How to make the most out of your travels

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

The world today poses complex challenges to the average human being, more than what it used to be 10 or 20 years back perhaps. The constant need for staying connected to the world propagates through generations like a wildfire and we all are into it, all the time.  Traveling has opened up new avenues for those seeking clarity by untying themselves from the mundane, city life. In the age of Instagram and Snapchat, instant information sharing is standard practice, and traveling is a necessity to keep up with the lifestyle definition of a millennial.

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Traveling does open up the horizons of our mind, by showing us differences of lands, cultures, practices and offerings. If only our kind was more cautious to inculcate more of nature in the standard definition of a city life, this need would have never arisen. However, it is the age of seeking the world, ticking places off the bucket list that proudly sits on your fridge door!

So what can one do to ensure that they make the most out of every travel experience, no matter 100 kms away or 10,000?

Here is what we have tried and tested in our journeys. Hoping it would help you gather the best of wherever you go and what ever you do!

Find your perspective: Each new place that you set foot on, has something to offer that is only yours. Most often we rely on the internet, friends who have visited to know what to do, where to go. Each traveller is unique just like the place. Find out your likes and to-do when traveling to a new destination, own it and embrace the explorer in you. That way, you will have a great story to tell back home.

Rajwada Corridor

Have an open mind: Whether it be the food, language, clothing, markets or the people, have an open mind. Don’t let preconceived notions cloud your choices. Try new things. If you like it, great! If you don’t, let it become an experience. Observe your surroundings and try to absorb the vibe, you don’t have to always act like the others are, but it never hurts to welcome new experiences!

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A bit of knowhow: The history and traditions of a destination adds to the richness of your holiday extravaganza. Reading a little on the history of the place you are visiting will help you assess the do’s and dont’s, understand why something is there or is popular. It will also help you feel less like a tourist and more at home.

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Best time to visit: It may so happen that you end up missing out on the best things to see, best activities to do if you land in a bad season, at a gorgeous destination. Off season travel comes cheaper, but assess your priorities well and ensure you get to see what you want. Don’t end up burning a hole in your pocket only to find everything closed or inaccessible in the off season. A bit of research on the best time to visit a place will also keep you safe from the perils of a treacherous winter or harsh summer or worse, monstrous monsoons!

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Idols of Gauri Mata and Isar Maharaj

Interact with the natives: The best way to explore a new place is by interacting with the locals. Always remember you are a tourist in their home land, and approaching the locals for help on local timings, places to see, best eateries etc. will help you make a regular plan into something extraordinary. Traveling is nothing without the essence of the lifestyle of a place, so try to get the best ideas by talking to friendly, approachable locals. What could go wrong by asking a few touristy questions. Right?

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Be immersive, don’t just be a tourist: Gather memories via curating your own experiences. It is very important to make yourself and others feel comfortable with your presence. Try everything and only then you will be able to share your experiences with friends and family back home. Exploring a place like its your home will not only save the environment, but also add unforgettable memories to your travel diary.

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Be responsible: Vacationing like a mad tourist, destroying property, harassing others and being rowdy will not go well and may land you in serious trouble. If you have the opportunity to see a place in all its glory, its only fair that others after you get to experience the beauty in the same way. Try to carry your own water, eco-friendly alternatives to plastic and always remember to pick up your trash and dump it in a bin.

Lastly, take pictures! Take as many as you want, capture videos of happenings and add them to your travel diary. A good photo speaks volumes about a destination. What better than visual memories to transport you back to the same spot when life seems all mundane, again!

Published on Nationalviews.com

Heritage travel and ecotourism comes together at Phaltan

Uncharted places that are not on the map as a designated tourist destination often show the potential of a unique experience. That is exactly what Jakson Inns has achieved for the almost forgotten Phaltan, located 110 kms from Pune.

A highway ride is common for Mumbaikars, usual destinations being Pune, Kaas Pathar, Lonavala, Goa, Ratnagiri coastal lines and more. On a roadtrip to nowhere in particular, Jakson Inns just happened to us for a stopover initially. Phaltan is one of those places where you may stop for a night before continuing your journey, but it gives you a neat, functional and enjoyable itinerary. Variety of experiences curated together by the hotel entices you to stay back.

What started as a journey in search of an offbeat experience, turned out to be a complete weekend getaway at a highway side hotel. May sound odd, but you need to read this article in full to know how The Moonchasers found a weekend, worthy of sharing with you as a recommendation.

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Satara district marks a historically and economically significant side of Maharashtra, also known for its forts, waterfalls and religious festivals. Lands that host major industrial facilities also caters to 60% of the states sugar production, thanks to sugarcane farming all around the plateaus. Only about a four hour drive from Mumbai, Phaltan is an amalgamation of sustainable energy with agriculture and history. From solar farms and windmills powering an entire industrial belt and a 3 star hotel, Jakson Hospitality brings a piece of ecotourism on its very premises spanning 6 acres.

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The property is a proud LEED Platinum Rated Building, harnessing its energy from natural resources. The hotel has 69 deluxe rooms, 4 suites, a contemporary bar, a vibrant multicuisine restaurant and a luxury spa. It also has a gorgeous pool and basketball court, and bicycles (We made good use of it for a midnight track race) suited for families. A full service gym is also open for guests.

Apart from providing a wholesome Malvani cuisine, the staff ensures you get a taste of the local culture. We were taken to a beautiful windmill farm to watch sunset over the plateaus sipping on an exquisite Sauvignon on the first day.  The giant machines start screeching and creaking to pick up speed with the evening breeze, adding a bit of charm to the whole setting. We also made a new friend at the table top!

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A barbecue night followed on the hotel grounds, prepared by the chefs on the spot. They went an extra mile to prepare a giant Khakhra for us (Baked thin crackers made of mat bean and wheat flour). Sumptuous food calls for a good end to an amazing day and we had a very comfortable room, again carefully and professionally serviced to get a good night’s sleep.

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Breakfast awaited us by the poolside on the second day. After gorging on mango shakes and masala omelettes, our destination was Thosegad Waterfalls. Maharashtra comes alive with the monsoon and this waterfall too shows its true beauty ripe with the rain water. However we had a fun time walking up to the lake and made a mental note of coming back here again in a couple of months as the rains intensify.

Stories of emperors, conquerors and rulers fascinate the reader. But what happens when you get to walk into the homes once inhabited by the characters from the pages of history books! An experience curated only by Jakson Inns that needs a special permission, made the highlight of the trip.

Phaltan is known in history for being home to Sai Bai, Shivaji’s first wife as she hailed from this once prosperous taluka. Manmohan Rajwada, was named after Mudhoji Manmohan, who ruled the Phaltan State between 1860 to 1916. It was once the maternal home of Sambhaji Maharaj, son of the founder of the Maratha Empire.

An architectural delight, the Rajwada palace compound consists of the main residential building, an ancient Ram Mandir, spacious courtyards and long halls called chowks. The interiors reflect rich heritage design with intricate hand-carved wood work in the columns and arches. The rich colour palette in the paintings and tapestries across the palace exude a royal yet contemporary selection of art. All rooms open out onto a central courtyard, or a chowk, demonstrating a common feature of period Indian architecture, allowing air circulation for hot summers. It was an obvious delight for J for his love of symmetry and marvellous architecture. On the other hand, I was marvelling at it’s spaciousness and rich historic elegance which oozes out with every step you take within the premises. Every turn opens up to a corridor full of footprints of the Royal family of Phaltan.

All of this, coupled with a Maharashtrian chulha made lunch and a pomegranate plucking session where you can taste the sweetest fruits right on the field, we feel Jakson Inns has successfully merged the business of hospitality to boost the local economy as well. To understand the actual potential of rural tourism, eco tourism and farmland visits, it is a great way to spend a weekend here instead of just stopping over. The richness of experience makes itself a desirable destination. Where else can you get a private sunset sipping wine with your loved one, walk about vast pomegranate fields and sugarcane farms, go into the very rooms where once queens lived and feel the wind in your hair ?

This place is an inspiration for travellers seeking to do something new, know something more about a place and have a great time. In fact, MTDC has Phaltan listed as a heritage and eco-tourism destination.  Taste the perfect contemporary bohemian lifestyle with a touch of history at Phaltan. At the same time, enjoy sustainable hospitality with a comfortable stay for your next weekend getaway from Mumbai or Pune.

Note: The Rajwada stands as a private palace and is not a tourist spot, nor does it allow anyone to get inside other than guests of Jakson Inns.

Here is a video showing you all about Phaltan:

A colourful gathering – know Gangaur of Shahpura

Festivals in our country are quite plentiful. In all honesty, i find it quite appealing that the colours and variety of festivals across the states is the perfect representation of the abundance that nature and faith has given people for centuries. Talking about the diversity in festivals, one may instantly connect with Rajasthan – the land of history, conquest, beauty and hardships of life, architecture and valour, vigour and kingship.

Rajasthan is truly the land of festivals not because there are many, but because the strong character of every celebration. The colours, ambient mood, majestic locations make for gorgeous stock photography and experience while covering them. It has become one of the major triggers attracting a plethora of Instagrammers, Bloggers, content creators to come here. Tourism has flourished tremendously in the last decade or so.

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Since i lacked a good photo, borrowing one from the very talented Shivam Sharma of Udaipur (@shivam_photofactory – Instagram)

Following the lead, I managed to get myself invited by this year’s Gangaur Festival celebration at Shahpura Haveli, wee 65 kms from the pink city of Jaipur.

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A celebration of spring and harvest, where women dress up in their best jewelry and garments to pray for good fortune and welfare of their husbands, Gangaur 2018 was a treat to the eyes and senses. A group of Instagrammers were invited to witness the grand celebration at the Haveli, which has resumed its pomp after long 40 years.

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Idols of Gauri Mata and Isar Maharaj

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Prayers offered by the women to the deities at Rawa Moti Mahal

There is a fascinating story behind the origin of the festival, just like any other religiously devotional stories. After Parvati won Lord Shiva’s heart through her unfailing devotion, she came back to her paternal home during Gangaur. She blessed her friends with marital bliss, which is what this festival signifies. The whole environment just came alive when the pious deities of Isar Maharaj & Gangaur Mata were regally taken around the streets, people were offering their prayers and devotion to the deities.

What I liked best was the fact that the women followed this celebrations so passionately, married or unmarried, to celebrate the piety of Gangaur Mata. Rani Ratnakumari Foundation, led by the honourable Rajmata Gunwant Kumari from the family of the erstwhile rulers of Shahpura for empowerment of women, brought back the festival to native Shahpura after a gap of 40 long years. 

We attended a beautiful procession carrying the idols which was organised by the Royal family. In a city teeming with tourists and photographers from everywhere, it passed through the vivid markets of the town, and not to sound boastful but had an amazing camaraderie of horses, camels, traditional folk dancers, brass bands from Punjab, lancers etc. We were told that Gangaur is celebrated across Rajasthan but it has a special meaning to the natives of Shahpura. This year, Rani Ratna Kumari Foundation had organised a much grand procession as compared to the celebrations Shahpura has seen. Cultural events and felicitation ceremony at Shahpura were held in association with Rajasthan Tourism. It was truly a festive paradise. Being my first ever in Rajasthan, gangaur has left a very colourful impression both on my mind and my Instagram feed!

The festival has a charm to itself, despite being celebrated largely with the women fasting for long periods. However, the reason for associating with this particular celebration was due to the great work done by the royal family through the Rani Ratna Kumari Foundation, fondly known as RRKF India.

They are working towards a holistic development in the economic condition of the villagers through job creation for the women. Initiated and supported by the erstwhile rulers of Shahpura, RRKF promises to provide aid and support to the women who in turn can benefit from the revenue generated for the education of their kids. I think it is a great initiative and this festival adds to the many colours of truly empowering the society. We would definitely go back to this celebration again to experience more of the tradition, would you? Tell us in the comments!