks that are too beautiful to be true

Next we reached Gullfoss (foss means fall in Icelandic)  in the midst of snow and super high speed winds. The hike to  Gullfoss was an adventure in itself. The path was covered in ice and there was a  strong wind blowing. The barricades along the cliff of the waterfall were very frail, there was no traction on the ground because of the ice and it seemed that you could be literally be blown away. The water fall is intimidating, ferocious and awesome at the same time. I would definitely recommend visiting there.

Our first night in Iceland was rough. It was snowing like hell and to make matters interesting the wind was blowing like anything. The wind was so strong that it seemed that snow was falling horizontally on the windscreen. It was something that I had never seen in my life.

It was all white when we woke up

We slept in the car and woke up to see that the town has a mountain on one side and the sea on the other and the other. The whole town of Vik was covered in a white blanket of snow it was one of the most unique views that I had ever seen.

With the snow and the strong wind accompanying us we drove towards Dyrhólaey (one of the many black sand beaches in Iceland) . As we were moving towards the coast it stopped snowing but there was no respite from the wind. we could actually see the landscape turning from white to green in a matter of few meters. The black sand beach is beautiful (all those people who have seen How to train your dragon can relate to it) with rocks and birds flying around, really a sight to watch.

We drove past the snow storm to one of the most beautiful places in Iceland Skógafoss (you might have seen this in the new Shahrukh Khan Movie Dilwale) It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. You can almost always see a rainbow if its sunny and the whole experience is surreal and serene.  Very close to Skógafoss is Seljalandsfoss. The most unique thing about this fall is that  you can go behind this fall (Another scene from Dilwale). 

Truly Mesmerizing Skógafoss

Behind Seljalandsfoss

Plane in the middle of nowhere

The next place that I recommend visiting is the Sólheimasandur plane crash. To reach the site we had to drive off road for couple of km (Some US plane crashed here in the 70's)(again in Dilwale). The most weird thing about the place was that it was snowing and just 300-400 m away there was a farm fence. The left side of the fence was completely white, the right side was completely green. It was one of the spookiest things I have ever seen.

I will continue the rest of our trip in the next blog. For the time being enjoy our drive on the Iceland roads and with Daler Mahendi:

Monday, 16 November 2015

Scenic and Surreal Iceland-II

Continuing from where we left. After covering the south of Iceland we headed towards the east and the north.(Please read the blog before this to appreciate the beauty of south of Iceland)

After it snowed for the first couple of days the third day was clear. We were driving east with sea on our right and a mountain range on our left and suddenly out of nowhere on a right turn we saw this out of the world lagoon called as  Jökulsárlón. The lagoon originates from a melting glacier which "by the way" is right adjacent to the sea.

Unrealistically beautiful
The lagoon itself is nothing short of a paradise in itself. I will highly recommend everyone to take a boat ride in the lagoon, you won’t regret it. There are blue, white ,black (because of the ash from the volcanoes) Icebergs In the clean lagoon water. If you are patient enough you can see seals in the water. If you cross the bridge over the lagoon towards the sea you will see big ice bergs on the black beach. That is one of the weirdest thing I have ever seen(Icebergs on a beach)

Glacier and Sea side by side
The drive through the east is beautiful. Next we took a road through the highlands of the country. The highlands are in themselves a treat to watch but not that easily accessible. It feels like you have climbed a mountain of ice and there is sheet of white everywhere. It actually feels like you driving on top of a wall (the Game of thrones one). 
Let me try to describe the drive: Driving on top of a flat mountain with snow on either side of the roads with a brook running along the road that has small waterfalls that are partially frozen. We were speechless and scared at the same time because if you are stuck there is no saving you. 

The special east
The Highlands

The drive over the wall
After passing through the highlands we headed north. Now just imagine the odds:
Driving in the middle of the night with a clear sky, it had snowed heavily for the past two days to provide a perfect white cover around the black road, it was full moon night . 
It was really cold outside (around -10 C). The moon light was being reflected from the white snow and mountains. To top it all there were hot Geysir on either side that were visible in the moonlight .Driving in the middle of the night at 50km/hr with no headlights(yeah without the headlights).The moonlight after being reflected from the ample of white snow was so bright that everything was visible.I was spellbound and in awe during the whole 50 km drive. It's one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

After that spectacular drive we reached Lake Mývatn and parked our car at the perfect spot to see northern lights. But alas we were unlucky, though we had a clear sky but there was no solar activity that day. We could see the northern lights in the camera, if you set it to a higher exposure. It was less than -15 degree Celsius  outside and we decided to call it a day and slept in our car again.

Natural Jacuzzi in the middle of snow
Next we wanted to go to Dettifoss but the path had so much snow that we had to turn back*, we had been travelling for a couple of days we decided to rest a bit. There are many nature baths in Iceland and they are the best place you can relax in. The water is naturally hot and it is one of the most energizing experiences one can ever have. The hot pools are surrounded by snow . You can stay back as long as you want and if you willing to shed some wallet weight they serve beer and food in the bath.

Goðafoss is right behind us

We continued our journey towards north and stopped at Goðafoss and had the one of the best dinners ever. It was cold like hell and we stopped feeling our hands and ears after we were done cooking, but it was one of the most amazing places to have dinner. We reached Akureyri  which  is one of the biggest towns in north of Iceland and it is one of the most beautiful cities of Iceland.

Next we decided to explore the less popular Westfjords and see Dynjandi. The drive to that Dynjandi was a treat in itself. We saw many frozen lakes on our way to the waterfall and the waterfall in itself was majestic. We covered few other falls on our way back to Reykjavik and completed our amazing trip.

If you love horse riding, adventurous glacier walks and scuba dives then these are some other reason to go to Iceland. We didn't cover the whale watching and many other things that the country has to offer.
I am definitely going back

Overall I can assure you that you won't regret your trip to Iceland and will remember it for the rest of your life. The only downside is that the weather is very unpredictable and the country is slightly more expensive. Try bringing in a camera that shoots good images in night and have a portable camera ready (I-phone and Samsung Galaxy are pretty good).

Just leaving you with some of my favourite pics from the trip and thanks to google for this amazing video(use google photos)

Totally amazing

Water falls in the Westfjords

Grass and Snow capped mountains like no big deal

The Frozen Lake
Misty Mountains

The Icebergs
Water Fall out of nowhere

*Bopa I might write the true story when the time is right

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Trip to Vietnam

I think most people know Vietnam from the famous guerrilla war they fought with America from the 1950's till the 1970's. But here I would like to present my experience vacationing this beautiful country.

As soon as you land in Ho chi min city (named after their great leader Mr. Ho chi min who was the face of their independence) you are greeted with a humidity similar to Mumbai and a peculiar smell of fish. The main life line of the city seems to be the Siagon river which was also the historical name of the city. It is one of the most modern cities of Vietnam where you will find all the facilities that money can buy. The main tourist attraction of the city are the Cu chi tunnels.

Cu chi tunnels gives you a perspective of how the war of Vietnam was fought. Why the Americans had trouble fighting the small and poor Vietnamese. The tunnels are narrow, deep and run a network that is several kilometers long.I am a thin guy and I could barely enter the tunnel and there was no way for an American soldier to enter the tunnel opening with all their gear.

Its unequivocal that Vietnamese designed these tunnels with a lot of planning ,creativity and practical thinking.For instance for every entry into the tunnel they also made another opening  camouflaging it in the dense jungle at a distance of just 2 m from the first entry. So whenever an American tried to follow a Vietnamese in a tunnel the Vietnamese soldier would come out of the second exit and shoot the soldier. They built in various booby traps all across the jungle which were camouflaged in the best way possible. The Vietnamese used resources of the US against them, they  recycled everything from US bomb scrap to US tanks The tank mines that they used were made from the scrap of bombs that the US forces used for bombing them. It is worth visiting Cu chi tunnels and see how the Vietnamese fought after defeating all odds . The best part about Cu Chi tunnels is that you get to fire M10, Ak-47 and the Rambo gun M-60. The feeling is pretty awesome.

The next place you can visit is Da-lat which is an hours flight from Ho Chi Min. It’s a hill station that was used by French colonist as their vacation destination along with the then king of Vietnam. It’s a very beautiful city with a scenic view similar any standard hill station. The French architecture, embroidery exhibition shop, the flowers exhibition and the vacation palace of the last king are the some of the places that you can visit and enjoy in Da lat. Especially the XQ- hand embroidery is a place that is pretty good and if you are interested in art and stuff you will find it pretty amazing. The embroidery that they have done is every detailed and exceptional.
One thing that you can not miss in Da-Lat is the tribal show  with the tribal dances and drinks. It was one of the most lively and audience participative programs that I have seen in my life. A must attend.

Da-Nang which is like a cosmopolitan town of Vietnam is an hours flight from Da-lat . From Da-nang at around 50 km drive are the Bana Hills. The prime attraction at Bana hills are cable cars which holds 4 Guiness world records. The cable ride takes will take you around 1 Km high and its around 5 Km in perimeter. The 17 minute ride up is beautiful and serene and the BANA resort at the top is grand and elegant. 

You can see the lush green mountains, waterfalls and at the same time on the other side the you can see the ocean across the city of Da-nang. I think it is one of the most novel and unique views one can ever come across. At the top of the mountain there is a beautiful statue Buddha along with some of the most well kept gardens that I have ever come across. It is a beautiful sight and  a place that you would definitely not like to miss.

Next  place on the itinerary can be Hue which is the ancient capital of Vietnam and also the seat of their last Monarch. Through the city one of the cleanest and most beautiful river flows named the perfume river. Along the bank of this Perfume rivers is an ancient Pagoda (Buddhist temple) that is worth the visit.
You must also visit Hoi An which has been declared as a heritage site by UNESCO.The city is preserved to its ancient self and grandeur. The place is a paradise for back backers and shopping lovers. There are  folk music shows on the boats that are pretty good. To me the best thing about the city was its rickshaws .The rickshaws have two tyres in the front and the Rickshaw drivers sits behind you. It is a fun experience.

Then you can visit Hanoi which is the current capital of the country and is situated in the north. There is a Dragon water show that is a must attend and for all the Indians please visit 'Namaste India' restaurant in Hanoi, it has one of the best Indian food that you can get.
From Hanoi its a 4 hour drive to Ha long bay, which is in itself one of the seven natural wonders of the world with almost 2000 islands. I highly recommend that you can try one of the cruise ships and spend on day in the bay.  Since its one of the seven natural wonders it is beautiful and the same time the experience on the ship is calm and serene.

The caves in the Islands of Ha long bay are simply amazing and one of the most astonishing sites that you will ever come across. The caves are intricate and when you stand there you are awed by its natural beauty and enormity. This a place you would not want to miss. 
If possible try booking Pelican 2 as your ship for the journey, we had very good time with crew and even taught them how to dance on Made in India.

Overall you will find the country very beautiful and worth spending the vacation. The right blend of history, modern amenities and the happy and warm nature of its people across all the tourist sites make this country a perfect holiday destination that not many people have explored.

As a few personal recommendation I would suggest that you should visit the beach, the 7 saloon pub, and the InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort while you are in Da nang and there is a bridge made in the shape of a dragon from which they breath fire on weekends.If you are travelling with your family or your girlfriend please carry an extra baggage because there are several shopping destinations across the country. The craftsman ship of the people is exemplary and at the same time they are warm and friendly. Though there is a language barrier and most of the people don't understand English, so hiring a guide might not be a bad idea.

PS:There is road named after Ho Chi Min in south Delhi