Category Archives: Transformational Travel

Solo Travel Tips: 5 Important Lessons Solo Travel Teaches You

It’s no secret: as humans, we love to travel and explore the world around us. And why wouldn’t we? It’s a big world out there!

To prove it, the numbers really do the talking – for example, in 2017 the total contribution travel and tourism made to the global economy was 8.27 trillion US dollars.

Travel is an exciting and enriching experience, and there are many ways to enjoy it – whether that’s with a whole host of friends, a couple of you, or even going it alone.

Solo travel is becoming increasingly more popular, and there are some valid life lessons it teaches you along the way.

In this solo travel guide, we list 5 important lessons that solo travel teaches you. Learn solo travel tips and get solo travel inspiration for your next trip.

  1. Be adventurous

First and foremost, solo travel really does open those doors and broaden those horizons, making you a lot more adventurous than you ever thought possible. You really do surprise yourself, trust us!

Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is one of the best things you can do, and those with a thirst for adventure will thrive on the thrill it gives you to go out there and just embrace all you can.

Skydiving in New Zealand? Sure!

Hiking up a mountain in South America? Sign us up!

  1. Boost your confidence

Travelling alone means you have to be a lot more open to meeting new people and, in turn, this helps to boost your confidence.

Being by yourself, trying new things, and having to speak to new people each and every day really pushes you out of your comfort zone – you’ll be surprised at what you can do when you really put your mind to it!

  1. Independence

Above all, doing anything alone teaches you how to be independent.

For those who have never lived alone, or pretty much relied on others up until this point in their lives, travelling solo provides a big reality check – and a good one at that.

Getting on a plane, bus or boat and not knowing what the next day will bring is one of the most exciting things in the world.

To make this possible, you need to embrace that independent lifestyle. This can also teach you not be too self-obsessed, either, and not to sweat the small stuff too much.

Life’s too short, after all!

  1. New cultures

When travelling the world alone, you’ll be able to do exactly what you want without being held back by others.

When in a group, your options are often limited by what everyone else wants to do. When you’re alone, however, the world is your oyster: it’s entirely up to you what the next day will bring.

This will enable you to soak up those new cultures at your own pace. You can learn the local language, speak to the locals and visit all the historical sites to your heart’s content.

You’ll come back a new person, armed with new knowledge and experience to transform other areas of your life in the future.

Plus, what better way to impress everyone on your return than with all the stories of the new places you’ve visited, and new experiences you’ve had?

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many, so you don’t want to waste it.

  1. Trust your instincts

Yes, it’s clichéd but true! Travelling alone is a huge learning curve and it’ll teach you to trust your instincts.

Staying in hostels alone, taking a night bus with no one else there, or boarding a plane solo; they all mean you have only yourself to rely on.

You’ll often find that your instincts are right the majority of the time, and it is even more important to trust them when you’re by yourself.

Always listen to your gut instinct, but don’t forget that solo travel can teach you to trust other people, too.

If you’re open and approachable (whilst still remaining vigilant, of course) you’ll be sure to make many new friends, and you’ll also find lots of people willing to help you out – not only locals but often other tourists, too.

6 Of The Best Places To Visit In And Around Rishikesh

Rishikesh is an enchanting place surrounded on all sides by low hills and forests. This ancient centre of pilgrimage attracts travellers from all over the world.

You’ll find spiritualists, backpackers, solo travellers, yogis and more when you pay a visit to this land situated in the Himalayan foothills. Rishikesh isn’t just a place; it’s an emotion, a feeling that stays with you even when you have left it behind.

From its bustling bazaars to narrows streets to the alluring banks of the River Ganga, this Himalayan travel destination will leave you satisfied, enthralled and most importantly, happy once you set foot on it.

The popularity of Rishikesh has increased by leaps and bounds over the years among travellers, thanks to its reputation as ‘The Yoga Capital of the World’ as well as plenty of places to see and visit from here.

What Are The Best Places To Visit In Rishikesh And Nearby?

Here’s a list of 6 places to visit in Uttarakhand near Rishikesh, where you can explore the best parts of this spiritual travel destination.

  1. Haridwar

Located only at a distance of around 20 km from Rishikesh is Haridwar which is among the 7 most sacred pilgrimage places for Hindus across the world.

The word Haridwar actually comes from two Sanskrit words – Hara meaning ‘Lord Shiva’ and Dwara meaning ‘Gateway’ which combines to form, ‘Haridwar’ or ‘Gateway to Lord Shiva’.

Situated along the banks of the Ganges, Haridwar also holds a reputation as a place where one can attain ‘Moksha’ or ‘Salvation’. Being a holy city, the place is like a refuge for sadhus (holy men) and is full of temples and ashrams.

The amazing sights and sounds of this place are unique to it and so bask in its glory when you’re there. Also, don’t forget to witness the spectacular Ganga Aarti during the evening time and visit the famous, Saptarishi Ashram.

  1. The Beatles Ashram

Almost everyone now knows that The Beatles visited Rishikesh in the year 1968 and stayed at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Ashram.

But, if you’ve read about their stay in the ashram and what they gained after their visit then, it must have intrigued you to pay at least one visit to this place. This shouldn’t be about going there since the Beatles visited but, about something else.

The Beatles said that their stay at the ashram was a truly life-changing journey where they connected with their inner selves and found exactly what they wanted despite having everything.

Though the place has changed over the last few decades its essence still remains and that’s the reason you need to go there.

  1. Neer Garh Waterfalls

Though many people talk about a visit to Laxman Jhula while in Rishikesh, they fail to understand that eventually, you end up going there even if you’re not planning it.

However, a more adventurous and exciting place is just located at a distance of 5 km from Laxman Jhula known as Neer Garh Waterfalls.

A short trek will take you to the waterfalls. There are basically two tiers and you can even take a dip in the pools where the water accumulates.

It is refreshing, rejuvenating and most importantly, far away from the hustle and bustle of the main city, which gives you a perfect opportunity to be at one with nature.

  1. Shivpuri

In between Patisira and Rishikesh lies Shivpuri,  an adventure travel destination famous for all sorts of adventure activities like camping, trekking, rappelling, kayaking and white water rafting.

This place is also famous as Lord Shiva’s abode and has a number of temples with interesting history and architecture.

Shivpuri is only 16 km from Rishikesh and the best part is that all the camping activities are carried out beside the Ganges which makes it even more fascinating.

The enthralling atmosphere of the place, with mountains on all sides and the river flowing by, creates a mystical aura that every adventurous soul can cherish.

  1. Parmarth Niketan Ashram

For seekers of spirituality, wellness and complete rejuvenation of the body and the mind, Parmarth Niketan is often the preferred choice.

The ashram was founded in the year 1942 by Swami Shukhdevanand Ji Maharaj and it happens to be the biggest in Rishikesh with more than 1000 rooms.

From yoga and meditation to Reiki to Ayurveda treatments, the ashram promotes various practices related to overall wellness.

The picturesque setting of the ashram offers you the perfect gateway to relax and unwind your tired body and soul. You can also participate in various forms of traditional yoga like Hatha Yoga, Yoga Nidra and Vinyasa Yoga.

Sit under the divine tree ‘Kalpavriksha’ and meditate to connect with your inner-self or treat yourself to an invigorating Ayurvedic therapy or massage – the choices are plenty.

  1. Triveni Ghat

Situated along the banks of the flowing Ganges is the Triveni Ghat. During daytime, the place is mostly filled with pilgrims or sadhus taking a dip in the holy river.

However, during the evening, the scenario is completely different. The resplendent Ganga Aarti is a sight to behold in an atmosphere that is filled with divine chanting of sacred mantras (recitations of Holy Scriptures).

This is also an opportune time for shutterbugs to capture this beautiful moment and make memories that will last forever.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of good places to visit in Rishikesh and around. If you found this article useful, do leave a comment below.

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Yoga In Thailand: The 5 Best Yoga Destinations In Thailand

Looking for the five best yoga destinations in Thailand? This Thailand yoga blog has all you need to know about yoga in Thailand.

When in Thailand, look around, and you can find hundreds raving at the full moon party and basking in the glory of the Sun on a white sandy beach.

But, the delirious charm of this land makes the visitors oblivious to the quiet places, yoga and spiritual spots, alluring temples, and the natural parks with wildlife.

Your search for finding the best destinations for yoga and spirituality in Thailand ends right here.

  1. Chiang Mai

Regarded as the “Rose of the North” in the land of Thailand, Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand. Its sweeping beauty, mountains, waterfalls, and enveloping calmness has stolen many hearts.

Due to the flourishing nature and the peaceful vibes of this town, practising yoga and reconnecting with the self is undoubtedly the best experience here.

Offering something for everyone, lip-smacking food, incredible scenery, and thriving community of health and wellness, Chiang Mai is without a doubt the perfect place in Thailand for yoga retreats and yoga training.

The numerous yoga studios in the old charming city of Chiang Mai emphasizes on laidback lifestyle and simple living, Chiang Mai is where you can truly live a yogic experience.

So, browse the popular Thailand yoga retreats and classes in jaw-dropping Chiang Mai and wholeheartedly embrace your yoga journey.

  1. Bangkok

The busy capital city of Thailand, Bangkok isn’t the first place you think of when undertaking yoga practices. It’s natural to think that way because Bangkok is a place bustling with sounds and chaos.

However, amongst the wildness, this capital city offers charming yoga studios with excellent facilities and that too, quite budgeted. In Bangkok, you can find yoga schools dedicated to imparting quality yoga practices through their team of qualified yoga teachers.

In addition to the yoga studios, Bangkok also has numerous healing therapy centres and massage parlours that are just perfect to unwind from the hectic day.

Additionally, Bangkok is recommended for yoga practices as it is the place of golden shining temples and historical spots like Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Arun, Wat Pho, and many others.

The fascinating sculptures, lush-green landscapes, inspiring inscriptions, and the magnificent beauty of these places stir the eyes and soul in unimaginable ways.

  1. Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan is an island blessed with impressive cliffs, calm turquoise sea, and swaying palms. It is a leisure home by nature. Staying on Koh Phangan Island surrounded by nature and the warm temperature, help you feel at ease.

Vibrant yoga spaces and leisure homes like Tea Temple and the Sanctuary at Haad Tien make for peaceful places to get along with the other yogis for workshops, talks, sessions, and therapies, where new bonds of friendship and life are explored with a different perception.

These are also opportunities to spend time in self-reflection and self-introspection in the ambient corners of these sweet spots. Koh Phangan is one of the best places in Thailand where the yoga energy is all-flowing.

You can find numerous Thailand yoga centres with highly experienced teachers and some from the traditional Indian background to satiate your love for the Eastern yoga practices in Phangan.

At the various health and yoga retreats in Koh Phangan, you can experience intriguing yoga sessions, healing therapies, and spiritual talks that allow you to relax, rejuvenate, and reconnect with your body and soul.

  1. Koh Samui

Whether you are relaxing on a silken sandy beach, dozing in a hammock, adventuring in thick jungles, overlooking a calm cobalt sea or experiencing wellness in a luxurious spa, Koh Samui has it covered.

There is no better way to restore your health to the maximum than with yoga in Thailand, and Koh Samui is the perfect island overflowing with health, wellness, and yoga.

You can meet the best of practitioners at spa centres, yoga studios, leisure homes offering yoga, chakra-balancing techniques, herbal treatments, etc., to ease away the aches of a monotonous life and cultivate a deep sense of serenity.

The delightful yoga destination of Absolute Sanctuary in beautiful Koh Samui is famous for its yoga program and an extensive collection of delicacies ranging from simple Thai dishes to exotic regional curries.

  1. Hua Hin

Come to Hua-Hin– the destination where the city meets the sea. Hua Hin boasts of lively ambience, international cuisine, and excellent accommodation attracting many visitors from across the globe.

There are plenty of five-star boutiques and yoga centres with daily classes on meditation and asana where yoga nomads can learn yoga as well and spend time with oneself. Shakti Yoga Center in Hua Hin offers to its clients a unique experience combining the traditional and modern yoga approach for the modern yogis.

The health retreats of Hua Hin are a great way to enjoy seafood prepared by indigenous chefs and unwind in a relaxing atmosphere. You can take this break to detox your body and soul with healthy dishes and enjoy a healing experience of Reiki and massages.

These five destinations should always be on any visiting yogi’s agenda when planning to explore yoga retreats in Thailand.

Tushita Meditation Centre: My Samsaric Journey In McLeodganj

In November 2009, I visited the Tushita Meditation Centre in McLeodganj, for a short introduction course to Tibetan Buddhism. This is what I learned during my visit and afterwards. 

It’s in the moments of disillusionment with our lives that we become seekers looking for guidance. And so it was with me many moons ago, when I decided to take a 5-day Introduction to Buddhism course at the Tushita Meditation Centre in McLeodganj.

If I couldn’t find answers there, I wouldn’t find them anywhere, I told myself. So, in the first week of November 2009, I set out from Mumbai to McLeodganj via New Delhi.

Before I left, I connected with Shilpa, another Mumbaikar who was attending the course. She was flying from New Delhi to Kangra airport. I was taking the bus from Delhi to McLeodganj.

First glimpse of the Himalayas en route to McLeodganj

A bumpy 12 hours later, I alighted at McLeodganj, a short walk from Tushita. A few Tibetans from the centre greeted us and helped carry our bags.

At the registration centre, we were asked to surrender our mobile phones. We were supposed to be connecting with ourselves, not with the rest of the world, so distractions were frowned upon. I missed being able to call my child in Mumbai, but the picturesque setting made up for it somewhat.

Tushita is located above McLeodganj town. A short trail leads to the town below. McLeodganj feels like the kind of town that has seen better days when things were probably more peaceful and less touristy. It does have an enviable view of the mountains above, and the Dalai Lama’s summer palace in Dharamshala below.

Walking down from Tushita to McLeodganj town

On checking in, we were given a schedule, and asked to choose our karma yoga – work that ranged from washing utensils to cleaning toilets – that was part of our tasks during our stay there. Tasks are cycled through, so if you’re cleaning dishes one day, you may be unclogging a toilet the next.

The rest of the day we were in sessions where various teachers explained the fundamentals of Buddhism, interspersed with short meditation sessions, either guided or free-form. We were also encouraged to participate in group discussions on Buddhism.

In the recess, we could attend a yoga class, visit the library and purchase books on Buddhism, or just hang out with our classmates under the tall pine trees. I remember telling my group the tale of the green-skinned Buddhist yogi and saint, Milarepa, whose story I found fascinating. Here’s the animated version.

In early November, the days in McLeodganj are pleasant and bracing, but the nights can be bitingly cold and temperatures can dip below zero. We shared a room with one or more of our classmates. The dorms were Spartan with no heating, which is why we had been told to carry sleeping bags and warm clothes.

After 8 pm, the temperature dropped so rapidly, it sent all of us scurrying into our sleeping bags, not to emerge till morning. I had lined mine with blankets so I was warm and toasty. One of our classmates had forgotten to carry a sleeping bag and came down with a severe cold. He was forced to drop out early because of ill health.

Our meals were simple, but filling. They consisted of Tibetan vegetable soup accompanied by thick slices of bread, slathered with delicious, home-made peanut butter and honey. I never realised that combination could be so satisfying until I tried it.

Tushita Meditation Centre closes for the winter as a great migration takes place from McLeodganj and Dharamshala. Most of the Tibetans move to Bodh Gaya in Bihar, the place where Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) is said to have obtained Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. It is also the Dalai Lama’s winter capital.

My course was the last session of the year, a truncated version of the regular 10-day course in Buddhism. I had read up a bit about Buddhism and was attracted to it because of its deep study of the nature of the mind.

It teaches us to overcome our failings by focusing on our thoughts. That our thoughts create our reality is a teaching found in many belief systems. By becoming aware of our habitual thinking (called shenpa, by teachers of Shambhala Buddhism) we can become aware of how we react to our conditioning. And awareness leads to change.

Hanging out with Shilpa in McLeodganj

It’s a theory that Buddhism shares with modern psychology, which is why it was the only belief system I felt attracted to. That is until I was exposed to its ritualistic nature.

No sooner had I begun to enjoy the process of meditation, than I began to be disillusioned with the rituals of Tibetan Buddhism. If I had come hoping to find a path that was pure and free of rituals and the trappings of Samsaric life, I was not going to find it here.

I do believe that rituals can be good for mental health and can even boost creativity because they help to shut down the monkey mind – that part of the brain that tends to overthink things. But, combine rituals with dogmatic thinking, and you get … religion.

Not only did I find Tibetan Buddhism as rife with ritualistic mumbo-jumbo as Hinduism and Catholicism, but I was disturbed that the women (nuns) are not exactly treated as equals. Like most religions, in the pecking order, it’s the men (monks) who rule the roost.

And although the Dalai Lama hopes that the next leader of Tibetan Buddhism will be a woman, one never really knows if that will come to pass.

View of the snowcaps from McLeodganj

While I was at Tushita, we were visited by a woman called Khadro-la, whom they called “The Oracle”, for her precognition of certain events. I remember finding her appearance striking and thinking there was definitely something special about her.

The Oracle was honoured in a ceremony presided over by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Founder and Spiritual Director of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT). The ceremony was held at a shrine at the top of a hill. It took quite a hike to get there and I was glad I’d brought my hiking boots.

The Lama’s arrival at the centre caused a huge buzz and people were talking about it for days before he finally made an appearance. He was quite an engaging personage, and even though he spoke in Tibetan and had a translator, he had a great sense of humour.

I also met Kali Rinpoche, the much-loved canine on campus. Rinpoche is an honorific title meaning “precious one” and is given to those who are loved and revered. If there’s one thing I love about the Buddhists, it’s how much they love and cherish animals.

The main meditation hall at Tushita. Image by Jaypee – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

What puts me off religion, in general, is not just the dogma, but all the bowing and scraping to those they anoint as holy. For me, the Dalai Lama is just a man. A very wise and good man, no doubt, and having read his book, The Art of Happiness, I have much respect for his thoughts and his achievements as a leader.

But I believe that all people are equal and cannot bring myself to bow, scrape and prostrate myself before anyone, no matter how elevated or holy.

However, doing that 5-day course set me on a journey of learning that helped me see the world, and myself, with more clarity. I learned a lot from reading the works of Shambhala Buddhist teachers like Pema Chodron and Chögyam Trungpa.

In the years since, I’ve come to realise that when one is disillusioned, it isn’t so much a disenchantment with the world or with other people, but rather with oneself and one’s own expectations. Today I know what I truly want, and more importantly, do not want, from my life and from the people around me.

On the way back, after I’d boarded the bus to Delhi and was making my way to my seat, a suitcase came loose and fell on me, giving me a painful bruise and a black eye that lasted for days. The Buddhists would call that karma.

Walking With Elephants: A Visit To Wildlife SOS In Mathura

I could smell the musty scent of the red earth. There was no breeze and it was a few hours before sunset. With every step that Maya and Phoolkali took, small fragments of earth flew up leaving a cloud of dust in their wake.

The dust settled on my clothes, my skin, my hair. I walked beside Maya, patting her trunk with the palm of my hand as gently as I could.

She was tall and statuesque, one of the most friendly and photogenic elephants at the Wildlife SOS’ Elephant Conservation and Care Center (ECCC) in Mathura.

My child, Elijah, flanked her other side, feeding her bananas every few steps or so. At one point, Maya stepped off the path as if intending to go a different way. Elijah gently guided her back, tempting her with her favourite treats.

“A mahout-in-training,” proclaimed the mahout who accompanied and filmed us while walking backwards, which was quite a feat.

Phoolkali, the other elephant, was a few steps behind us. We walked for almost an hour. The ellies needed their evening exercise. It was tiring, yet exhilarating.

It was nothing less than a privilege and humbling, to have walked beside these majestic beings and connected with them in a way that not many humans get to experience.

A connection that was natural, not forced. Born of mutual respect, not pain or fear. In an environment where they were loved and cherished, by people who had rescued them from horrific circumstances and given them the care they deserved.

No more would they have to take humans on rides, suffer undignified performances in a circus, be prodded with bullhooks, imprisoned in chains, or forced to stand in solitary confinement, deprived of the company of other friendly elephants, living their lives in pain and neglect.

At the ECCC, their physical and emotional scars can heal at last. They are lovingly bathed, fed their favourite treats, smell the sweet scent of freedom, and enjoy the company of a herd of friendly elephants in huge pens (to keep them from wandering off to the human settlements nearby).

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They can sleep on the soft earth, play in a pool built just for them and live a life of comfort and dignity.

Why I Wanted To Visit Wildlife SOS

I first heard about the organisation when I watched its co-founder, Kartick Satyanaran’s TED Talk on how Wildlife SOS launched and successfully implemented a campaign to rescue every “dancing” bear in India.

 

I grew up in India at a time when we would, quite often, see dancing bears on the roads and never think twice about how much torture and suffering they must have endured becoming a source of entertainment for us ignorant humans.

So, I was touched by the efforts that Wildlife SOS had made to put an end to this cruel, centuries-old practice. Even better, they achieved this without punishing the practitioners – the Kalandar community – and instead, helped them find alternative sources of livelihood via the Kalandar Rehabilitation Program.

I started donating a small amount to Wildlife SOS every month – my way of assuaging the guilt I felt about the cruelty with which my species had treated these blameless creatures for centuries.

I remember visiting circuses that exhibited wild animals as a child and felt ashamed of it, even though I was a child and knew no better at the time.

According to The Dodo, there are some 3,500 captive elephants in India and the majority of them are used for elephant rides by Western tourists.

They are kept in deplorable conditions: Walking on hot, tar roads. Trained with spiked chains and “ankush” (bullhooks). No veterinary care. Dehydration, cracked feet and abscesses. Being shackled for long periods in the heat.

But, when you know better, you do better. In the internet era, there’s no excuse for ignorance. Animal cruelty is a complete no-no today.

We’re part of a more aware and enlightened society than that of our grandparents, and it’s up to us to undo some of the damage and the cruel practices that continue till today in some parts of the world. If you love elephants, refuse to ride them or watch them perform.

Getting To The ECCC

It was in November 2016 that we visited the ECCC at Mathura, about 57 kilometres from Agra. As a visitor, Wildlife SOS can help arrange transport to and from Agra, as long as you let them know in advance.

Reaching the ECCC in Mathura

Of course, you must pay for it. As a charitable organisation, they cannot offer freebies. They also provide accommodation in Agra, but I learned that only after I’d booked my trip.

At the ECCC, visitors get to meet the elephants, learn their stories and the circumstances they were rescued from, help with bathing them and, like we did, accompany them on their evening walk.

When I followed Wildlife SOS on Facebook, I read about their efforts to rescue every circus elephant in India, and to create a “Field Of Dreams.”

This large swathe of land nearby has a wide river flowing through it and is surrounded by thickets and trees where every elephant can roam freely and live in as natural an environment as possible. But the funding to purchase the land is lacking.

Meeting The Elephants

As we entered and signed in, we could see the elephants in their enclosures. I had known the names they were given – Suzy, Sita, Rhea, Peanut, Coconut, Lakhi, Asha, Raju – from the posts on the Wildlife SOS Facebook page. They already felt like familiar friends, but I was going to get to know them better.

From the left – Suzy, Peanut, Lakhi, Asha, sleeping Coconut

We met Chanchal, who was rescued in June 2012, after she got into a terrible road accident in Noida.  She was severely injured with bruises on her body and a cut on her right knee.  She was unable to bend one knee possibly due to a ligament tear.

Initially, she would keep to herself and wouldn’t even interact with the other elephants. It took her approximately a year to get over her traumatic experience as a begging elephant and get comfortable with her new found freedom.

Chanchal getting a bath

Chanchal means “mischievous” and she certainly lives up to her name with her daily antics, winning hearts every day.  Around 21 years old, she loves playing in the water and spends a lot of time throwing mud on herself.

Over the years, she has formed a close bond with another Ellie called Bijli and together they enjoy munching on fruits and treats and going on long walks around the centre. While we were watching the mahouts lovingly bathe and scrub down Chanchal, Maya came up to inspect me with her trunk.

Maya was rescued in November 2010, from a circus where she was forced to work for entertainment and then chained at the end of the day. When she first arrived at ECCC, Maya was really underfed and withdrawn. Possibly the most heart-warming part of Maya’s recovery was her socialization with Phoolkali.

Today, 42-year old Maya is a happy and healthy elephant, enjoying her new life of freedom. She has a peaceful demeanour that can put anyone near her at ease and is best friends with the equally regal Phoolkali.

Maya is a tall, friendly and beautiful elephant.

We also met Sita, who was rescued in November 2015 after nearly five decades in captivity. She was riddled with severe and chronic ailments, such as painfully damaged footpads and cuticles with severe abscesses, and to make it worse, had severe psychological trauma.

Sita was nearly 60 years old and her pitiable condition was a testament to her years of mishandling and improper care.

Sita suffered a fracture during her time in captivity

Her preliminary veterinary assessment on arrival at ECCC showed that she was suffering from a condition known as ankylosis in the joints of both her forelimbs, one of which had incurred a fracture during her time in captivity, and that had never been allowed to heal.

Because of these problems, she was not able to lie down and rest properly in more than a year. At the ECCC, Sita had a chance to ease the stress on her legs by lounging in the pool and getting regular pedicures and foot care. When we met her, she was enjoying a foot bath with epsom salts and intensive treatment for her feet.

In April 2017, Sita passed away. I was glad to have met her and known that she received the love and care she so deserved in her senior years.

Most of the elephants we saw, in fact, had severe injuries when they came to the ECCC, and were still being treated for all sorts of problems, the most common being abscesses in their feet after being forced to stand on hard ground without any rest for long periods, or from walking on hot, tar roads.

We also met Rhea, a former circus elephant who was trapped along with Sita and another elephant called Mia, under miserable conditions – a sisterhood strengthened only further by their shared experiences of pain. They were reunited at the ECCC in April 2016, and Rhea began her journey to recovery.

54-year old Rhea was riddled with ailments. Her feet were in atrocious conditions, with deep painful cracks running through her swollen soles. Her nails were cracked and her cuticles overgrown, evidence of the neglect she had been subjected to all those years.

Rhea was reunited with Sita and Mia at the ECCC

In the days since her rescue, Rhea’s spirit won the hearts of everyone at ECCC, and she slowly began making friends with her keepers and the other elephants. She is especially fond of her neighbours, Maya and Phoolkali, and often stands squeaking at them while eating her meal of green fodder.

But the ellies that stole my heart were Peanut and Coconut, the babies of the “nut herd”, who we caught munching on their sugarcane.

The babies of the herd – Peanut (Left) and Coconut (Right)

In April 2015, Wildlife SOS rescued four elephants from a circus in Maharashtra. Called Macadamia, Walnut, Coconut and Peanut, the “nut herd” had suffered for years as performing elephants.

When they were not being exploited for the amusement of the circus audience, they were made to spend long hours standing in filth and restrained painfully by tight ropes around their legs.

Today, 8-year old Peanut and 14-year old Coconut have made remarkable progress. Both of them are absolute delights to watch as they follow the other big elephants around the facility, occasionally poking at them playfully with their trunks.

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They are part of Asha’s adoptive herd and, being the youngest, received immense love and care from the older elephants. Peanut loves keeping everyone on their toes with her energy and excitement. She runs around, tosses about her tyre and spends hours playing in the pool.

Coconut spends her time gorging on delicious fruit treats, playing with hanging enrichments feeders, going on long walks and lounging in her pool with Peanut.

The Agra Bear Rescue Facility

After a rewarding afternoon watching the mahouts bathe and feed the elephants, we visited Wildlife SOS’s  Agra Bear Rescue Facility, the largest Sloth Bear Rescue Facility in the world.

Sloth Bear sleeping peacefully in the shade

Established in 1999, it currently houses around 200 sloth bears, and other species of wildlife, in large forested enclosures with ponds and shady trees. You can contact Wildlife SOS for a personal guided experience at the Agra Bear Rescue Facility.

Right now Wildlife SOS has over 20 elephants, 300 bears, and 30 leopards that depend on them every day. Having donors gives them the confidence to know that they can feed them and meet their medical needs well into the future. You can donate to Wildlife SOS and support their work.

Volunteering With Wildlife SOS

If you volunteer with Wildlife SOS, you’ll have the unique opportunity to work alongside these incredible animals and the people who care for them.

You’ll get to spend a few days enjoying the opportunity to put up hammocks and enrichments for the bears, visit with the elephants, and help with their feeding or with giving them a bath.

In addition, you’ll get to stay in a beautiful area of the sanctuary and the fees you pay for your stay and accommodation go directly to the Centre, providing a critical source of funding for future work.

Imagine the satisfaction of knowing that you’re helping to make a positive impact on their lives. What more could a responsible tourist ask for?

Find out who else offers ethical elephant experiences in Asia.

 

How Going To Comic-Con Mumbai Changed My Life

The costumed figure shook my hand. For the life of me, I could not figure out who he was. He was dressed like Spiderman but without the webbing. I asked him who he was cosplaying.

“Deadpool”, he yelled over the din.

“Dreadful,” I heard.

“Dedhfool?” I asked him.

My child, the resident expert on anime, manga and weird-ass superheroes, was thoroughly embarrassed to have a noob mom who didn’t even know who Deadpool was.

Deadpool really did want to shoot me

That was me at one of my first Comic-Con events in Mumbai – thrown into the deep end with hundreds of fans of fantasy, comic books, gaming, anime, superheroes and genres I had never even heard of.

Darth Vader or Dark Helmet?

It was an assault on the senses. The colourful, over-the-top cosplayers parading around in costumes that they had slaved over for months in their mother’s halls or dining rooms (in India, homes seldom have basements).

The highlight of the day – the cosplayer contest

Some of them could only make it through the door in pieces, to be assembled minutes before the main event – the cosplay contest.

Baymax takes a break from roboting

Rows of stalls overflowed with tee-shirts, merchandise and keepsakes that only super-geeks would want to buy. Eager fans and shoppers milled around, checking out the merchandise.

Crowds of fans and super geeks at Comic-Con Mumbai
Cool merchandise designed by talented artist, Ashwin Shakti

Cosplayers paraded up and down the hall, taking selfies and posing for pictures with fans who recognized the characters they were playing. It was colourful, noisy and badass all at once.

Cosplaying characters from the web comic, Homestuck

As a fan of Star Wars, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, LOTR (Lord of the Rings), and all the Marvel movies, I was hooked. But I still didn’t know who Deadpool was. The next year, the movie came out and I fell in love with the Merc with a mouth.

Oh no, it’s those Jedi mind tricks again

Since then, we’ve attended every Comic-Con in Mumbai and Pune, planning months in advance for the next one. My child has endless discussions with friends on what to wear, who to cosplay and whether they should plan a group cosplay. An introvert obsessed with anime, manga and Photoshop, he found his tribe, and I could not be happier.

Find your tribe at Comic-Con Mumbai

I got into the cosplay game too, dressing up as my favourite characters from shows that I loved. One year, I cosplayed Captain America’s sweetheart, Agent Peggy Carter, and had a blast doing it.

Cosplaying Agent Peggy Carter from the Marvel Universe

The next year, I dressed up as the fanatical, scowling Septa Unella from Game Of Thrones, notorious for her torment of Cersei Lannister and her role in the Walk of Shame.

Cosplaying Septa Unella from Game of Thrones

I even got featured on the Comic-Con Twitter page. That’s me standing next to George R.R. Martin, who went around signing death certificates for all the characters from Game Of Thrones 🙂

Septa Unella on stage with George R R Martin

Along the way, I met some exceptional people, made new friends and became friends with all of my child’s friends too. Now we’re super-fans at Comic-Con Mumbai, which is usually held on a weekend, in November or December, at the Goregaon Exhibition Center.

Comic-Con Pune, usually held in February at Deccan College Grounds, was cancelled in 2018. But a bunch of enterprising cosplayers are organising alternative cosplay events for disappointed Comic-Con fans in Pune.

If you or your child are artists, writers, comic-book lovers or just misfits who never really managed to find people you could connect with, you just might find your tribe at Comic-Con.

The Game of Thrones cosplayer group at Mumbai Comic Con 2017

We love cosplaying, buying tees and merchandise, and meeting new people who love the same geeky things we do. And every time a new Marvel or DC movie is released, we scan it closely for potential costumes we can create.

My friend Shayaan, cosplaying Borat

That said, many Indian men don’t understand that “Cosplay is not consent,” and numerous incidents of sexual harassment have been reported at Comic-Con events in India. As a woman, you have every right to keep your distance with men and refuse photos with creeps who get handsy.

Its fun as long as you know how to behave at a cosplay convention

As for me, Comic Con India changed my life in many ways, all for the better, so I’ll keep this post updated with new cosplays and new friends I meet. And I hope to see you there too.

Until the next Comic-Con, here are some Facebook pages for cosplayers in India to stay abreast of events and keep in touch with your fellow geeks.