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The Ultimate Travel Guide to Fiji

By Telma | 08 April 2017 | Fiji | Travel Guides

Bula Vinaka!

With more than 300 islands distributed in the South Pacific, Fiji is perfectly located on the 180 degrees’ longitude line, also known as the 180th meridian where the beginning of each day occurs. And if you are wondering about it, yes it’s awesome! We visited Taveuni and ticked off “time travel” out of our bucket list!

But Fiji isn’t only about the turquoise water and palm fringed beaches, there is much more to it. More than you could even begin to think of. Its people, the local customs and culture is really what makes Fiji so special. Fiji is a place often dreamed of by many couples looking for the perfect Honeymoon holiday, or maybe travellers just wanting to have a taste of Fiji while backpacking Australia or New Zealand. Fiji is such an unexpected surprise. We were lucky to have been able to live on the main island, also known as Viti Levu, with the Deaf Community and get to know the ins and outs of this incredible island and most of all living with Fijians.

The opportunity to stay for 2.5 months in Fiji was amazing and we wish we could have stayed much, much longer. We volunteered at the Gospel Deaf School; stayed in a village; slid down a natural water slide carved into the rocks; witnessed Firewalking; watched Meke Dance; swam with sharks and manta rays; lived with the locals; visited Fji’s biggest waterfall; watched stunning sunrises and sunsets; enjoyed some “Fiji Time” and most of all, met wonderful people, whom welcomed us with open arms. These people, now friends, taught us their ways and made us feel part of their family.

Ultimately, we are so fond of the country that we really want to encourage other travellers to stay a little longer in the main island and explore it fully. So don’t be too hasty for the paradisiac islands and enjoy the Fijian hospitality.

fijian people accommdationAsenaca’s family, Taveuni



The Ultimate Travel Guide to Fiji

Fiji is one of the most multi-cultural countries in the Pacific; everywhere you turn you see East Indians, Melanesians, Polynesians, Micronesians, Chinese and European. With such a rich variety of cultures, no wonder Fiji is so welcoming to everyone who passes by.

Bula or Bula Vinaka (happiness and good health) used as a warm greeting meaning – you will hear at every turn, emphasizing the friendly outgoing nature of the Fijian people.

Fiji Islands Map

map of fijiPhoto Credit: Ezilon

Travel Guide Fiji

General information about Fiji

The Food: a variety of Indian and Chinese food can be found everywhere. Fiji’s famous dish, the lovo is cooked on special occasions, such as family gatherings or birthdays. This is an underground oven of heated rocks used for cooking meats and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves. It’s delicious!

Social Kava Drinking: clap once when accepting the bowl, then take it in both hands and say “Bula” just before drinking it. Then clap three times after handing the empty bowl. Out of respect you must accept the first bowl, and if you wish to decline the second, please do it respectfully. About the taste? Erm…not the best to be honest. And it leaves a numbing sensation in your mouth. The locals love it, some of them live on it. For tourists is just a bit of fun while socialising. Everyone should at least try it once.

The Dress Code: around Suva, Nadi and Lautoka there is more flexibility, as you will see girls wearing shorts, dresses and tank tops, although when in villages or remote islands women should wear a sulu wrapped around to cover their legs in respect of the culture. Thomas and I enjoyed wearing the traditional clothes, because not only did it ensure we were 100% part of the culture but everyone really appreciated our effort.

The Pronunciation: Fijian pronounce ‘mb’ as b, ‘nd’ as d and ‘ng’ as g. For example, Nadi is Nandi, Sigatoka is Singatoka, Samabula is Samambula.
It’s a lot of fun learning it, give it a go!

traditional food in fijiCooking Lovo at Nilesh’s house, Lautoka

social kava drinkingFiji Deaf Association, Social Night, Suva

fiji dress codeSunday Church, Suva

the people fijiLeona’s house, Suva

Fijian People

The locals    

If you can stay in a village as this is the most direct way to meet fellow Fijians and learn about their culture, customs and lifestyle. “Village Life” is wonderful and will make you appreciate what you have back home.

The Indo Fijians

It’s no exaggeration to say that in some parts of Fiji it looks like you have landed in India. The people that we met were descended from 5th & 6th generations of laboring Indians that arrived in Fiji more than a century ago.

village fijiTema’s Village, Suva

fiji deaf communityFijian Deaf Students, University of the South Pacific, Suva

Fiji Travel Tips

  • Plan ahead of time – Transport services do not run on time
  • Accept that everything you buy will be more expensive – Tourists are usually asked double the price
  • Unplug from Social Media – The internet is very slow and expensive
  • Be aware of touts – Make sure taxis have a meter
  • It’s hot and very humid! Expect cold showers when staying in budget accommodation.
  • If the A/C is on, it will be freezing – When getting on a Coach bring a jacket.
  • Don’t be a tourist, mingle with the locals – As expected, food is more expensive in touristic areas
  • Accept their culture – If you hear a “psst” or “kissing your teeth” noise, don’t be offended. The gesture is often used to tell the bus/taxi driver to stop or to call someone you know.







The Best Time to Visit Fiji

The Weather: it’s hot and humid, regardless the season. Around 31c (88F) during the Summer months, November to April, and 29c (84F) during the Winter months, May to October. We stayed from end of March to the beginning of May. As it was the beginning of the high season, there weren’t many tourists around.

Transportation in Fiji

Transportation prices in Fiji are a little dubious, as often people charge what they feel like. We found that buses are actually more accurate, taxis will depend on the distances and with coaches you have to be careful not be scammed.

Bus Fares – FJD$0.70/ USD$0.35/GBP£0.25
Taxi Fares – During the day start at FJD$1.50/ USD$0.70/GBP£0.55
At night taxi fares start at FJD$2/ USD$0.90/GBP£0.70

Coach
Suva to Pacific Harbour – FJD$4/USD$2/GBP£1.50
Pacific Harbour to Sigatoka – FJD$5/ USD$2.50/GBP£1.50
Suva to Nadi – It varies but people should never buy a ticket for more than FJD$17/ USD$8/GBP£6

*prices shown are according to our visit in 2015

Fiji Points of Interest

Nadi

  • See the Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple
  • Visit Port Denarau Shopping Centre & Marina. Get the yellow “Dollar Bus” from Nadi for $1 and watch the Daily Performances. Kava ceremony at 6.00pm & Meke Dance at 6.30pm. On Saturdays there is a Firewalking show. Also, Port Denarau is the point of departure to Fiji’s Mamanuca & Yasawa Islands.

hindu nadi templeSri Siva Subramaniya Temple, Nadi

Lautoka

  • See the Vuda Point Marina
  • Visit the Saturday Market
  • Eat at the Blue Ginger Café

Sigatoka

  • Explore the Sand Dunes, where 300 years ago the Lapita People arrived in Fiji. Planting your own tree is also possible, but booking in advance is required.

fiji tourism sigatokaSand Dunes, Sigatoka

Pacific Harbour

  • Stay at the Arts Village. During Low Season rooms are at FJD$35/USD$16/GBP£13 per night/per person.
  • Watch Meke Dancing & Firewalk Show. Check for low season, sometimes the show does not go ahead if there isn’t enough people, 8 people minimum.

Note: It’s good entertainment. There is a brief story about Firewalking, Meke and Village Life. BUT don’t expect real firewalking, hot stones only.

fiji traditional meke danceMeke Dance, Pacific Harbour

Yasawa Islands

  • Explore the Yasawa Islands on a budget. The best way to travel around the islands is buying a “Bula Pass” from Awesome Adventures. But if like us you just want a sneak peak of the islands, just buy a return ticket.

Suva

  • Hike Colo-i-Suva Forest Park
  • Explore Suva like a local. Stay for a few nights, enjoy the Fijian hospitality and get to know the locals.

fiji tourismColo-i-suva, Suva

Taveuni

fiji garden islandWaiyevo, Taveuni

Accommodation in Fiji

We deliberately left “accommodation” out of the article because apart from the Yasawa Islands and one night at the Arts Village we didn’t pay for accommodation. During our stay we volunteered at the Gospel Deaf School in Suva, where accommodation and food was provided and were lucky to have met so many people from the Deaf Community whom were willing to let us stay with them.

When looking for accommodation in Fiji, we strongly recommend booking with Airbnb. It’s safe, affordable and clean. Use our discount code and get $25/£30 off your own booking.

fijian peopleNaqara, Taveuni

Before arriving in Fiji, we didn’t have expectations. We were delighted for the opportunity to volunteer with Deaf children but little did we know we would end up staying for two and half months.

This country touched our hearts; it’s just one of those places that sucks you in, that makes you forget about time. The relaxed pace of life is striking, and we really forgot about time, week days and weekends. It was all about friends, family, food and enjoying life. Here people think little of social media, tv, or going out. It’s all about happiness and living each day as it comes. These people live for their loved ones.

Our visit wasn’t about relaxing on a hammock (which there is nothing wrong with!) We actually had a few evenings enjoying the sunset and sunrise while in the Yasawa Islands and Taveuni but Fiji was more of an unexpected journey.
These people are real, beautiful, kind and the warm welcome full of smiles was enough to leave us enchanted by this little gem in the South Pacific.
Pack your bags and go! We can reassure you the hardest part is to leave.

Further reading: Lonely Planet Fiji (Travel Guide) is a complete and all-inclusive guide for those wanting to experience and explore Fiji. We strongly recommend reading this guide as it helped us planning our own trip.

Happy Travels!

Is there anything else you would like to know about Fiji?

fiji points of interest and travel tips

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fiji islands travel blogThank-You for Reading

We are Thomas and Telma – the writers, photographers, videographers and founders of Blank Canvas Voyage.

Let us inspire you to explore the world through the sharing of our experiences, stories, videos and useful tips. Click here to know more about our journey.

The Spiritual Capital of India – Varanasi

By Telma | 24 January 2017 | India | Travel Guides

“Brace yourself. You’re about to enter one of the most blindingly colourful, unrelentingly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet places on earth.”

~ Lonely Planet

If there is a city that inspires love and hate at the same time, that will be Varanasi.

In India, where some of the most important religions were founded, Varanasi is one of the most sacred in the world. Known as “the spiritual capital of India” it is regarded as one of Hinduism’s seven holy cities. Hindu pilgrims believe that visiting this holy city and bathing in the Ganges River’s sacred waters will purify their souls. Everyday men in underpants, women in saris, children and the elderly go to these Ghats (stone-paved cremation platforms with steps leading down to the water) and bathe in the holy water to wash away their sins or to attend cremation ceremonies. From dawn to dusk spiritual practices take place in public, in devotion of their Goddess – Ganga. Thousands chanting Mantras, bathing into the icy-cold water, every day, every hour as they “free themselves from the cycle of death and rebirth”. These rituals, the river, smells, cows, goats, dogs and people, all at once around the Ghats can be overwhelming, to say the least!

But Varanasi isn’t only one of the oldest and most religious cities in the world, it is without doubt a city that captivates you, that leaves you speechless. Varanasi is an experience.

things to do varanasi

varanasi everyday

ganges river varanasi

sadhu varanasi



About Varanasi

Arriving in Varanasi and looking around, our first impression wasn’t great, in all honesty. Is this a “Holy city” or a “Chaotic mess”? We have seen dirt, experienced crowded places and unpleasant smells lingering around but Varanasi it’s on another level. This is real!

From the first step outside the Guesthouse to returning back, it was a constant struggle with things, animals, people! Touts following us trying to sell anything and everything to the point they would grab our arms to get our attention. Sadhus (Holy Man) trying to shake our hands and touch our heads, shouting in the end because they were actually demanding money. Rickshaw and Tuk Tuk drivers wouldn’t leave us alone and literally followed us everywhere. Children begging for money, no I am not talking about one child at a time, I mean 8-10 children surrounding us at once. The stray dogs it’s heartbreaking! We lost count how many there are roaming around; broken legs or legless, covered in wounds, skinny, starving…So sad to a westerner’s thinking.

And last but not least…let’s talk about the cows. They are everywhere! Ok, it’s fine, they are cute and harmless. But there were roads that it was impossible NOT to step on cow’s dung. I mean seriously? No, I am not exaggerating. Perhaps I can show a few pictures…

holy cow varanasi

cows everywhere varanasi

india sacred cows

Besides all the madness Varanasi has its good points: interesting people, great vegetarian/vegan food, amazing history sites and a relaxed pace of life. No wonder there are so many westerners. After all, Varanasi might be the place to be.

Top Things To Do in Varanasi

Walking around the Old City

Ditch Google Maps. Get lost and enjoy the experience! Yummy street food, some of the coolest, trendiest cafés in town, vegetable markets, street vendors, hidden temples, thousands of people, rickshaws, cows, goats, chickens, dogs… the list goes on.

people streets of varanasi

what to do varanasi

travel guide varanasi

Visit the River Ganges Ghats

There are 80+ Ghats bordering the river and most were built 1700 AD. Yes Varanasi is an old city, dating back 3000 years ago. So how can anyone not feel the goose bumps while there?!
Anyway a good start would be from Assi Ghat all the way down to Manikarnika Ghat. Some are busier than others, due to its religious practices and number of attendees.

varanasi people at the river

Here are the most important Ghats in Varanasi:

Assi Ghat – A place of worshiping Lord Shiva, pilgrims bathe here before any rituals take place. As its location is at the far extreme south of the river, the area is less crowded.

Chet Singh Ghat – The old Fort represents more of a historical symbol than a cremation site itself. Maharaja Chet Singh built the fort during the 18th century battle with the British.

Darbhanga Ghat – The Royal family of Bihar built the palace early 1900s. The Ghat is amongst the favourites in Varanasi due to its architecture.

Scindhia Ghat – There is a partially submerged Shiva Temple at the water’s edge. Some cremations happen here during the day.

Dasaswamedh Ghat – This is the main Ghat and ultimately the oldest and holiest of all. It’s where the Ganga Aarti ceremony takes place every evening.

Manikarnika Ghat – Here is where it all happens! The busiest Ghat in Varanasi. According to one of the locals “up to 100 bodies are cremated here every day”.

assi ghat

chet singh ghat

ghat to visit varanasi

varanasi ceremony ghat

cremations varanasi

things to do varanasi

Boat Tour on the Ganges River

Hold your breath! You will be haggling a lot for this boat ride! Be smart, if you have time (and patience), ask around first and see what these men have on offer. Some might be knowledgeable of the Ghats, others not so much. And that is why time is needed here, so you can get a glimpse of what they know. Our boat ride, along with our friend Peter, was at Rs100/USD1.50/GBP1.20 each.

Now, were we 100% satisfied with the service? Not bad, but could have been better because we agreed one hour and only made it to Dasaswamedh Ghat within 45 minutes. Also, the man refused to carry on, saying he had to row back and it would take time. At the end he demanded a tip… me being me, I laughed and walked off. Obviously!

boat ganges river

Attend the Aarti Ceremony

Every day, regardless of the weather, the Aarti Ceremony takes place at sunset (7pm in the summer, 6pm in the winter) at Dasaswamedh Ghat. The flow of pilgrims, Sadhus, Priests, beggars, homeless and flower sellers, is enchanting. Oh, and the cows, of course!
It is a spectacular, must-see ceremony with a lot of meaning in a spiritual context and for non-Hindus it is still a fascinating ritual to be able to witness.

The ceremony is a devotion for the Goddess Ganges, Lord Shiva and symbolizes the five elements: Akash (Space); Vayu (Wind); Agni (Fire); Jal (Water); Prithvi (Earth). A group of young pandits (Hindu Priests) perform the highly-choreographed ceremony using fire, water, incense, and many other elements. During the ritual, there is music and dancing in circular movements that represent the presence of the Gods in everyone’s life.

The ceremony lasts for one hour and cannot be missed!

evening ceremony varanasi

evening ceremony varanasi







Travel Tips for Varanasi

  • Don’t be fooled, man will try and get you on a rickshaw for twice the money or will convince you to hire him as a Guide for the day. Always ask the host at the hostel/guesthouse for recommendations.
  • Don’t lose your appetite. For us, the street food in Varanasi wasn’t very appealing to say the least, but don’t worry there are some options. Check the list of Restaurants in Varanasi. Aum Café located in Assi Ghat was our favourite!
  • Say NO more often. People will grab your hands, arms and chase you. It’s exhausting. Be prepared for the odd man shouting back because you ignored him. Don’t be embarrassed ad walk away.
  • Observe the everyday life and immerse yourself in Varanasi!

varanasi cremation ghats

boat at varanasi

varanasi itinerary

varanasi ghats and people

holy man of varanasi

varanasi people

So after all, you must be thinking “I would have left straight away!” But you know, this is it, this is part of India. This is why there is no other place like Varanasi; its uniqueness makes it one of a kind. Thousands come for “soul searching”, for its spiritual practices, a “once in a lifetime experience”. Although we both don’t share the spiritual connection, we did “enjoy” the chaos.

There is a love-hate relationship towards Varanasi amongst travellers, and I don’t blame people for it. In all honesty isn’t the most pleasant place to be. And one massive piece of advice, for people that are planning a visit to India, DO NOT start in Varanasi. I feel not many will be able to cope with it.
After all, who said people come to India for a holiday? You don’t see India, you experience India.

Thanks to our friend Peter we had delicious meals in Varanasi! His recommendations were spot on! While in Varanasi we spent a lot of time together. And it was such a pleasure to be surrounded by good energy. We met him in Kathmandu, a few weeks after coming back from Everest Base Camp. And by the look of it, we will meet many times more in India. Cheers buddy!

Is Varanasi on your travel list? Let us know in the comments below.

india varanasi

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Thank-You for Readingfiji islands travel blog

We are Thomas and Telma – the writers, photographers, videographers and founders of Blank Canvas Voyage.

Let us inspire you to explore the world through the sharing of our experiences, stories, videos and useful tips. Click here to know more about our journey.

Agra Travel Guide – Beyond the Taj Mahal

By Telma | 10 January 2017 | India | Travel Guides

Visiting Agra is like stepping down from a time machine. The city located on the banks of the river Yamuna has many splendid Mughal-era buildings, dating back the 15th and 16th century. Early morning, a very slow start: vendors setting up their shops, dogs and cows hunting for the first meal of the day, rickshaw drivers gather and the streets start filling up with people and cars. Just another day in Agra.

Understanding the lifestyle and the everyday life is not easy for a westerner; life here is different, but its people are proud of their roots. Even though for us, it is like living hundreds of years back in time. Once in Agra, the most visited city in India, we already knew that one of Agra’s points of interest was the Taj Mahal, but surely there was more to explore.

The city has amazing sites; a splendid fort, fascinating tombs, beautiful gardens, the bustling of the local vendors and its people, make it a very exciting city to explore and worth spending a few days wandering around.

Agra, as many other Indian tourist destinations, must be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s busy, loud, not so clean, too many rickshaws, everyone wants to take a picture with you and the constant pestering of children offering to be a guide for the day or insisting that you visit their uncle’ shop! All of this is a huge culture shock and can be tiring and stressful if you are not prepared for it. But not enough to forget the magical attractions of the city.

agra travel guide

The obsession of visiting the Taj Mahal draws people from all over the world and regardless of all the hype, the monument really does live it up to its fame. People often visit for the day, coming from Delhi on a tourist bus. After being here, we cannot believe that people chose a day-trip.

Not only is it a very rushed visit but also because by the time they arrive at the 
Taj Mahal it’s nearly impossible to take good pictures, appreciate it and make the most of it. As early at 10 am, there are already endless queues. If you can, extend your trip.

However, there is a world beyond the Taj Mahal. Let us convince you to to stay longer with our Agra Travel Guide.

agra points of interest

people of agra

everyday india



Agra Travel Guide: Why Agra is not only about the Taj Mahal

Things To Do in Agra

The history of Agra is complex, it’s easy to shut your eyes and imagine the emperors, the battles, the palaces, its princes and princesses; it’s a fairy-tale city. Not wanting to waste any time, we started exploring this little gem.

Beyond the Taj Mahal located in the city-center are Itimad-ud-Daulah and Agra Fort (UNESCO World Heritage site). To the west Akbar’s Mausoleum and a little further, on the other side of the river, Mehtab Bagh.

Itimad-ud-Daulah

baby taj mahal

agra baby taj mahal

day trip baby taj mahal

baby taj looks like

places to visit agra

what to visit agra

Also known as Baby Taj, is considered the first Mughal structure in India built out of white marble. Apparently, it was built as a draft for the construction of the Taj Mahal.
The mausoleum was commissioned by Nur Jahan for her father who was honored with the title of Itmau-ud-Daula (Pillar of the state). It’s quite a small site to visit, but worth it for its architecture.

Entry Fee: Rs200/USD$3/£2.50

Agra Fort

places of interest agra

agra tourism

inside the red fort

Located on the banks of the river Yamuna was built in the 15th Century by Emperor Akbar and was the main residence of many emperors of the Mughal Dynasty. Also, known as the Red Fort, beyond its walls are palaces, both in red sandstone and white marble, all added by the Emperor’s grandson, Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal). Due to its structure the fort is described as a walled palatial city as it had later become a palace. It’s an impressive site to visit!

Entry Fee: Rs500/USD$7/£5

Inside the fort, these are a few places that caught our eye:

agra palaces

Khas Mahal – white marble palace

red fort palace

Diwan-i-Aam – used as communications ground between the public and the aristocracy

places to visit agra

Musamman Burj – octagonal tower with a balcony facing the Taj Mahal (where Shah Jahan spent his last 8 years imprisoned looking at the Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved wife)

Akbar’s Mausoleum is the tomb of Akbar, The Great Emperor of the Mughal Dynasty. Built by himself while still alive, Akbar could not complete the entire work, leaving his son with the responsibility to make it the final resting place for the greatest emperor of the Mughal rule. The red sandstone mausoleum is a beautifully carved four-tiered building and its upper chamber is made of white marble. The three-storey minarets at each corner are also built of red sandstone with white-marble geometric patterns.
A curiosity regarding the tomb, is that contrary to other Muslim structures, the mausoleum is turned towards the rising sun and not towards Mecca.

Entry Fee: Rs200/USD$3/£2.50

interesting places agra

visiting agra palaces

places to visit agra

interesting places to visit india

Mehtab Bagh or “moonlit garden” is situated to the north of the Taj Mahal across the river Yamuna. The garden was an integral part of the Taj Mahal complex comprising of the mausoleum (Taj Mahal) set in a charbagh (a Persian-style garden layout). The aim of the garden was to provide a tranquil and magical setting to view the Taj Mahal in moonlight across the river. We decided to go only because we had seen beautiful pictures of the Taj Mahal across the river, but this is just an ordinary garden. Worth it if you are into photography.

Entry Fee: Rs200/USD$3/£2.50

beyond taj mahal

Last but not least…

Visiting the Taj Mahal

Of course, once in Agra, we could not ignore a visit to the famous Taj Mahal.

Built stone by stone with a story of eternal love, the Taj Mahal is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. People from all the world visit the mausoleum of white-ivory-marble, built between 1631 and 1648. And the truth is, the monument simply captivates you. Taj Mahal, one of its kind in the world is a monumental labour of love from the Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved wife, who died giving birth to their 14th child. This enchanting mausoleum took 22 years to complete with the help of an estimated 20,000 workers.

Taj Mahal is “the jewel of Muslim art in India’, as per UNESCO and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage. The details of the structure are enough to leave you speechless.

Entry Fee: RS1000/USD$14/£11

taj mahal agra







Best Time to Visit the Taj Mahal

We were intrigued by its beauty but the weather in Northern India in December is not at its best and at 8am the fog partially covered the monument. And by that time, the site was crowded. Not a good start! But there was nothing we could have done. Arriving at the opening time of 6am, would have been a waste of time because the fog is dense and sometimes impossible to see anything as far as 50 metres.

We walked around taking as many pictures as we could, filmed our Christmas Message video, appreciated the architecture and wondered around the mausoleum for a few hours. By 11am, it was “impossible” to walk around due to the number of people.
The best time would be October-November (after the monsoon) and just before it gets really hot, February-March.

taj mahal best pictures

best tips for taj mahal

taj mahal visit tips

best time to visit taj mahal

Agra has a rich heritage, culturally and architecturally. But, as any other Indian city, it has its downside. Often seen by the western world as the “not-so-nice-India. Poverty, litter, dust and smells are real, and enough for anyone to hate the city. No road signs, cows, monkeys, goats, rickshaws, cars, buses, children begging….it’s chaos. But all runs smoothly, for them!!

Don’t be too hasty, beyond the negatives it is really a fascinating city. The only way to enjoy is to see beyond the dirt, and immerse yourself in the rich cultural side of the city.

Coming to Agra is to understand and accept that people live differently, they have their own ways. We are there for a mere few days or in many situations just for a few hours. While there we made the most of it: walked around, talked to people, took pictures, slowed down and observed the daily life. The results were fascinating, we got amazing pictures out of it.
The monuments, the palaces and the strong religious influence in Agra is enough to leave you with a taste of what the Indian life was like a few centuries ago.

people of india

Special Thanks:

We would like to thank my dear friend Rahul Jain and his wife Priya for driving us to Agra and organising some of the sightseeing. Thank-You brother for being a great friend and welcoming us in your family home.

Is the Taj Mahal on your bucket list?

taj mahal guide

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Thank-You for Readingfiji islands travel blog

We are Thomas and Telma – the writers, photographers, videographers and founders of Blank Canvas Voyage.

Let us inspire you to explore the world through the sharing of our experiences, stories, videos and useful tips. Click here to know more about our journey.

Nepal: A Traveller’s Guide

By Telma | 1 December 2016 | Nepal | Travel Guides

Surrounded by land between India and Tibet, Nepal is a unique, eclectic brew of her neighboring cultures. The land is a dividing line between ancient, historic, civilization and cultures that in their mystery and passion are often associated with a more spiritual way of life and therefore alluring to many travelers seeking an alternative lifestyle and inner contemplation. At the same time the diversity of ethnic groups within Nepal is often complicated for a westerner to understand before they immerse themselves in the sensual experience that is Nepal. It is a staggeringly beautiful country with mountain, jungle, country, and urban landscapes to explore, all in rich techni-color to delight and enrich the soul.

The history of Nepal makes it a unique place that draws visitors from all over the world every year. Often people assume that Nepal is just an extended part of India, but it’s not. Nepali are very proud of their culture, diversity, its people, heritage sites, religions and its unique attractions.

Nepal is best known for having the world’s largest mountain range; the Himalayas. This range provides eight of the ten world’s tallest mountains and the highest peak in the world, Mt. Everest reaching 8848 meters high. Other unique treasures are the biggest pilgrimage Buddhist Stupa, Kumari– The Living Goddess and Lumbini – birthplace of the Buddha.

nepal tourist attractions



General Information for First Time Travellers in Nepal

Places of Worship: Always walk clockwise around the Buddhist stupas, shrines and mani walls. Remove shoes before entering a Buddhist or Hindu temple/sanctuary. In some Hindu temples people cannot enter using any leather goods, or as a non-Hindu entering will not be possible at all.

Greetings: People are not thanked as often as in the Western world. Don’t be surprised if you never hear “Thank you”, “Please” or “Excuse me”. But learning the basics would be hugely appreciated:
Hello, Goodbye: Namaste
Thank you: Dhanyebaad
I’m sorry, excuse me: Maph garnus

Shopping: Haggling is very common amongst the travellers but try to be fair. It should never be a cause of an argument. If not happy with the price, just walk away. Remember that Rs20/USD$0.20/GBP£0.15 for Nepali people can make a huge difference, but when converted onto our own currency might add up just a few cents.

Health: Travellers’ diarrhoea often happens when travelling in Nepal. But majority people get an upset stomach. Don’t be paranoid and enjoy the local food. Don’t drink tap water, avoid ice cubes and brush your teeth with bottled water.
Hiring a Guide in Nepal is very common as this is a great way of getting to know the ins and outs of places. Also there is no shame on hiring a Porter either as having someone to carry your backpack while trekking is actually helping towards their family, as Porters are some of the poorest in Nepal.

Packing for Nepal: Pack light. Depending on the season and the activities, bringing a pair of trekking boots it is a good option. If visiting during the colder months (November to February), the temperatures in Kathmandu are just above zero degrees, so thermal layers are recommended. An umbrella or raincoat is a must during the rainy season (June to September).

Begging is sensitive matter and it’s very common in Nepal, especially around the main religious temples and shrines. It is heartbreaking and impossible to ignore and Westerners are expected to give money. From my experience, I never give money, because I don’t think it will solve anything, actually I feel that giving money to beggars will only encourage it. There are a lot of homeless people around town, when the time was right we would usually approach and ask if they wanted to eat. So buying food instead of giving money was an option. (Not to be confused with the women who are clutching one or two children and ask you to buy food at a designated store of their choice. This is a scam.)

Outdoor Activities & Trekking: Never short of options, Nepal offers a wide range of experiences – nature tours, pilgrim tours, white-water-rafting, kayaking, canoeing, jungle safaris, paragliding, bungee jumping, zip-lining, mountain biking, and the list goes on; seriously you name it! The country has it all.
When it comes to trekking options, the list is endless too, from expeditions to high altitude treks, or simple easy treks.

Overall costs: The life in Nepal is minimalist. Although ideal but not always feasible, travelling on a shoestring budget, sleeping in shared dorms and surviving on a Nepali diet, people can easily live on Rs500-800 a day, including meals and accommodation. But this is not for everyone.
The “tourist prices” are disputable, often the prices of accommodation are the same as a meal and the same as the local bus on journeys for over 6 hours. There isn’t much discrepancy.
Average costs between Rs500-Rs800/USD$8/GBP£7.50.

street sellers of Nepal

Do I need a Visa to Visit Nepal?

Rules have changed over the years and now people can simply get a visa-on-arrival (VOA) at the airport. Visa requirements are to have a valid visa for 6 months or more; 1 passport picture (white/light background).

At Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, upon arrival tourists can get the following visas:
15 days – USD$25
30 days – USD$40
90 days – USD$100

Although it says that payments can only be accepted in cash (US Dollars, Euro, Pound Sterling, Nepal Rupees, etc), we paid our visas by card.

street seller nepal

When is the best time to visit Nepal?

The best time to visit Nepal is between September to November and March to May. The weather is changing dramatically, so it’s becoming difficult to predict, but people who visit outside the seasons still have a great time. Nepal has a typical monsoonal two-season year. There is the dry season from October to May and the wet season from June to September.

The best time to go trekking is from late September to December, when the weather is clear and dry; and from March to May, during Spring when flowers are in bloom.
When we arrived, late September, it was raining on and off, but had a few warm days. Towards the end of November it was getting cold, I mean really cold. Around 6-8 degrees during the evenings and nights. Who would have thought!

Personal Note: Before travelling to Nepal it’s always good to know the dates of any Festivals as the whole infrastructure of the country can be affected! Offices, shops and restaurants might be closed, there will be shortage of transportation and buses can be booked-up.

So planning in advance is encouraged to avoid disappointment and frustration in finding your bus is not going to be arriving! Travelling in Nepal during Dasain (also known as Dashera), can be a little tricky. This is Nepal’s biggest annual festival, stretching for over fifteen days. Cities will be quieter than usual as people are away with their families. The best way to describe it is to compare it to the Christmas period in the western world.

The People of Nepal

The population of Nepal is extremely diverse and highly complex. With over 26 million people, Nepal is made up of over 125 different caste/ethnic groups. Meeting them all is nearly impossible, but while in Kathmandu, Pokhara, Lumbini and our trek to Everest Base Camp we came across a few.
From left to right:
Top: Sadhu, Tamang, Terai
Bottom: Female Porter, Newari, Sherpa

nepal and its people







Places to Visit in Nepal

Nepal is well known for its trekking routes and highest mountains peaks, but don’t be too hasty. The country has a lot more to offer. Don’t leave without exploring…

Kathmandu
Visit the UNESCO World Heritage sites, historical monuments, local markets, traditional villages and get to know the locals.

  • Kathmandu Durbar Square
  • Thamel
  • Swayambhunath Stupa
  • Pashupatinath
  • Bhaktapur
  • Taumadhi Tole
  • Dattatraya Square

people at Durbar Square in Kathmandu

Pokhara
Pokhara is located 200km (125 mi) west from Kathmandu. Its spectacular scenery, healthy food choices, laid-back atmosphere and close-up mountain views, has everything an adventurous soul can wish for.

backpacking pokhara travel

Lumbini
Lumbini is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is believed to be the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, known as Lord Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Lumbini is the first place to be visited by those embarking on a Buddhist pilgrimage tour. A visit to Maya Devi Temple, the birth spot of the Buddha, is a must-see. Other wonderful monuments are the World Peace Pagoda and several Monasteries that have been built in the area as an homage to Lord Buddha.

temple in Lumbini Maya Devi

Check our articles Exploring Kathmandu: A Chaotic Little Adventure and Pokhara: A Relaxed Pace of Life for more inspiration.

Trekking to Everest Base Camp

Nepal has innumerable trekking trails, enough for everyone’s age, fitness levels and pockets. People often choose to trek around Annapurna Mountain Range, which is incredibly beautiful and easily accessed by Pokhara.

But we discovered that trekking to Everest Base Camp isn’t just a Himalayan adventure but a cultural experience. The history behind the conquest of the highest mountain in the world, its unique people and traditions, the journey and the landing one of the most dangerous airports in the world, was enough for us to accept the challenge, often dreamed by many.
Whichever trekking route people chose; they will not be disappointed with the best views of the Himalayas.

Check our post here on Trekking to Everest Base Camp Independently.

the himalayas to everest base camp

Without a doubt, Nepal is a land of everlasting fascination for ancient history, a variety of unique cultures and people, breathtaking scenery and some of the best walking trails in the world.
Our time in Nepal was remarkable from the people we met to the cultural experiences that we gained. The plan was to visit for one month but we fell in love with the country very quickly and stayed for nearly three months.

Nepal “once is not enough” – Naturally Nepal

Further reading: Lonely Planet Nepal (Travel Guide) is a complete and all-inclusive guide for those wanting to experience and explore Nepal. We strongly recommend reading this guide as it helped us planning our own trip.

Happy Travels!

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Kathmandu Travel Guide: A Chaotic Little Adventure

By Telma | 18 November 2016 | Nepal | Travel Guides

Travelling in Kathmandu, can be a wonderful yet exhausting experience. And the truth is, people will either love it or hate it. Falling in love with the city was easy; the warm welcome from the locals, the smiles, the hustle and bustle was enough to get us hooked. Choosing to stay for nearly three months was without doubt, a good decision. Having Davendra & Pramila (a Deaf couple, co-owners of Kantipur Hotel) waiting for us was a bonus, as we knew that staying with them and their family, would give us the opportunity to eat traditional food, be advised on where to go and what to see and most important of all would enable us to immerse ourselves in the Nepali culture and interact with the locals.
Prior to our arrival we had no guides, maps or plans. And that is exactly how we like to travel; considering spending longer in a place, getting to know it and its people. Basically, travelling with a purpose, rather than ticking off experiences.

Note: All the information below is based on our own experiences.



Kathmandu Travel Guide

Kathmandu Valley

There are three major towns in Kathmandu Valley – Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan. Kathmandu is the capital and as expected, is the busiest of them all. Kathmandu old city is chaotic, the streets are buzzing with the sights and sounds of cars, trucks, bikes, animals and people filling the narrow streets and lanes. The background noises of bicycle bells, motorbike engines, religious music, car horns, squares packed with timeless temples and monuments, the sights, the smells of incense, spices, sewage and fumes, makes it an amazing city to visit and a thrilling worthwhile experience.

what to see in kathmandu

General Information for first time travellers to Kathmandu

The pollution and the dust in Kathmandu are high, especially during the dry season. We would always wear a face mask when walking around town. At first we thought it would look odd but soon realised that the locals also wear it.

Carrying toilet paper and baby wipes was a life saver in many situations. Only the restaurants in touristic areas will have toilet paper. To be honest the toilets are so bad that we would usually not drink water when we were out and about, so we wouldn’t need to go to the toilet!

Waking up early and leaving the hostel around 8-9am was the best time to explore Kathmandu when it was “quiet”. Traffic gets crazy as the day goes by.

There are several power cuts during the day. Some hostels will be powered with a backup generator if need be. Although they gave us a “schedule” of the power-cut times, more often than not it would happen outside those hours. The frustration was equal regarding Internet connection. It is very slow. The best thing we did was to buy a Ncell SIM card.

We were always very cautious of children around temples, we never gave them money, because we knew many others would start begging. Sadhus, known by Holy Man, demanded money when we took pictures of them or with them. Many are simply beggars and con men. A genuinely Sadhu will never ask or beg for money.

Crossing a road can be a frightening experience for a newbie. Observing how the locals did it helped enormously. In no time we were crossing the streets of Kathmandu like a PRO. Also hopping on a rickshaw was an adventure.

During our stay we never had any problems regarding safety. I (Telma) walked around town a few times on my own and felt safe. Nepali people are nice, warm and very welcoming. Yes, in tourist areas there will be people stalking you, offering to be a guide for the day and charging money if you take pictures of them. Just say “No, thank you” and walk away. Or like us, just keep walking, don’t engage with them. Always worked! They might follow you for a minute, but no longer than that.

Sightseeing in Kathmandu Valley (Kathmandu City, Patan and Bhaktapur) can be a little bit expensive these days, when starting adding the costs. After the 2015 earthquake the number of tourists visiting Nepal might have decr