Uphill climb
It all began when two of my girlfriends came to see me as I’d been bedridden for a month. While the medical certificates stated that I couldn’t move about for some time, I knew from within that I would get out of bed sooner than what was written in black and white. I expressed my sincere desire to go out in the open, and my girls agreed immediately – not because they wanted to cause me harm but because they know my capability and believe in me when I say I can. No big plans, no guide, no compass / maps – just the three of us and our backpacks where we dumped our necessities and a lot of excitement.
Chitre monastery
We were greeted with a steep flight of stairs in Manebhanjang, probably the steepest along the entire Sandakphu-Phalut trail. A few minutes into the trek and realization dawned that it wasn’t as easy as it seems to be. We were having second thoughts – what did we get ourselves into? – shall we continue or shall we make a U-turn? But I guess the blood that runs in us overruled all such thoughts. We weren’t the first ones, nor would we be the last. It was time we tested our strength, both mental and physical. And so we carried on. In approximately 3 km, we saw the end of those razor-sharp stairs as we reached Chitre. An old monastery adorned the place, and as we took the blessing, a new form of energy enveloped us. In no time, we were back on the track never to look back! We completed 9 km that day and reached Tonglu, our first-night halt at a homestay where we slept the night away.
We woke up to the majestic Kanchenjunga the next morning. This gave us a renewed sense of vigor as we were told that the view keeps getting better as we climb up. We quickly freshened up to partially-frozen running water – I kept touching my face just to be sure it remained intact –and had protein-rich heavy breakfast for the journey ahead. It started to get interesting! We took quick halts in between to take pleasure in the surrounding, for quick bites of chocolate bars, and of course, to hydrate ourselves. We encountered a lot of people on the way – locals as well as fellow trekkers. We kept gaining company – young and old — as we moved on. We walked around 14 km and reached Kalpokhri, where we were supposed to nestle for the night. The lady of the motel greeted us with a big bright smile; we smiled even brighter. The feeling was akin to being greeted by my mother when I come home after months of being away. But the smile on our faces immediately faded as we were told that the rooms were fully crowded. She told us that she had arranged accommodation elsewhere as she pointed to a distant tinned house on a hilltop some 2 km away.
Chauri Chowk
2 km away in a place called Chauri Chowk!! It was pitch dark, and we were just half there; it was when the battery of our cell phones had drained out that it struck us that none of us carried a torchlight. We literally dragged ourselves in the dark, praying that we reach safely. And we did … at last! A young woman welcomed us with tea (probably one of the best tea I’ve had so far) and showed us our cozy den. Dinner was served on time, and soon after we landed on the bed, we were fast asleep. However, I woke up to strange sounds at midnight, and I couldn’t put myself to sleep again. Was it a baby whining, or a cat crying? … I just couldn’t figure it out. Alongside, the mountain dogs barked half-heartedly yet continuously. Strange thoughts kept creeping until I fell asleep – I don’t realize when though! The next morning, we burst out laughing at my stupidity as I was told that the strange sounds came from the strong winds that blow every night. We had nutritious breakfast along with a glass of thick Dzomo (hybrid of yak and cow) milk, bought some Dzomo chhurpis, thanked the lady of the house, and headed towards Sandakphu (our next night halt).
Mountain trekking
Staying at Chauri Chowk was a boon in a way; we were 2 km ahead of the rest, and Sandakphu was just 4 km away! Comparatively, it would be a cakewalk – at least we thought so until we came across a long steep flight of stairs that stretched right from Bikaybhanjang (1.5 km approx. from Chauri  Chowk) up to Sandakphu. Phew!! I can’t put in words how we did that, but we did it anyhow and reached Sandakphu much ahead of time. Sandakphu, a small hamlet with a few hotels and shops spread across the land elevated at an altitude of 3636 m / 11930 ft above sea level, is the highest point of the Singalila range in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal and the Ilam district of Nepal. We loitered around for some time, climbed a nearby rock, and headed back to our hotel. We woke up at 4 the next morning just so we don’t miss the sunrise. The site was truly blissful! Four (Mt.Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, and Makalu) out of the five highest peaks (including K2) in the world can be seen from its summit! To witness the view was a blessing. We went back to the hotel where we were given a bottle of hot water each to freshen up. To my dismay, the bottle I received smelled of alcohol! However, I was so much at peace with myself — and also the lazy bum that I am — that I washed my face with the same alcoholic water solution without any complaint. Next, we offered prayer at a sacred temple, which is home to most of the nearby rivers.
Singalila range
We took our own sweet time to get dressed up as we had booked the heritage Rover to take us to Phalut (21 km from Sandakphu) – we didn’t have any prebooking in Phalut. We were basking in the winter sun as we waited for our ride when the owner of the hotel disclosed that the driver had left us and was on his way to Phalut! Later on, we got to know that the driver had two Japanese passengers on board, who denied to share the cab with us! And that was the only cab going to Phalut — what a wonderful stroke of luck! It was 9:30 am already, and we had to cover 21 km before sunset! We looked at one another and said, “We can do this.” Most of the trekkers heading to Phalut had left by 8:00 / 8:30-ish. So we were lagging behind by an hour / an hour and a half! A few locals whom we met on the way told us that we couldn’t make it. Such discouraging comments charged us up even more. And so we walked and walked and walked … — no breaks, no lunch, no photos or videos (although I took a few w/o their notice ;D … shh!) – taking quick bites of eateries we’d packed while still walking! And just when the massive golden fireball touched the horizon, we were at the hilltop in Phalut! While the glittering sparks of light from far across Darjeeling illuminated the otherwise candlelit hilltop at night, the golden rays of the sun gleamed through the snow-peaked mountains at dawn. The entire Singalila range looked like a bride decked up in gold, and I just couldn’t take my eyes off her. Such was her beauty! I didn’t want to move an inch, but all good things must come to an end.
Sunrise in Phalut
And so with a heavy heart and pocket full of memories, we headed downhill to Gorkhey, a well-planned village located 15 km from Phalut. We stayed there for the night and headed to Sirikhola (our final walk), another 15 – 16 km from Gorkhey, the next day. In the 86 km that we covered, not once did we find litter. I was truly impressed with the cleanliness the inhabitants and the tourists maintained! While we marked the end of the journey with fellow travelers in Gorkhey, I recall a quick conversation with a distinct guide, who was a friend to us by now:

Me: “How long have you been guiding foreigners along this route?”
He: “It’s been seven years!”
Me: “Do you not get bored with this job?”
He: “Nope. I love to walk this and similar such routes, payment is good, but most importantly, I get to interact with different people from all over the world every day.”
Me: “So when are you up next?”
He: “Two days from now.”

What a lucky fellow!

All Photographs © Fiddle F00t 


Ever since I stood on my feet (literally), I’ve been travelling, holding the pinky of my father. Hunched with job responsibility and worldly affairs, it’s tough to put aside the time or resource to travel. So, I kind of almost gave up my passion. My feet were intact, but my soul never rest. It yearned to explore, and it yearned much more! I would be in the middle of serious work-related discussions, and suddenly I found myself among a sea of clouds or in between tides. The more I tried to lock in those wandering thoughts, the more they surfaced. So I decided I would set aside some time to oil my fiddle feet and gallop away to glory.

Clicking on this website itself shows that you love travelling as much as I do. So are you a luxurious traveler, or do you like the off-beat more? I’m more of the latter. While it’s easy to get information about luxury travel, not much do we find stories about off-beat travelling – the reason why I started Fiddlef00t. I love to backpack, get on that public transport, and interact with the locals. There’s no better way to know a place or its people than by actually hitting the road. My blogs read details of my travel journey, including food and lifestyle. Email me for any queries, and I’ll be happy to help.

Like, comment, and /or subscribe to my blog! As much as I want to inspire you, I want to be inspired in return.



The Man Behind My Fiddlefoot

“How long have you been travelling?” someone once asked me. And I was like, “I don’t know.” Well, I wasn’t sulking, but I seriously had never done the math. The only faint memories I have of my early travel days is that of a toddler not letting go of the pinky of the only man I knew I could trust then – my beloved father. His theory was straight – “you get good grades, I take you on a vacay!” And so we, my younger sister and I (and later on the youngest of us all, my brother), worked excessively to get not just good grades but excel the sheets. Hence our first lesson in life – you have to earn your vacay! Now the perk of having a home in the mountains is you get a good 3-month-long winter break! And every year, we made sure we earned “the vacay” as he would call it.

When I say vacay, it was not always pompous and grand. We would travel in railway coaches most of the time, were made to talk to total strangers, and were taught to carry our own tiny bag packs at the least and the importance of privacy at a very young age. You must be wondering what kind of father is this who jeopardizes the life of his own kids! Well, trust me, we have the best dad in the world. Of course, he would let us out in the open, but if he sensed any odd event, he would be right there, holding our back, a protective dad that he is. I have travelled with him (of course when I was much younger) a lot, and I have learnt the most crucial lessons of life. But there were times when he spoilt us with our fav candies and some luxury just so he could set the standard that every father would want his little girl to maintain.

Most of us are taught that we, as children, shouldn’t interrupt the conversation of two or more elders, but my father would always, and still does, encourage us to voice our opinions no matter how silly they sound. A cop by profession and a strict disciplinarian, he sowed the seed of mutual respect in us early on. Sometimes, we would complain and nag and would look for our mother’s shade to cover us (mom is our ultimate rescue you know), but his ways never changed; I’m glad it did not. For I know now, what he did was the best he could do and the best he has done for us.

I remember visiting holy shrines at times where we had to remove our shoes before we got in, and there was still my father, making us stand on his feet so we could get off the cold marble floor. So much for having an annoying and adamant kid like me! As years passed by, we grew up, and suddenly, the vacations stopped as we were busy in our own lives. And here I am, alone, with no father figure beside me in my journey (those phone and video calls aren’t just enough you know). While I still travel far and wide, with friends and sometimes alone, I miss him and his strange ways, and I miss our journeys in the past. “You’re beautiful like your mom” is what my sister gets often, and all I get is how I’m a replica of my dad! It’s then that I realize it’s so much more to be handsome, and not beautiful, like my dad – inside and out!

Happy Father’s Day!



Mac and Cheese? Nahhhh… Wine and Cheese

As you grow older, a lot of your favourites are replaced – with no apologies! So are mine. While we are highly influenced by the western culture, little do we know the whys and the hows of the culture we religiously inherit. One such trait that we have adopted, yet know almost nothing about, is drinking wine. I’ve often noted my fellow countrymen, and women, drinking gallons and gallons of wine every year, not knowing that winemaking is an art and requires a lot of hard work and perseverance. And being born under the sign of scales, I love art and all things beautiful! I’ve been planning this whole thing since two years, but somehow something of greater significance always came up, which led me to push aside the plan. This time, however, when the very same urge resurfaced, I couldn’t shrug off it any further. So without giving it much thought, I called upon a few friends, who could get along on a short notice, and drove off to this widespread winery off the road in Yelahanka Hobli, KA. Although it’s not quite possible to seep in the entire process in one session, I took note of a few tiny details, which may help you while ordering your choice of companion.

To begin with, the grape with which wine is prepared is unlike the grape that we eat as a fruit — the former containing more seeds and being less pulpy comparatively. Another important factor that highly marks how much a bottle will cost you is the soil in which the grapes are cultivated. More often than not, soil plays a vital role in shaping the wine to what it is. While various vineyards around the globe have their own peculiar soil in which the wine grapes are cultivated, and hence the flavor and the price, the vineyards in the southern part of India – to which I visited – mostly use red gravel soil. Said that, we cannot omit yet another factor that miraculously adds up to the taste and estimate of a fine bottle of wine – the climate! Warmer days and cooler nights with limited rainfall is the ideal climate here. Wine grapes are usually harvested twice a year – once in April (for grape batch Feb-March) and the second lot in November (for grape batch Aug-Sept). In India, however, it is harvested mostly in Feb-March as with the onset of monsoon, the soil tends to be moister than what is required – remember, perfection is the key here! Everything, from the soil to the fruit and the picking, has to be perfect, which explains why wine grapes are harvested by women alone (the fact that women are more hardworking and patient). The stem of the plant is such that it tapers towards the soil. Direct sunlight is equally essential, which gives the beverage its aroma and the sugar content – the more the sunlight, the sweeter the fruit, and more the alcohol content.

grape stomping
Every time a sufficient amount of grapes is picked, it goes into the production house where the amount is segregated and only the very best fruit goes into the de-stemmer (grapes were stomped manually with feet in olden days) where the fruit is crushed. Here’s when the process for red, white, and rosé wine differ slightly. While the entire fruit, along with the pulp and the skin, is mashed for red wine thus giving it the desired hue, the white wine takes only the thin juice of the fruit. Rosé (pinkish in colour), on the other hand, incorporates some of the colour of the grape skin but not enough to give it that particular redness of the red wine. So next time when your doctor makes mention of a glass of wine to keep your heart healthy, note that he is directing to red wine and not white. The crushed grapes then go into gigantic steel tanks for fermentation. During fermentation, while red wine is enclosed in 20 – 30 degree Celsius, white wine undergoes a similar process at 7 – 13 degree Celsius. As the grapes are crushed, the yeast consumes the sugar from the exposed juice, releasing ethanol and carbon dioxide. The process may last from 10 – 21 days or more, depending on the temperature, speed, and type of wine being prepared. (A special mention of the fourth category, the sparkling wine, is required here as it, unlike the others, undergo two fermentation processes, one for the wine and the other for the bubbles.)

The fermented juice is then clarified where dead yeast cells, tannins, and protein are removed; wine is then transferred to oak barrels for filtration. You may wonder why oak and not just any other barrel! Well, oak has the property of absorbing flavors from the surroundings, thus smoothening the liquid. Fine settlements at the bottom of the barrels are removed, and the clear liquid is poured into another oak barrel for future aging. Further aging, which is the final stage of winemaking, will again add up to the smoothness and flavor of the wine. The wine is then poured into bottles and sealed with corks or screw caps, depending on whether it goes out for immediate consumption or stays in the house for some more time. The wine, unlike other beverages, does not directly go out in the market for sale. It has to be sold to the Government, who then levies excise duty on the product and sells the same to the producer at MRP. The producer then supplies the same to the distributors. This is also the reason why wine is free of GST. I wasn’t aware until now that winemaking is such a tedious, yet interesting, process. So the next time you take a sip, recall all the hard work and the time that have been put into creating that sip you just took!

[PS: An open bottle of wine is for immediate consumption; the maximum that the flavor and aroma of an unsealed wine bottle last is two days.] Happy wine sipping! 🙂



All photographs © Fiddlef00t






















Travelling on Tampons



Speaking about menses has always been a taboo in large parts of the world for a long time. Women, as and when they enter the cycle every month, are considered unwholesome, abstaining them from entering the kitchen and places of worship to the extent of not letting them serve cooked meals or go anywhere near the flora. And the list goes on … This belief is not entirely wrong if we’re to take into account the scientific explanation behind it. In olden days, when illiteracy was widespread and there was lesser access to hygiene, the few educated elders must have forced these practices so as to keep away from the bacteria and mucus secreted out of a woman’s body during menstruation.
However, although the process we, as women, undergo is the same, we’re aware of maintaining hygiene at all times during periods. It is not about shaming ourselves or hurting the sentiments of the religious lot, but it is more about fighting the cramps, the mood swings, the uneasiness we feel during such times, check-marking calendars just so we don’t miss the date. In spite of all the trouble we take, sometimes, menses have a mind of their own and come unannounced often when you’re all excited about that vacation.
So here I was – travelling and on my periods! I didn’t have control over the latter, and I didn’t want to postpone the former. So I started my journey, refreshing every now and then at the back of my head — Come What May! It was definitely not easy, holding nature’s call until I found clean washrooms with sufficient water supply and proper disposals (If you didn’t know, women’s body is more receptive to infections and viruses during this phase). I wouldn’t be at peace until we reached the hotel.
The real challenge came when my pious friends decided to visit the famous temple, Sri Bhagandeshwara, of the region. Not that I was against any religious beliefs, but — “I was on my periods”! The moral seeds had been sowed inside my thick head much before I could differentiate right from wrong. Now it was more of a habit, and old habits die hard. Almost five minutes on the outside of the temple, waiting for them to mop up the rituals, and I started to get fidgety. Did I come this far to sit outside while my friends made offerings? I didn’t have any offerings as such; nevertheless, I wanted to do anything but sit idle and almost roasted! Questions started to pop up from nowhere.
They wrapped up in 15 – 20 minutes and headed to dip their feet in the holy Triveni Sangam. I couldn’t hold any longer, nor could I withstand the sun shining right through my skin. The next moment I stood alongside my peers in the cool water of the mighty Cauvery, Kannike, and Sujyothi. I didn’t know what I was doing, but that was all I wanted to do then. By the time I was fully aware, I had already stepped into the shrine of Talakaveri, another magnificent architecture.
As I look back, I feel accomplished as a woman and more as a human. Sometimes it is tough to break away from old habits, but if one’s happy doing so, and until it doesn’t bring harm to the rest, why not? It’s time we be the change!
Until Next Time!
(All Photographs © Fiddlef00t)


From the Journal of a Solo Traveler

coffee plantation
I’m one restless soul (pun intended) – thanks to my genes! I need to get out of my cocoon time and again to revamp my engine. Although I love the company of a few like-minded people, I can’t always expect their presence in this fast-paced world. Thus started my solo tours! I was a little skeptical at first, considering the hardships I might face. But my love for adventure as well as intense desire to see the unseen overshadowed my fear and doubts. As I backpacked for my 3rd solo tour, I was glad I made the choice. Eight states, including union territories, and three countries (and counting) later and reaching out to complete strangers to capture my moments, I’m penning down some beneficial things to keep in mind while you’re doing the rounds on your own.

Thimphu city view
1) Do the research: Before you plunge into an unknown territory, it is always recommended to do a thorough research of all the tiny details. Make use of the Internet, read through articles concerning the place in picture, or even better, talk to any known person, just so you can squeeze out and sieve the information. I personally favor the latter as nothing can be compared to a hands-on experience.

Shooting point, Ooty
2) Local language: While it may be quite not possible to learn a language in a short span and to learn every local language of every place you visit, memorizing a few common often-used words has brought no harm to anyone. This will help build a good rapport with the locals. The locals are the best source to approach if you are looking for a customized tour of the area. It may also bring down your expense, while honing your bargaining skills – you may save those extra dimes for some more shopping later! 😉

3) Follow the weather forecast: You have plenty of amazement to please thee eyes on your vacay. You wouldn’t want to lock yourself indoors due to extreme weather conditions. So it is only advisable to take note of the weather forecast early on so it won’t ruin your holiday. Carry your essentials accordingly.

Boat house, Ooty
4) Maintain vigilance at all times: A peaceful environment drifts our thoughts away to happy times, and often we lose the count of time. But remember, you’re all by yourself, so staying alert is the key here. While you may wonder, how can one be constantly under the pressure of being vigilant and celebrate the moment at the same time! Well my love, roses always come with thorns. But then, of course, you will learn how to train your mind to acknowledge danger. And when will your multi-tasking ability come handy?

5) Balance your interactions: Humans come in all kinds of packages. You may be an introvert or a babbler — both won’t be of much help! You will have to strike the right balance somewhere in between. Personally, I felt that my introvert self wouldn’t let me explore to the fullest. And my chirpy avatar didn’t do much good either. Rather, it nearly landed me in trouble! Sadly, we’re still in the age where girls are confined to four walls, and opinionated women … well, they are considered a threat to mankind.

6) Create priceless memories: Now this is a tricky situation, especially for a photo enthusiast like me. I would want to capture every single miracle I see, but sometimes, by the time I set the frame, it would be too late. Here’s when I realized not everything you onlook is meant to be captured on your full frame. Moreover, no lens in the universe can come up to par or exceed your vision. So click photographs all you can, but also place your gadget aside and bask in the glory of what you see. Trust me, it’s priceless!

Tiger's Nest, Paro
7) Buy yourself a memento: And last but definitely not the least, buy a memento of your visit. An old-school at heart, I love to have the memories alive for as long as I live. What better way than to get yourself a keepsake! I always get one from every place that I rest my feet on. The feeling is unmatched. You should try it too! 😀

So, these are the common keep-in-mind information to note down from my personal solo travel journal. I hope they will be of some use to you. If you have any more additions, feel free to jot                                     them in the comments section. Stay safe! Happy solo travelling!                                                                                                            Until next time,                                                                            XOXO, Swechha

All Photographs © Fiddle F00t


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