Travel Forums – life savers I say!

Ever used TripAdvisor or IndiaMike or LonelyPlanet’s thorn tree or Roughguides?

Well if you travel regularly and manage your travel by yourself I am sure you have used these sites. If you haven’t used them and love travel, I recommend you get onto them immediately. These sites are nothing less than a boon for a travel loving person. I like to do my travel by myself, I hate packages or tours, never taken one, nor will ever take one. So whilst I like to travel by myself I am greatly assisted by these travel sites and more than just reading about travel, the best part about these sites are the forum’s on them, you got any question, any doubt, just ask away and you will have some travel loving folk helping you out. I wonder how the people who used to explore on their own before the age of internet managed. Perhaps they were the true adventurers! 🙂

I encounter many people who want to travel, sometimes dont want packages from tour operators, however, eventually give in to them. However, if you are keen to travel on your own, get on these forums, not only can you give great tips to people who are travelling to places that you are well aware of you can also get a lot of info. Many a times people are apprehensive about so many things and have so many doubts and very few people to ask, especially when travelling to remote or offbeat places. No longer should you have any inhibitions if you use these forums.

How safe is it after dark?

How easy is it to rent a car?

Are the directions in English or some other language?

Apart from the popular circuit, what are less touristy yet equally interesting places?

Can we drive in a safari?

Can we camp?

What area is better to stay in with regards to restaurants? etc etc etc…

There are a load of questions in our mind before embarking on any trip, especially if you are going slightly off the beaten path or are totally unaware of the place you are going to. Thanks to these forums now its a piece of cake.

For example, before our recent South Africa trip, I met one kind soul on the forum of Lonely Planet, she seemed to be replying a lot of people about their South Africa travel queries. So I sent her a message asking if she would assist and I sent her a list of questions. Voila! She not just assisted but after many messages back and forth, she not just replied to my innumerable queries, she would offer quite a few suggestions, send me links, contact details and what not. Infact, she was the only reason I had a 12 day road trip in SA (my first driving outside my country) which was not only comfortable and slow paced but entirely smooth and without any sour incidents. We would have never known about the Panaroma Route in South Africa and Drakensberg mountains which are a must visit sort of place if we had gone by some commercial tour planner.

Unfortunately I couldn’t meet the lady as she was herself travelling whilst we were in SA, however, I can never ever thank her enough for the amazing information she gave us and for being so patient with so many of my questions. I don’t think I would have done the trip like we did without her assistance.

I have been writing on Trip Advisor since a long time and now am looking forward to replying a few people about their queries when they come for a trip to India on Lonely Planet as well. India Mike is also a wonderful place to ask all your questions especially if you are looking to do Road Trips in India! These forums are a boon for the wanna be explorer’s/travellers 🙂 Don’t believe me? Go check them out for your next trip!! You will not be disappointed!

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Stop pondering about how to plan a trip and get onto these lovely travel forums and start interacting!

Road Trip – South Africa

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Ever since I have come back from South Africa, I cannot stop raving about the amazing road trip we had there. The feeling of being cock a hoop is not leaving me. The country has amazing panaromic views all around, the roads are in top notch condition and the traffic there is absolutely nothing, especially for a guy who lives in India! After driving around about 4050 kms in the country and spending 12 days there I am quite adamant that anyone that goes to South Africa has to do a road trip.

 

For someone who had not driven in any foreign country before there were a lot of apprehensions and doubts let alone half the known world here telling me it was a horrible idea, that in South Africa after dark people are just waiting to mug me or rob me. Let me tell you, nothing of that sort happened, we infact in our 12 days trip did not ever encounter any of those scary experiences. The thrill of self driving in a safari in a bush full of Elephants, Rhino’s, Giraffe’s and what not has to be experienced and soaked in. Once you complete the trip it seems all chilled out and I wondered what the fuss about it was.

Okay lets first give some information for you guys if any one of you plan to drive in SA :

 

1.) Indian driving license is valid in SA as long as your driving license is in English. However, we had read on the internet that car hire companies could demand an International Driving Permit and so we actually got one and spent money on it, but it was never asked or checked!

2.) In South Africa like in India they have a right hand drive, so its almost no adjustment for us Indians. They do follow rules though, which might be a little tricky for us Indians 😛 However, if you just drive carefully and watch around, there are plenty of signals and signboards and they are all in English and so once you get a hang of it you are sorted.

3.) Budgetcar.co.za was the car rental that we used and believe it or not for 12 days and 4050 kilometers for two drivers it cost us just 20k. How cool is that? Yes we paid for the fuel and toll (which was at very few places)

4.) We did actually pay around 2500 extra for road side assistance (included in the 20k) however we never required it.

5.) When we left we had booked a Volkswagon Polo, however they gave us a ford fiesta. Which was a pretty similar hatchback type car.

6.) For Safari, ideally you want to hire a jeep or a higher vehicle. We made a slight mistake and didn’t opt for the higher vehicle.

7.) Dropping a car and hiring was very easy and whilst picking up it took us some 15 mintues while dropping the car it took us hardly 2 minutes.

 

See it is that easy and hence I recommend you do a road trip in SA and never opt for any other option. If you are weary of driving a very long distance, which we are not, you can drop a car at an airport and pick up another one from another airport. Its easy and no hassles.

The people here even when driving communicate a lot, while we were driving around in Kruger National Park almost every car that would pass us would wave or flash a light to say ‘hi’!! On the highways when you let a car pass, it would switch on its parking light to say thank you and we would flash our light to say welcome! Seriously almost everywhere this was the norm! In the city of Cape Town though all that disappeared but then I guess folks in a big city are always too busy and in a hurry. It used to amuse me though when our host in Cape Town warned us of traffic on the way to the airport, for someone who comes from India the traffic in SA was an absolute non issue, they simply dont have that many cars or people. There were very few two wheelers and that is half the problem solved.

Having our own vehicle in a national park doing safari was something I was most apprehensive about, how do we find routes, how do we identify animals and birds, what if we encounter big animals on the road? If you are just a little sensible with the animals and keep a distance, the animals were fine, most of the time they kept their distance as well. Kruger National Park has amazingly clear sign boards for a park that is spread across 28000 square kilometers! Riding there and tracking animals or finding a waterhole and spending hours waiting there was so amazing that I cannot quite describe it! We have always complained that in Tiger parks in India they do not let us spend enough time inside the park, here from morning 6 to evening 6 you are free to roam in the park track animals or sit at spot and wait for animals. Can you imagine 12 hours of being in the wild looking for animals and birds? I could not before this trip! We bought one animal identification book in the park and it was great to spot birds and refer the book!

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An Impala walks patiently for us to cross before it crosses! 🙂

The most amazing moment was when we encountered was when we saw a family of Cheetah, the parents were teaching their kids to hunt, the kids were pretty inept and could not stalk at all and would always alarm the Impala and Zebra before they could get near enough to chase. We spent an hour with that family and eventually left that family to perfect their art. It was like the first time that we got to see a wild cat for such length of time! We spotted a pride of lions when we were driving and there was no one else around, just us and the lions! One night we got delayed and drove in pitch darkness in the park and encountered wild dogs, Elephants, Rhinos sitting on the main road! Oh I can go on and on about our 3 day drive in Kruger National Park.

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They were more curious about the cars then the Impala’s!

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The usual traffic jam in Kruger! We looked forward to such traffic jams, which clearly meant some good sighting was happening! We used to rush in the midst of all traffic jams! 😛

 

After Kruger National Park we went on a drive on the Panaroma Route and the route is named totally aptly! The views on that drive were amazing, SA generally has less trees and small buildings so the visibility is amazing, you can see far and wide and the landscape is absolutely stunning. There are so many waterfalls on the route that we didn’t know which to visit and which to skip. Overall we felt we should have given ourselves a few more days to properly explore the Panaroma Route and the Drakensberg Mountains, but perhaps that would be for another time. Here are some snaps from the Panaroma Route.

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The drive upto the Three Rhondavels View Point is amazing and the reward at the end of it equally stunning!

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We found loads of maple tree’s near Graskop where we had the best Pancakes ever!

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The Golden Gate Highlands National park is straight out of the wild west or Texas! We were pleasantly surprised to see it!

 

We absolutely loved the Garden Route, picture this : Green Mountains on a side, the top being full of clouds on one side, the ocean on the another and you are zipping about on a tip top highway! The country is amazingly beautiful and one way to see a lot of it in a short time is to take a car and drive! There were innumerable view points, the amount of stops that we took to take photographs would drive any other driver mad, unless ofcourse if the driver and the photographer are the same person!

 

Here are some more pictures of the Garden Route, a full travelogue comes next and then our experiences of our encounters with locals there!

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I told you green mountains with their tops in the clouds on one side!

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The ocean on the other!

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when clouds descend on the garden route!

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Thoda to style maarna banta hai!

 

 

 

 

My first bungee!

Ever since I first had heard about bungee jumping in New Zealand and seen it, I had made up my mind, some day I am going to do it. This was probably way back in college and although I had never had come across a bungee opportunity, I had not even properly looked for it. Somewhere inside me it was still lurking and when we planned a trip to South Africa this may, I came to know about Face Adrenalin the worlds highest Bungee Bridge on the Storms River!

I was pretty certain from the moment I booked my flight tickets that I am going to go and jump off the bridge and do the bungee finally.

Here is a pic of the place, this pic is courtesy Face Adrenalin :

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However, as we reached the destination, first up we missed it and went ahead then we had to drive back to the place, when we went up to the registration counter the lady asked us if we were sure of jumping as there would be no refund once we enroll. My wife prodded that we take a look at the jump for once and see the height and then decide. 216 meters didn’t sound too deadly and I was convinced I wanted to jump, coz I know I am tied up and am not gonna die so I wanted to get over the fear thing. We didnt go to see it and enrolled.

However after enrolling we learnt that we had to wait for about 30 minutes for our chance, it was drizzling and was freezing cold and I was intent on doing the bungee in my tshirt and not my sweater and so didnt put anything warm on. The staff at Face Adrenalin eventually guided me to a fire place in the restaurant. Thank god for that coz or else I am sure I wouldn’t have stopped visiting the toilet that day!

Eventually we got over to the bridge, the walk I must tell you is equally scary to the point from where you jump. There is a grill through which you walk and you can see the bottom of the valley, bad idea I tell you!

Upon reaching the place we discovered that there was loud music blaring, people were screaming out of nervousness I assume and most of the people were dancing, trembling, kind of loud out of their own nervousness.

Skipping to our jumps, my wife went first and she did it and came back and told me it was amazing. Now I knew it was amazing but what I also knew was that I had still got to do it.

As I stepped to the edge all suited up and ready for my jump the moment I looked at the free fall for half a second, honestly, I wanted to chicken out! I don’t know how, but I managed to overcome that initial thought and went for the jump and boy, after the first 4-5 seconds when I was stiff in every since millimeter of my body, I eventually got caught up by the fact that I was kind of flying (falling whatever) and once lower by 200 meters and bouncing up and down on the elastic and swaying like a palm tree, I could pretty much get an idea of how a bird might feel. Amazingly down there in the valley swinging about, there was no noise at all, the music, screams of all others were not audible to me, tells you how far is 200 meters! All I could feel was a slight drizzle, the wind in my ears, my hair flying in the wind and you wouldn’t believe that but there was a calm and peace amidst all this madness that I cannot comprehend. I actually couldn’t believe that after the 5-6 seconds of euphoria/nervousness there was such calm awaiting me!

I can’t imagine how wonderful a skydiver must be feeling! I think that has to be the next jump! Which I had never though about up until this first bungee but I don’t think the sky dive is going to wait for as long as the Bungee had to wait!

For all those who want to laugh at my nervous smile, here is the full video! 😀 😀