Tuesday 26 May 2015

Kingdom of Dreams

India is known for its colourful garb distinctive of different regions, lavish song and dance performances, fiery cuisine filled with spices and its continuous search for spiritual awakening. But rarely can you find all these elements at one place. Kingdom of Dreams—located in Gurgaon, Haryana—offers a glimpse into the myriad things that make India an exciting destination for travellers. Although it is a commercially inclined, it is a great entertainment venue for those looking to explore the country.

Live performances
The grandeur of India’s Bollywood songs comes alive with musicals and plays at Nautanki Mahal. An auditorium that can seat about 846 people, Nautanki Mahal is equipped with state-of-the-art sound systems together with special effects technology that can replicate the appearance of rain, fire and the like. On my visit, I saw their most popular show till date: Zangoora—The Gypsy Prince. What I found particularly impressive were the exceptional production quality; the advanced hydraulics and revolving stages, the aerial acrobatics by the performers, the seamless change of scenery and the sound system. The show itself was okay. The story seemed too predictable, following a very Bollywood film format. On the other hand, the choreography was well done and the cast did a great job. Please note that you cannot click photos while watching the show.

While watching the show, I saw many foreigners in the auditorium. I wondered if they understood anything as the show was in Hindi. I was pleasantly surprised to know that they provide electronic translators in six different languages; English, Russian, Korean, Spanish, French and Japanese. They come at an additional cost of Rs 250. They also provide crèches for families with toddlers, which is free of cost.

Food and drinks
Nautanki Mahal itself has a food and drinks counter you can explore during intermission. Alcoholic drinks are also available. However, be sure to visit the Culture Gully section on the premises. Spread over 1,00,000 square feet, Culture Gully consists of six themed restaurants, six show kitchens, three street bars and seven retail stores that are designed to showcase food and culture of different regions of India, namely Mumbai, New Delhi, Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Lucknow, Chennai, Kashmir and Goa. The decor is exceptional and each region has been depicted beautifully featuring prominent sculptures and installations that are reminiscent of the places. For instance, a sandy beach covers Goa, while Madhya Pradesh houses a giant replica of a sculpture from Khajuraho. For those with a love for all things Bollywood, there is the IIFA Buzz Cafe (affiliated to the IIFA Awards) whose interiors are covered with movie posters and other memorabilia.

Spiritual Gully
This area is a simple walk-through with an artistically designed sleeping Buddha.

Overall, Kingdom of Dreams is a fun entertainment destination that you can explore for the day. The cost of a show is anywhere from Rs 1,099 to Rs 3,999; depending on the seats you pick. The food and drinks cost will be additional. While the price is on the higher side, they offer good deals every now and then. Check their website for updates before you book: www.kingdomofdreams.in

 Published on Travel Wire Asia, May 2014

Saturday 16 May 2015

Why solo travelling is empowering

Travelling alone as has its ups and downs, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. It is a journey of finding yourself by getting lost…  

Me at Chicago's Science Museum

It seems bizarre how being alone at an unfamiliar place, without knowing its local residents or their language, can be empowering. But it is this unfamiliarity that brings with it the promise to open the window to your soul. We live as though we have to, not because we want to. We live to fulfil our duty of being the ideal daughter or son, sister or brother, a parent or a partner. But we travel to escape it all; to lose ourselves, and yet, miraculously find ourselves.

When you are in an unknown place, you are forced to push your limits and step out of your comfort zone in order to feel at ease. It is only when you surrender yourself that you realise that you can do more than you thought you were capable of. You have no one to rely on but yourself. You have to figure out how to navigate your way around, who to trust and how to make friends—all on your own. Travelling solo is one the most rewarding experiences of life; it teaches you more life lessons than you could ever learn from reading books or attending workshops. Here’s why you need to travel solo at least once in your lifetime and how it will change your life.

Conquer your fears
It is the fear of the unknown that often prevents us from gathering new experiences. Those who have never travelled solo often have the fear of being alone, the fear of being unsafe or the fear of getting lost. But once you take the plunge, you realise that all these fears are unwarranted. When I first stayed in a hostel dorm, I was quite nervous. I had never lived in a room with complete strangers, and I take time to warm up to people; so I felt really alone. The next morning, I dreaded going for breakfast and eating by myself. But when I did, strangers came by and began chatting with me. Soon, I had made new friends with whom I was going to spend the day. The moment I let go of my fears and embraced the unfamiliar, I not only opened up to new experiences, but also discovered my inner strength and resilience.

The thing about traveling alone is that you are never really alone. As a solo traveller, you will always meet other travellers. And locals too will laud your bravery to travel alone and welcome you into their homes. Suddenly, you will have made new friends from different parts of the world. Something you probably would never have done if you had just stayed at home or waited to take that trip with your family or friends. 

Learn new skills
Travelling solo can pose numerous problems every now and then. My first real solo trip was a planned one, but life forced me to toss my plans out of the window. The hotel I booked lost my reservation and I landed up in the wrong train, due to which I had to take refuge in a church in the wee hours of the morning. It was a disaster. But it was a life-changing experience. I discovered the kindness of strangers. I stayed calm under pressure and found my way around a new place. I lived in a homestay with a wonderful family who welcomed me as if I were their own child.

When you are thrown in the deep end, you can either sink or swim back on the shore. You learn how to deal with difficult situations by focusing on solutions instead of dwelling on the problems. When your set plans don’t work out, you learn to become more flexible. Travelling solo urges you to leave your preconceived notions behind and open your mind to new people and cultures. Once you do, unexpected situations will transform into wonderful stories that will last you a lifetime.

Become independent
When you travel solo, you have no one to depend upon but yourself. You begin trusting your instincts and following your intuition. You start making your own decisions that are not vetted by others. Travelling by yourself means you have to be your own guardian. When I travel solo, I try to stay as safe as I can. I don’t walk into dark alleys in the dead of the night. I always carry a pepper spray for protection because I am responsible for myself.

From booking your flight tickets to choosing a hostel to stay at, you gain confidence with every step you take. Each time you communicate with someone who doesn’t understand your language using hand gestures or figure out how to purchase a train ticket through a vending machine, you earn a sense of accomplishment. Even when you make a mistake, you learn to take responsibility for it. When you begin to rely on yourself, you become stronger, optimistic and better prepared to face any challenges life throws at you.

Find yourself
Most people live the life that is expected of them. They often follow the path they are told they should. We all, at some point or the other, get emotionally entangled and sacrifice a part of ourselves for others around us. We let guilt override our choices and succumb to existing rather than living. In the process, we forget who we really are or what we desire to be. But when you are on the road all alone, surrounded only by nature and its bounty, you are completely free. That liberation from life’s shackles clears your mind and soul. It allows you to be who you are; who you really want to be. It lets you peek into your heart and discover that you are so much more than the world says you can be. You are capable of more than you ever envisioned. You can do anything you want because the only person that was stopping you was you.