Sunday, January 30, 2011

Inca Trail FAQ's

Just finished typing out a mail to a friend who is planning Peru and realized that I might as well blog to get the word around.. :)

The Inca Trail gets booked out couple of months in advance. (sometimes 6 months in advance) So it's a good idea to start planning early.
There are a number of operators and they all offer pretty much the same package(if you are thinking of doing the four day trail.  We chose Peru Treks 

Booking the trail also allows you to budget out the rest of the trip.  typically it costs about 450- 500 $ (USD). The advance is paid when you book the trail and the rest when you get to Cusco. Most operators mandate that you arrive in Cusco 2 days in advance. This allows you to acclimatize and shoo away any signs of altitude fitness by gulping down cups of Coco Tea :).
Cusco is a beautiful city . We did not do the Sacred Valley because we were to be seeing loads of ruins in the upcoming trail. But we were told it is a good thing to do.

The stay in Cusco and the trail together take about 6 days , close to a week. So if you are planning to do a 3 -4 week trip to Peru, a large chunk gets taken up already. Also remember that you need to factor in travel to and out of Cusco. Since we got here from Arequipa, we took the overnight bus. But going out of Cusco we had to travel during the day in the interest of time.

Its a good idea to hire a porter especially for the second day of the trail which is the most tiring. If you are traveling in a group its a good idea to share a porter between 2-3 people.

It gets really cold on the second day, so if you don't have a great sleeping bag, its best to hire one from your operator.

Though most people say it's okay to use water purifying tablets,  its good to keep in mind that when tired you sometimes tend to disregard the precise instructions written on the pack( half an hour really does mean half an hour). Its best to just buy bottled water. We were lucky , but there were a few people in our group who fell sick and its definitely not pleasant getting sick so far away from home.

Torchlight - absolutely essential. A person in out group had this cool torchlight that could be worn around the head.  Keep in mind that being out in the wilderness means you will not really have the sanitation offered by a toilet. Especially for women travelers a good torch light is half a battle won. It's not easy walking open spaces in the dark, the last thing you need is tripping over something and a twisted ankle..

On the Same note.. Sanitzer - Great way to keep your hands clean.

Wet Wipes - Good substitute to a bath. :)

We did take ponchos. But did not have any use for them . But with my experience of trekking the Himalayas in the rain I would say better safe than sorry.

Do not forget your sunscreen!!!!... We lost ours trying to rearrange things for the second day. Its good to plan these things a little in advance.
I was alway very proud of how sun resistant my skin was, but turns out it hadn't really seen hot and cold the same day. Temperatures peak and dip (especially on the second day) and if you don't want to see your skin come off in layers like I did, make sure you have your sunscreen with you

If you would like any further information, do leave a comment and I will reply.
Alternatively you could mail me mvenkat1 @ and I'll reply as best as I can

Hope you have a fab time!

Meena Venkataraman

Monday, January 24, 2011

Scenes from a walk..

Graffiti , close to London Bridge

This time it was the Graffiti that caught my eye as we walked past ... London truly is a treasure trove and you never know what you might stumble on as you walk through her streets.

Meena Venkataraman

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tales from the Underground -3..

Just when I was thinking that monotony had set in I discover poetic inspiration ..
The time and place could not have been more appropriate. Rush hour, crammed, everyone looking up or down avoiding eye contact , and then I see it..
Beautiful words.. Could not have asked for a lovelier start to a busy day

Meena Venkataraman

You can read more about poems on the underground here

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Tea Estates of Hongzhou

Having been to many tea estates in India, I thought I had seen every lesson in Tea making.
But on a visit to China, there seemed to be some that existed only in this part of the world and no other. The sprawling lush hillsides of Hongzhou grow 'Lungching' tea. Legend has it that the land once hit by a severe drought was saved by the summoning of a dragon by a local priest. The priest prayed to the dragon imploring it to save the parched lands. The rain clouds opened up at the behest of the dragon and the land flourished once more.. The dragon is still believed to live in the local wells and hence the crops take the name 'Lungching'meaning 'Dragon Well'..

The process of removing moisture from the leaves called dessication is manually done..
Called Pan Drying, we were told this process could take as long as 8 hours. We watched as the deft fingers moved in quick rhythmic movements, untiring and focused..

Pan Drying..

Outside a Tea Factory in Hongzhou..

The Tea manufactured here is mostly green and we tasted a sample before leaving the lovely tea estates of Hongzhou

Meena Venkataraman

Monday, January 17, 2011


Small and rather old, barely discernable in the misty mountain roads is the beautiful little heritage station of 'Ghum'. Built during the British Raj , its a station that looks frozen in time. All around India seems to have moved on..

What could not be colonized or tamed was the heat of the Indian planes, and what cannot be conquered can only be escaped.. It was Darjeeling to whom the British turned in search of cool summer escapes from the searing heat. The Darjeeling Himalayan railway , an engineering feat of the times was constructed in 1879. Ghum was constructed around the same time (1881)

The humble bearing of this decrepit aged building , does not boast loudly of its achievement, that of being the highest station in the vast network of the Indian Railways. At an altitude of 2,225.7 m its certainly no small feat

As we sip on our tea standing on the roadside , we watch a lazy steam engine chug past the narrow mountainside, tantalizingly close to shacks of houses along the tracks..

Meena Venkataraman

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I stand on the roadside..An outsider among the hordes of pilgrims making their way towards Badrinath.
In this land of Reverence in worship and multitudes that profess unwavering faith, I have become the despicable tourist...
But watching Devprayag -' The Holy Confluence' from where I stand, a union of two revered rivers is nonetheless a spiritual moment for me..

The Alaknanda and the Bhageerati each discerned by a thin line at the center marking the gushing waters apart . It is from this point onwards that they become inextricably related taking on one identity, and flowing in clear articulation as the might Ganges. The cadence of its life giving waters in perfect harmony to work and worship along its busy banks.  On my right I can see the feisty and heedless Alaknanda , muddy with dregs of the mountains she has been along and on the left the clearer Bhagariti, named after a prince and regal in bearing, deceptively fast if the eye cares to see, deep to the discerning. Streaming down from Gurmokh at the foot of the Gangotri glacier, the Bhagirati is the South bound source stream of the Ganges.
Where there is water there shall also be a city and on the banks of the union between these two rivers lies Badrinath.Myth and Lore, Religion and Tradition swirl in the waters below. Legend has it that the temple here was built by Adi Sankara and might have been named after a Berry. As I stand in silence the landslide which has caused us to halt has slowly been cleared away. The trickle of traffic builds momentum and we are called to resume our journey..

Meena Venkataraman

Saturday, January 1, 2011

NYE in London

We joined scores of Londoners in welcoming the New Year. People had been queuing up since evening and when we got there the crowds were already there, some sitting on the pavements, some making their way to better spots to watch the action , all of them enjoying themselves, braving the cold. An aura of festivity hung in the air.

We walked past the fountains of Trafalgar square, beautifully lit up.  The Christmas Tree , an annual gift from the Norwegians to the People of London since 1947, as a token of gratitude for support during the second world war, stands tall, resplendent in lights. Note to the self to join the hoards of people watching the tree lighting ceremony next year

Outside Trafalgar Square, The National Art Gallery in the Background
As we walk on the Big Ben emerges into view...  Breathtakingly resplendent against the ravishing dark,  night skies, dazzling gold against black. We are beginning to realize that we may be short on time and may not get to the boat. The entrance is nowhere in sight, and as we walk braving the crowds , we realize that we are as good as lost.
The beautiful , Big Ben
Luck smiles in the dark and we ask the right person for help, he happens to be heading the same way adn asks us to follow. We struggle to keep pace, but eventually get there...

The cruise was beautiful, we pass most of London's Landmarks. The Towerbridge , grey and blue , gloriously bright as we pass by. We wave to the scores of people standing on the bridges
Counting down the New Year..
A good two hours later , when we finally dock, we keep looking at the big ben to measure the passing minutes... The countdown begins and we chat the numbers with the teeming multitudes..
And then the fireworks begin, an explosion of Spectacular colours
Let the Games begin..

Welcome 2011

We realize It's going to be a while before we get home :).

Happy New Year Everyone :). To more travel and distant horizons and masts that never tire of the wind..



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