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Abstract collage of circles in various shades of blue. A thin strip of cream paper runs through it on the side

Unleash Your Creativity: A Beginner’s Guide to Making Collages

Collages are such an interesting form of art. It’s the bringing together seemingly unrelated, independent items and blending them in artistic harmony. Collages can be simple with just three or four elements or more complex, with elements often clashing with each other to convey a message. Essentially, the elements of collages are not something you make or create. Rather, it is a collection of seemingly random scraps of paper and other visual elements combined with individual artistry and glue. In fact, the word collage is derived from the French word collér, which literally means to glue,

I was always a collector (or hoarder, depending on how you looked at it) of stickers, wrappers, cut-outs, labels and tags, letters, books, and anything that interested me and could be kept in a box. Since we moved homes often, I threw out many of these boxes as apartments don’t have a ton of space for storing ‘waste’.

Now, I’m more judicious in what I keep or collect. Since I restarted my art journey three years ago, I’ve collected more papers and haven’t thrown out some of the scraps from papers I’ve used. These bits and bobs had been stagnating in boxes for the most part. I used some of them and turned them into greeting cards from scrap, but there was still a big box waiting to be used. So, I turned to collage-making.

a simple collage of different green textured paper overlaid with a yellow circle. A twine of leaves stretches diagonally through the page and the word Celebrate is pasted on it

Types of Collages

There are several ways to make a collage, depending on the materials you are using and the desired outcome. Here are a few basic methods:

Digital collages: 

Use photo-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop, GIMP, or online tools like Canva, PicMonkey, etc, to combine multiple images into one. You can resize, rotate, and layer images as desired. 

A collage of various pictures on a floral background. Digital Collage made on Canva

Cut and paste: 

Print out images and use scissors or a craft knife to cut them into desired shapes. Arrange the cut-out pieces on a piece of paper or canvas and glue them down.

Collage of a woman's face and neck surrounded by images of

Mixed media: 

Combine various materials such as paint, fabric, and found objects to create a collage. Use glue or tape to adhere the materials to a piece of paper or canvas.

Image of 2 hands holding a sheet of embellishment stickers. In the background are scrapbooking supplies for making a collage
Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

Regardless of your chosen method, it’s important to experiment and have fun with the process!

How to Make a Paper Collage Project

Collages are a fun and versatile art form that allow you to combine various elements such as photographs, illustrations, and found objects to create a unique and visually striking composition. Whether you are a beginner or have experience with other art forms, making collages is a great way to unleash your creativity and explore new techniques.

There are no hard and fast rules for making a collage, but you can follow these steps if you are new to the art form.

  1. Gather the images you want to use for your collage. Have a variety of elements ready at hand. Collect as many interesting pieces of paper or material in different colours and shapes as you can stick. These could be anything from postcards and old photos to laces and ribbons; washi tapes; packaging material; cut-outs from picture books, magazines and newspapers; words, phrases, and just colourful bits of paper. Whenever I have time, I take out the die-cut machine my sister had left with me and cut out shapes from nice packaging paper or boxes. You can cut them out neatly using scissors or a cutting blade or just tear them out for a more rustic look.
  2. Select a theme for your collage. Usually, a picture or cut-out will give you an idea of a final image, or you might have a visual of what you’re looking for and seek out the images or shapes accordingly. 
  3. Decide on a layout for your collage. You can use a grid pattern or arrange the images in a more free-form way. Begin by arranging the images on a surface, such as a poster board or piece of paper. You can use glue or tape to attach the images to the surface.
  4. Visualise your collage. To get the creative juices flowing, I like to spread the scrap stash and try a few different combinations. They could be sorted by colours, shapes, or themes. There’s no right or wrong way—just go by what feels right visually.
  5. Add textures to your collage. Using different papers and materials makes your artwork more interesting. However, if you’re going for something simple, then it’s best to stick with similar textures.
  6. Finalise your collage. Continue adding images and adjusting the layout until you are satisfied with the overall look of the collage, and glue all the pieces together. It helps to take a picture of the collage you’re happy with before glueing the elements together.
  7. Embellish your collage. You can add text or other embellishments to your collage.

Learn how to experiment with different materials, techniques and styles to create a collage that truly represents your own style and vision. It is an activity that people of all ages can enjoy.

various elements of a collage is spread out on a sheet of paper with boxes and pouches around
3 floral plates set on a vibrant pink and green mat. Each plate has 2 white mochi balls. One of the plate has the mochi balls split in half revealing the fillings - one with yellow mung dal and the other with black sesame seeds fillings

An Easy Sweet Treat: Mochi Balls

I remember having mochi ice creams when I used to live in Hong Kong, a long time ago. I tried other versions of mochi as well with sesame paste, red bean paste, and mung dal to name a few and loved them all.

However, once we moved back to India, there were no places I knew of that served mochi. Even the main ingredient, glutinous rice flour, was not available in stores. Thanks to a growing interest in international cuisines, there are a variety of ingredients from all around the world available in India these days.

Now, all ingredients are easily available either in speciality stores or online. Mochi is not even that difficult or time consuming to make. Mine don’t look picture perfect because I chose speed and convenience over looks, but with a little patience and practice, you can make them more presentable.

With the festival of Sankranti around the corner, why not try a different version of the quintessential tilgud? I made two types of mochi, black sesame seeds and mung dal.

Sesame seeds filling

Black sesame seeds in a white bowl with a red rim on a wooden board with some

Toast the sesame seeds on medium flame and let it cool. Then grind the sesame seeds to a coarse meal. Add all the ingredients into a bowl and make small balls. Keep in the fridge till ready to use. 

You can also use regular brown sesame seeds as well.

Mung dal filling

yellow moong dal cooking in a saucepan
  • 1 cup boiled yellow mung dal
  • ¾ cup sugar

Make sure the dal is cooked but not watery. Drain the excess water and mash or puree the dal. Add in the sugar while it’s still hot. Mix well and form into small balls. Keep in the fridge till ready to use. 

Moong dal and black sesame balls ready on a wooden board ready to be filled into the mochi dough

Mochi

  • 1 cup glutinous rice flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • cornflour for dusting
  • Few drops of food colouring (optional)

Method:

  • Mix the flour, sugar and water in a bowl.
  • Cover and microwave for a minute.
  • Remove and stir again, then cook for another 30 to 60 seconds.
  • It should come out like a sticky dough mix. Mix in the food colour now if using.
  • Dust your hands and rolling surface with cornflour.
  • While the mix is still warm, roll it over a surface heavily dusted with cornflour. Sprinkle the top with some more cornflour.
  • You can either use a glass or small bowl to cut circles, or just use your hand to tear a piece and stretch it out to house the filling.
  • Take the prepared filling balls and place one in the centre of the stretched out mochi dough.
  • The edges should be sticky enough to close around the filling, but if not, then use a little bit of water to moisten the edges and seal.
  • Dust with some more cornflour and keep on a plate.

Notes:

  • It’s best to work with smaller quantities of the mochi dough as it becomes very sticky and tough to use as it cools down.
  • Get a few helping hands to join in to make this more fun.
  • You could use toasted sesame seeds or fried mung dal as garnish over the mochi balls.
  • You could even try some fusion fillings like puran poli filling or something savoury by omitting the sugar in the dough.
3 floral plates set on a vibrant pink and green mat. Each plate has 2 white mochi balls. One of the plate has the mochi balls split in half revealing the fillings - one with yellow mung dal and the other with black sesame seeds fillings

Note: Some links are part of an affiliate program, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I might receive a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you. 

collage of 52 book covers from my 2022 reading challenge

Reading Challenge: 2022

This is my 10th year of the Goodreads Reading Challenge. I’ve been challenging myself to read more books for the last ten years. Even when my son was born, I managed to read thanks to my Kindle Paperwhite. 

I have been trying to diversify my reading shelf since 2018, and even though there’s a long way to go, I’ve done pretty well in reading books from around the world. I would get a lot of recommendations for books from lists made by users on Goodreads. I also followed the Goodreads Choice Awards and made sure I read as many books released in the year so I could vote for the awards in each category at the year’s end. So, it was disappointing to learn that Goodreads only lists books that have been published in the United States—not just for the Choice Awards but even other lists such as the Most Anticipated Books.

Goodreads, apart from being a super slow and glitchy site, is willfully leaving out so many well-deserving books because of this rule. Unfortunately, I am yet to find a suitable competitor for the site. It still has the most comprehensive book repository and reviews.

With this jaded feeling, and after getting interested in the Wheel of Time series, I decided to spend the year reading the entire series mixed with a bunch of random books I come across.

Usually, I would have a separate post for each category, but this year was dominated by Fantasy Fiction interspersed with some short stories and suspense thrillers. So here goes!

Fantasy Fiction: Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

The Wheel of Time series revolves around the adventures of four teenagers from a small town as they shape the world around them in ways not even they could’ve imagined. Rand, Perrin, Matt, and Egwene set out with Aes Sedai Moiraine, much like the Hobbits did with Gandalf. The series was exciting from beginning to end. Read my full review here: Wheel of Time

Amazon Originals Short Stories

These short stories were great as in-between palette cleaners while reading the WoT series. They are sorted based on a variety of themes. If you have Kindle Unlimited, then you can read most of them for free. They are only available as a Kindle ebook or an Audible. These are just a few of the collections. Look out for plenty more!

Kindle Paperwhite showing the coloured book cover of Oinkan Braithwaite's short story book Treasure. The Kindle is surrounded by green long leaves, orange lilies, and an embroidered piece of cloth

Hush is a collection of six stories, ranging from political mysteries to psychological thrillers, in which deception can be a matter of life and death. Read my Reviews here: Hush Collection

Forward is a collection of six stories of the near and far future from out-of-this-world authors. Read my reviews here: Forward Collection

Faraway is a collection of retold fairy tales that take the happily-ever-after in daring new directions. Read my reviews here: Faraway Collection

Out of Line is an inclusive collection of funny, enraging, and hopeful stories of women’s empowerment and escape. What happens when women step out of line and take control of their own lives? Read my reviews here: Out of Line Collection

Suspense Thrillers

I love a good mystery. Each one on this list brings a different kind of energy to the genre. And what’s more, is that they’re from different parts of the world.

  • Blue Monday by Nicci French: The book deals with a child getting kidnapped and a psychologist trying to help the police after she suspects her client of the crime. There are a few twists and turns, as any good mystery novel should have, but the ending was unexpected for me. This is an interesting take on the nature vs nurture debate.
  • The Legacy by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir: The book starts off with a woman being murdered in a most gruesome way. We follow the team of investigators as they try to find the killer before he strikes again. But their only witness is a child of 7. So they bring in a child psychologist Freyja who tries to coax out as much information as possible from the child. It’s a fast-paced story and interesting enough that you’d want to race to the end.
  • Second Sister by Chan Ho-Kei: Nga-Yee’s sister dies by suicide, but she suspects something more sinister than teenage depression and wants to know who made her take that drastic step. She contacts a hacker for help. There are plenty of twists in the tale. It sometimes felt as if everything fell right into place for the hacker N to prove how he was always a few steps ahead of the game. 
  • Framed by ​​Surender Mohan Pathak: The story starts off as a typical Bollywood Mafia movie with a quick retelling of the gang wars that have led the characters to the present moment. The rest of the story follows the three main characters as their motives and past deeds are slowly revealed. The plot is clever enough and would work well as a play.
  • All Yours by Claudia Piñeiro: Marriage is challenging and hilarious. For the most part, the narrator is Ines, who is more concerned about her standing in society than with actual events. Her matter-of-fact way of dealing with her husband’s infidelity and subsequent actions is hilarious. We get a little bit of an insight into Ernesto’s, the husband’s, mind as well. And in this power struggle between the two, their daughter is having a crisis that she’s had to deal with on her own.
  • The Bangalore Detectives Club by Harini Nagendra:  This is a soft mystery book that takes you on a journey while investigating a crime. The reader gets an inkling of the socio-political situation around the time, providing an interesting background for the story’s evolution. At a dinner party Kaveri attends with her husband Ramu, she witnesses an altercation that has led to a murder. When a poor, vulnerable woman becomes a suspect, she puts her inquisitiveness to good use to get her name cleared. Read my full review here: The Bangalore Detectives Club
  • Lightseekers by Femi Kayode: The story starts when three young students are brutally and publically murdered in a Nigerian university town. It is obvious who murdered them, but no one knows why. One of the students’ father hires an investigative psychologist to make sense of his son’s murder. We follow Dr Philip Taiwo as he investigates the case in a remote part of the town of Port Harcourt. Read my full review here: Lightseekers
  • Devil’s Peak by Deon Meyer: The main character, Detective Benny Griessel, seems to be straight from an 80s police drama, complete with alcoholism, family issues, and macho man syndrome but with a heart of gold. We follow him as he tries to solve the mysterious murders happening around the city. We also follow two other characters and see how their lives all interconnect at the end.
  • Confessions by Kanae Minato: The book’s tone is very casual and simplified: A teacher talking to her students about her decision to quit teaching and that she knows which of her students killed her daughter! The other chapters are in the voices of the other characters, either talking about the incident or what happened after the teacher’s revelation. Each chapter reveals a new layer to the story. It’s brilliantly conceived and executed. 
  • Chats with the Dead by Shehan Karunatilaka: Also released as The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, it won the 2022 Booker Prize. This is not your typical murder mystery. It’s a unique experience from start to finish. We meet Malinda right after his death as he tries to understand what has happened to him. He refuses to go through the light before he finds out how he died. He meets familiar faces who are now part of the afterlife administrative process, and through these meetings and his quest to find the cause of his death, we gain an insight into the turmoil of his life.
  • The Unusual Suspect: The Rise and Fall of a Modern Day Outlaw by Ben Machell: It is a true crime book which takes a more psychological and biographical look at the person who committed the crime rather than a book about the crime itself. The book details the life of Stephen Jackley, who decided to become a modern-day Robin Hood. He stole from banks and gave the money to the poor. His plan worked until a simple mistake put him behind bars. It also gives a peek at prison conditions and is a good reminder of how mental health needs to be taken more seriously by society as a whole.
  • The Prisoner by Omar Shahid Hamid: Navigating the corrupt system, a police officer needs to find the kidnapped journalist before it’s too late. It’s loosely based on actual events. as the author served with the Karachi Police for 12 years and has a good insight into the way things work.

Fiction

As I mentioned before, I did not pay much heed to book recommendation lists this year since almost all of them focus on western publications. This one I read as it was classified under suspense/thriller, but I didn’t find much of that element in the book. Nonetheless, it was a good read.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite with the colour image of the book The Blue Hour by Alonso Cueto on a background of blue and yellow mirror work folk art from India
  • The Blue Hour by Alonso Cueto: The book looks back on Peru’s history, exploring the aftermath of the Peruvian Civil War. It begins with Adrian, a lawyer well-placed in Lima’s high society with a picture-perfect wife and two daughters. The book progresses into a well-crafted psychological drama of a son coming to terms with the painful ghosts of his father’s past. The book details the horrors and crimes of war, poverty, and how people have to live with it decades after it is supposedly over. Read my full review here: The Blue Hour

Children’s Books

Since my son has graduated to reading chapter books, I am reading so many interesting books with him. We usually read a few pages together at bedtime. Soon, he will be reading all by himself…what a bittersweet moment that will be! 

Child with wide eyes covering his lower face with the book by Siobhan Rowden named The Curse of Bogle's Beard
  • The Curse of the Bogle’s Beard by Siobhan Rowden: If you have a kid (or you are someone who loves all things disgusting), then this is for you. Learn the secret of pickling everything, from onions to toenails and other gruesome things. We navigate the family dynamics of a young boy called Barnaby. His dad has just mysteriously left their house, so he and his mom are forced to move in with their pickle-tycoon Grandmother. That’s when things start to get strange and smelly!
  • Dragons at Crumbling Castle by Terry Pratchett: Terry is awesome. I love his books, and I was so glad to come across this collection of short stories that my son could read as well. We loved the imaginative stories, especially the Carpet People, and the hilarious narration. It’s perfect for kids just starting chapter books reading with you or independently. 

What have been your best and worst books of the year?

Note: Some links are part of an affiliate program, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I might receive a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you.

a christmas plum cake set on a colourful square plate with blue, white and red designs. The plate is set on a wooden table top with a red runner

An Eggless Boozy Plum Cake Recipe in Time for Christmas

Growing up, cake for any occasion meant a creamy cake. Just a basic sponge or tea cake were extremely boring to be had only in case of dire sugar emergencies. It was in Mumbai I first had a Christmas fruitcake. I loved the texture and caramelised flavour of it. Then I found out that there’s a boozy version of it—perfect!

It is easy to make it at home as well. I’ve slightly modified the original recipe by Hebbar’s Kitchen. I soak the fruit fillings for up to a month. The raisins soak up the alcohol and give you a hit of booze when you eat them.

The cake is best had warm. I have even warmed it on a pan for a nice toasty slice.

Ingredients:

For the boozy fruits

  • 1 ½ cup of chopped mixed dry fruits such as dates, raisins, dried berries, apricot, and orange zest (Avoid adding walnuts, almonds, and cashews. I feel they don’t go well together. Moreover, walnuts tend to get rancid pretty soon.)
  • 1 ¼ cup dark rum 
A bottle of Old Monk rum next to a zested orange. In front is a glass container with several chopped dry berries and raisins

Method:

  • Soak these together in an airtight container for at least a week.
  • If you’re looking for a non-alcoholic version, then replace the rum with orange or grape juice and soak for a day.
  • The liquids should be more or less fully absorbed by the fruits.
Soaking in the Rum!

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 1 ¼ cup softened butter
  • 2 ½ cups brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil
  • ¾ cup yogurt
  • 4 cups flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • Pinch of nutmeg powder
  • Pinch of salt
Christmas plum cake decorated with pine cones on a white and blue platter

Method:

  • Whisk the butter and sugar together till it gets creamy.
  • Add the oil and yogurt and continue to mix.
  • Add the rest of the dry ingredients to the bowl and fold it in gently.
  • Mix in the soaked fruits.
  • Pour the batter into a 7-8 inch greased cake tin and bake at 160 deg C for about 80 minutes.
  • Check to see the top browning
  • Once it’s done, remove and rest for at least 30 minutes before devouring.

Note: Contrary to popular belief, the alcohol content doesn’t fully evaporate upon cooking. The alcohol version of this cake would not be suitable for kids or anyone avoiding alcohol.

a christmas plum cake set on a colourful square plate with blue, white and red designs. The plate is set on a wooden table top with a red runner
book cover in white with wheel of time written and the symbol of 3 intertwined circles with it

Book Review of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

“Being in charge isn’t always about telling people what to do. Sometimes, it’s about knowing when to step out of the way of people who know what they’re doing.”

I have to admit I had never heard of the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan before the show premiered on Amazon Prime. It is one of the most epic fantasy series I’ve read in the current times. But surprisingly, I had never seen it listed in any of the book lists, read a single book review, or came across fandoms talking about it.

Having watched the first season of The Wheel of Time series on Amazon Prime, my interest was piqued enough to read the books. When I checked the series, I was in for a shock. The series contains 15 books if you don’t count the short stories and the extra books on world-building and character histories. Even if I stuck to the main books, I was in for a year-long commitment at the very least. I checked with some other readers and was told I wouldn’t be able to leave it halfway and that it would be worth it to get to the end…and it was!

So, at the beginning of this year, I dove right in. I will not review each book separately…ain’t nobody got time for that! Plenty of sites will give you the summaries in better detail. Here are my thoughts on the series as a whole and how I completed it within the year.

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

“Death was terrible. That didn’t stop it from being necessary.”

The series revolves around the adventures of four teenagers from a small town as they shape the world around them in ways not even they could’ve imagined. Rand, Perrin, Matt, and Egwene set out with Aes Sedai Moiraine, much like the Hobbits did with Gandalf. 

They start together, but circumstances separate them, and each carves a path for themselves. Various characters are added to the drama as they all head towards Tarmon Gai’don or the Last Battle. You can see the characters learning and growing through their experiences. 

Looking at the list of books seemed intimidating at first, but once I got into the story, time just flew by. I read the whole series on Audible because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make time to read all the books. I usually listen to Audible when doing something repetitive, like art or clearing up the kitchen, and just before going to sleep.

(Do read my review on Paper books vs Ebooks vs Audiobooks)

Each audiobook in the WOT series is at least 25 hours or longer. Much later in the series, I realised I could speed up the narration to 1.5x and still comprehend the story easily. This really helped me finish the entire series before year-end.

The series contains a prequel and 14 books. If you’re really into the series, you might want to read some of the short stories or notes written as prequels for some of the books. Brandon Sarandon writes the last three books based on the notes left behind by Robert Jordan upon his death.

Prequel: New Spring

Book 1: The Eye of the World

Book 2: The Great Hunt

Book 3: The Dragon Reborn

Book 4: The Shadow Rising

Book 5: The Fires of Heaven

Book 6: Lord of Chaos

Book 7: A Crown of Swords

Book 8: The Path of Daggers

Book 9: Winter’s Heart

Book 10: Crossroads of Twilight

Book 11: Knife of Dreams

Book 12: The Gathering Storm

Book 13: Towers of Midnight

Book 14: A Memory of Light

My thoughts on reading The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan

“He was swimming in a sea of other people’s expectations. Men had drowned in seas like that.”

My overview of the series is that it was exciting from beginning to end. A lot was happening at any given time, and I felt I wanted to know what happened next. I initially thought just to read a few of the books and stop at a point in the story where most plot lines are resolved. I didn’t reach that point till the end of the series!

Characters and histories are added at a pace you can follow without getting overwhelmed. Even though there are a lot of characters involved, you don’t take long to get into the flow of things. However, I felt like I was losing the plot a few books down the line. I took a small break and did a quick refresher online before delving back in. Some of the battle scenes are long drawn and can get tiresome, mainly because there are so many of them throughout the series.

There is some humour in dialogue or just the descriptions and habits of some of the characters. In such a vast canvas, romance is inevitable, and some of the descriptions might not be suitable for younger readers.

I loved how the characters are portrayed. Women are not damsels in distress but on the front lines of power and battles. They are queens, warriors, and politicians and are present in every aspect of the world. They are a force for good and evil and every shade of grey in between. 

“Only a fool believed women less dangerous than men, but women often seemed to think men fools when it came to women.”

In terms of diversity, the description mentions various skin colours and cultures, from tribal people to seafaring peoples and contemporary town folks. The series has many different cultures with their own histories and cultures. These are detailed beautifully as well. Some characters are portrayed as polygamous, homosexual, or celibate, apart from the hetero-normative ones.

More info on the wheel of time books

“A man who thinks all day about the catch he missed because of stormy weather ends up wasting time when the sky is clear.”

If you’re not yet convinced that you should read the books, check out Wikipedia for a quick overview. However, if you want to take a deep dive, then fandom sites like Dragonmount and WOT Fandom are great.

Because of the sheer scale of the books with so many characters and events, it got a little muddled in my head once in a while. These sites were very helpful in keeping track of the characters and terms used throughout the book.

Books vs TV Series

“Not all options will be good ones. Sometimes you have to make the best of a bad lot and ride the storm.”

The Amazon Prime series based on the books is nothing like the books. Everything else is altered significantly apart from the world and characters. Relationships have been enhanced in line with the American obsession with romantic angles, which, I think, diminishes the characters’ individuality. I don’t know how they plan to take the story further and keep the characters’ essence.

Since I had not read the books when I watched the show, I found the series exciting. However, I am not sure how I’ll feel about Season 2, knowing how much creative licence they have taken with the storyline. Maybe I’d watch it as an unrelated, completely different story.

“The more power a man held, the more likely he was to be an idiot with it.”

Verdict: Must Read

Note: Some links are part of an affiliate program, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I might receive a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you. 

2 luxury tents surrounded by trees with a lawn in the front where a child in shorts is playing with his archery set and the target board is in the front

Weekend Stay in Hyderabad: Angirasa—Luxury Camping

Not too long ago, weekend stay options in Hyderabad were quite limited. You either had to drive longer hours out of the city or stay in a resort hosting multiple corporate retreats. For those looking at a quieter weekend to spend amidst natural surroundings, the choices were not up to the mark.

Weekend getaways from Hyderabad have become popular as groups of friends or families want to escape their daily scenery and take in some fresh air. In the last few years, there’s been a rise in smaller farmstays and homestays in and around Hyderabad. Throw in some good food and you’re sure to have a great staycation.

Having tried a few of the usual Hyderabad farm stays, we wanted to try out something different. Have you heard of the term glamping? It is for people who want to experience nature but not too much of it all at once. Glamour camping, or glamping, is the perfect solution for those who want all the creature comforts while out in the middle of nature.

We stayed at Angirasa Luxury Camping tents just on the outskirts of Hyderabad city limits. Large luxury tents nestled amidst mango trees offer a serene weekend stay where all you hear are the chirping of birds and crickets.

Glamping in a Luxury Tent

Glamping resorts have been around for a while now but can be quite expensive to stay at. For those who love the feel of adventure but also don’t want to give up on convenience and comfort, glamping in luxury tents is a good compromise. Air-conditioned tents for hot summer afternoons ensure you’re comfortable in all types of weather.

Angirasa is a glamping resort set amidst a mango orchard. Their large tents can easily accommodate four people and have a sunk-in area like a mini pool in the bath area, apart from a shower cubicle. The tent is spacious enough and you don’t feel cramped in.

As of now, there are just five tents, but more are being built. There are two tents near the resort entrance that overlook the lawn, restaurant, and swimming pool. It is ideal for families to keep an eye on their kids while they are running around. The other tents are a little more secluded if you prefer some privacy. You can select the tent you prefer at the time of booking.

Each tent is the same size, with one king-sized bed and one king-sized pull-out bed. Each tent accommodates four people. Privacy might be an issue if you plan to travel in a group, as the bathrooms are zippered tent flaps without any locks. There’s a dressing area and a study table as well. If you’re working remotely, you might want to consider staying here during the weekdays.

We loved the bonfire pit in front of the tents. Every evening, the staff helps you light your personal campfire. Since we had visited at a time when the nights were cooler, we loved spending time around the fire, offering cosy warmth after dinner.

There’s a mini fridge in the room, so you can bring some fruits or your choice of beverages. You can also bring a pack of marshmallows to roast over the fire.

A bonfire pit is lit up with campfire in front of a luxury tent on a farm. A child is stoking the fire with a long log of wood
A warm place on a cool night

Road trip from Hyderabad

As soon as you make a booking at the resort, someone will call you and remind you not to follow the route that Google Maps shows. It takes you on a stretch of road that is narrow and not as smooth as the one they suggest.

You need to take ORR Exit 7 at Shamirpet and head towards Siddipet to reach Kuknurpalle village. After the exit, you can put Kuknurpalle Police Station on Google Maps, then head towards Thipparam. From here, if you check Google Maps for directions, you’ll get the right route. The resort staff is super helpful in guiding you, but phone networks can be patchy at times, so it’s best to have your route planned out.

The roads are smooth and wide even after exiting the ORR. Only the 100 or so metres leading to the resort is unpaved. It took us under two hours to reach.

What to Do over the Weekend

If you are the kind of person who cannot sit still, there are some activities you can do at the resort. The swimming pool is not very deep, so even kids can enjoy some splash time without any worry. If you get some water toys, you can make a fun afternoon out of it. 

The resort also has some cycles for kids and adults, so you can zip around the resort on them. If you prefer to be on the ground, then take a walk around the property or even outside, especially in the early mornings. Carry your binoculars and spot as many birds as you can.

For those who prefer to sit back and take it easy, there is a chess board and carrom board for your use. If you forgot to bring a book, then pick one from their bookshelf at the restaurant or in your room. They also had adult colouring books and colour pencils, which we enjoyed doing as a family.

We had brought along our portable archery set with us and set it up in the common lawn area. It was quite fun to try it out in an open space.

A note to consider, especially if you’re there in a group—don’t be the tent that blasts loud music, disturbing the peace for other guests. It is highly inconsiderate even if you’re doing it in the early evenings. Not everyone shares your interest in music.

Where to Eat

We left home around lunchtime. Since we were on the ORR route, we exited at Nanakramguda and had lunch at the Fisherman’s Wharf, near the ORR exit, then got back on the ORR to continue to the resort.

There were also plenty of food options after exiting the ORR at Shamirpet, including a large Pista House. Soon, an aircraft will be converted into a Pista House restaurant near here.

There are also roadside vendors selling seasonal fruits and snacks. We had some roasted corn and guavas on our way back.

At the resort, their restaurant, The Sacred Mango, serves up scrumptious meals. Ravi and his team take excellent care in providing the best service and food. The cuisine is South Indian fare and has some charcoal grills as well. Vegetarian and non-vegetarian items are available, although they do not have any desserts on the menu.

The food was delicious at every meal. We loved the dals, ghee roast chicken biryani, kebabs, and curd rice made on request. Breakfast is a sit-down affair with a limited menu that changes every day. The sambar and chutneys are unlike what is served at regular restaurants in the city. Note that the prices are higher than what you would pay at most similar places. Apart from the quality, it takes into account that produce is not easily available nearby and has to be transported in from the city. 

If you plan to reach the resort early, you can call ahead and have lunch ready for you before you check in. Similarly, you can choose to have lunch at the resort after a late checkout before heading home.

Helpful Tips

White Heron taking a stroll on the farm's pathway
A wandering resident
  • Carry some snacks, fruits, and beverages, especially if you have kids with you who constantly want some munchies.
  • Get your floaties, inflatable balls, etc., to use in the swimming pool.
  • Weekday prices (Monday through Thursday) are lower than weekend prices, so you can plan accordingly.
  • There’s good WiFi in the rooms (though not much in the common areas), so you can also plan to work remotely.
  • We didn’t encounter mosquitoes, but you’d be better off carrying mosquito repellant just in case.
  • There are bugs and insects around. I carry a small bottle of aloe vera gel at all times to soothe any bites and rashes.
  • Most Indians shun sunscreen but remember to use it on a regular basis, especially when you’re out in the open or in the swimming pool.
  • Unless you plan to spend your time doing absolutely nothing, you might want to bring your entertainment with you. Download some movies on your laptop or phone, get your book or board game, or any sporting equipment.
  • Although they don’t advertise themselves as a pet-friendly resort, we did see a furry guest on a leash. Check before booking if you’d like to bring along your pet as well.

Some other staycation options in Hyderabad include the Baby Elephant Farm, Life at Prakasham, Ramoji Film City, and Palm Exotica

sun setting behind some palm trees and mango orchard
Sunset in the Mango orchard
a plate with blue leaves plated with cooked amaranth grains with roasted mushrooms, and topped with coriander, feta cheese, and walnuts

Easy Healthy Meal Ideas: Vegan Mushrooms with Amaranth

Quick and easy meals are a saviour when you want to eat healthy food but don’t have the time or energy to make an effort. If you do meal prep for the week, then this recipe is an excellent option for you. You could make your choice of millet in large quantities and add different toppings during the week. It ensures you get a new healthy meal but don’t spend hours slaving over a stove. 

In my earlier post, I made Millet with Veggies and Cheese and also Barley salad with BBQ Paneer. Meals like these are light on the stomach but pack a punch in nutritional value and are also great to pack for the school or office. 

Ingredients

To make 2 servings

  • 1 cup amaranth seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp oil 
  • 2 cups mushrooms (chopped or sliced)
  • 2-3 sprigs of green onions
  • 3-4 sprigs of coriander, chopped
  • 4-5 chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup feta cheese (make it vegan by using vegan cheese or soft silken tofu)
  • Salt to taste
a plate with blue leaves plated with cooked amaranth grains with roasted mushrooms, and topped with coriander, feta cheese, and walnuts

Method

  • Wash and soak the amaranth seeds for a few hours in water. Drain the water.
  • Add the amaranth to 2 cups of water and a teaspoon of salt and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and cook till the grains are soft. Drain excess water, if any.
  • In a pan or wok, heat 2 tbsp of the oil. Once hot, add the mushrooms on high heat and cook till soft. Add the green onions, then sprinkle with salt just before taking it off the heat.
  • Top your amaranth with the mushrooms. Add the coriander, walnuts, and feta cheese (or tofu) and serve warm.
  • If you like an extra garlicky kick, thinly slice a few garlic cloves and fry them. Set them on a paper towel to dry and become crisp. These garlic chips are a great topping for many dishes and can be stored for weeks in an air-tight container.

Millets are nutrition dense and an excellent substitute for your regular wheat and rice grains. They are gluten-free and contain high protein, fibre, and antioxidants. These properties also make them easier to digest. 

There are various varieties of millet offering a range of nutritional benefits. It is also easier to grow even in arid lands.

Millets can be very versatile. You can grind them into flour to make flatbreads, add cooked millet in your salads to make it into a full meal, make porridges and stews, or just replace it with rice in your regular meals.

Have you tried any recipes yet? Let me know in the comments.

a plate with blue leaves plated with cooked amaranth grains with roasted mushrooms, and topped with coriander, feta cheese, and walnuts
Doodles in black ink on white paper with a blank space in the center with the words Inktober 2022

Challenge your Creativity: My Inktober 2022 Challenge

Who doesn’t love a good challenge? Of course, if you’re like me, the enthusiasm for challenges lasts only momentarily. After that, I either give up, or need extra doses of motivation to keep going.

This past year, I have been trying to push myself to follow through on some of my goals and I am partly succeeding (I’ll call that progress). One of the areas I’ve pushed myself in is my interest in art. 

2022 was my second year of completing the Inktober Art Challenge, and I’ve managed to surprise myself with my persistence. I don’t always get the time or space to delve into my creative process because everyday life takes priority. However, once in a while, especially when everyone’s either asleep or away, I put on my Audiobook and go into my own creative world.

What is Inktober

Started by Jake Parker in 2009, Inktober was a challenge for himself to improve his inking skills and develop positive drawing habits. It has since grown into a worldwide endeavour, with thousands of artists taking on the challenge every year.

The official account releases a set of prompts for the month—a different one for each day, and artists from around the world interpret it in their own ways.

Of course, you don’t need to stick to the prescribed prompt list. The aim is to make time for art and creativity in our daily lives. You can come up with your own ideas for your daily art, or follow one of the many lists released by different artists.

It is always fun to see the different interpretations of these single word prompts by people from around the world. Of course, it is not a requirement to share your work on social media. You can do it for your own personal satisfaction as well.

My Inktober Challenge

I did the Inktober Challenge for the first time last year. I had been in the flow of working on my art almost every day, so it was easier for me to complete the challenge. This year though, I had been busy with life getting back to routine after a pandemic and had barely made time for art during the year. However, I managed to take some time out specifically for the challenge in October. 

Last year, even though I completed the Inktober Challenge, my work wasn’t cohesive. They didn’t have a common theme or flavour linking all the posts from the month. So, this year I wanted to remedy that and stick to a similar theme throughout.

I used an adorable Pocket Sketchbook by Kaagazi. It is small enough to fit on my bedside table with a drawing pen. I took some time out around bed time to sketch out my vision. I wanted to keep my drawings simple and clean so that I don’t need to sit with many art materials at my drawing table, thereby making the challenge more accessible for me. 

Do check out my experience with other products by Kaagazi: Kaagazi sketchbook review

Inktober 2022

2 column list of all the 31 Inktober prompts for 2022

I post my art journey on my Instagram page: Happy Dog Designs

For me, Inktober 2022 started with a new dedicated sketchbook and a prompt list. 

This post has all my interpretations of the Inktober prompts for 2022. 

Have you tried any art challenges?

A journal flip through of my Inktober 2022 challenge
hand holding a sparkling sparkler stick against a black background

Celebrating the Festival of Lights: Diwali

Diwali is for India what Christmas is for most of the Western world. The lights, gifts, food, and the fun family times are the highlights of this festive season. Diwali gifts are usually in the form of food or something for the entire family, instead of individual gifts. Even if you don’t pray or celebrate the traditional way, it’s easy to be swept up in the fervour of the festival in your own style. Afterall, who can refuse a day filled with food and festivities with loved ones?

Diwali diyas which is a row of earthen lamps on a windowsill with tealight candles lit inside each of them

Diwali Sweets and Savouries

As a kid, I remember our whole joint family lending a hand to get ready for the festivities. In those simpler times, birthdays and Diwali would be the only times in the year we would get new clothes. Sweets and savouries would be made at home since there were limited choices in the stores. These would be gifted to friends and neighbours and the rest devoured by all of us at home. 

child in blue kurta holding a bowl of homemade Diwali sweets (Besan laddu) with his tongue licking his lips
Yummy homemade Besan Laddoos

One of my favourite sweets was the karanji, which is deep-fried dumpling with a sweet filling. I remember watching this being made as a kid. My grandmother would roll out the dough, my grandfather (who stayed well away from the kitchen for the rest of the year) would fill and roll the karanji, and then my mom would fry it. The rest of the household participated in the eating of it.

Over the years, we have taken the easy way out by getting store-bought sweets and snacks. This gives us more time to relax and enjoy the festivities, especially since it was mostly the women who would inevitably end up in the kitchen for the whole day and be too tired to fully enjoy the evening. 

Of course, no store-bought delicacy can equal the taste of homemade fare. As a compromise, we try to make a few simpler items at home. If we have the time and patience, or if more family members are visiting us around this time, then we can make a few family favourites at home.

Diwali Lights

Diwali is celebrated to mark the victory of good over evil. Lights represent the conquering of darkness in our lives and is one of the most important aspects of the festival. It is also the day when Lord Rama, his wife Sita, and brother Lakshman returned from their 14-year exile after killing the demon king Ravan.

Days before, homes are lit up at night with traditional oil lamps, candles, or light strings. This also ensures that the Goddess of Prosperity and Wealth, Lakshmi, can see your house clearly and enter it, bringing you good fortune for the rest of the year. 

Each region of India has a different way of celebrating the festival, but on Diwali night, everyone makes sure to light up their homes, even if it’s just a solitary earthen lamp.

Buildings and homes lit up in shades of blue and purple for Diwali against a night sky
All lit up and dressed up for Diwali

Diwali Firecrackers

Firecrackers have become synonymous with Diwali. It started out as a joyous celebration but has over the years turned into a nuisance.

I have never enjoyed the loud noises or smoke that comes with bursting firecrackers. I would watch from afar as others enjoyed themselves. Now, as an adult, I’m filled with annoyance as inconsiderate adults blast strings of thousands of crackers the whole day and late into the night, one after the other. 

Our son absolutely loves the ritual of bursting crackers so we do get a few basic ones for him to enjoy over the holidays, but nothing loud and in limited quantities.

Father holding a toddler in his arms and both are looking at another man holding a lit up Diwali sparkler at night time on Diwali
Enthralled by Diwali sparklers

I’ve noticed in recent years, the kids don’t seem as enthused about firecrackers as their parents. There has been awareness through their schools and society about the harmful effects of so much smoke in the air. It’s usually the parents who push their kids to try out the louder crackers.

The day after Diwali, a screen of smoke hangs in the air. Not to mention all the animals, babies, and others not comfortable with loud noises who have to suffer through it.

While I don’t advocate the banning of all fireworks and crackers, people need to reign themselves in when it comes to the quantity and quality of the crackers they burn.

Diwali DIYs

Here are some easy Diwali activities you can do in advance. They’re fun to do with the whole family and won’t take too much time or effort.

a string of green colored paper cut in a leaf shape with scrunched up paper flowers hung on the doorway. There's a painting of Ganesha and madhubani painting on the side wall

Diwali Gifts

Gifts are not mandatory on Diwali, but if you are visiting someone’s house it’s always good manners to carry a small token. Or if you want, you could send out gift hampers a day before to friends, family, and staff working for you. 

a reed basket with handle Diwali gift hamper with jars of traditional sweets, wooden block tea light, greeting card and box of Phool incense sticks
A traditional and sustainable Diwali gift basket

Diwali gifts can be pretty standard—sweets and dry fruit hampers. Most of these sweets are given away as you can’t keep them for long. How can you make your gift stand out from the rest? Here are some tips to make your Diwali hampers extra special:

  • Make a hamper of some homemade treats
  • Opt for contemporary alternatives to traditional gifts such as chocolate-covered dried fruits, candles, trendy ceramic lamps, wines, handmade chocolates and sweets made in the shapes of firecrackers, and so on
  • Jazz up your gift-wrapping technique by using fabric instead of paper wrapping, a reed basket, or even hand painted cloth bags
  • Go green by gifting sustainable products and organic food items
  • Encourage family time by gifting games that the family can play together like Monopoly, conversation starter cards, Charades for kids, Pictionary, or even an adult game if the gift is for a couple

Diwali Rituals

Diwali is when most Indian households do the annual cleaning of their houses. The best way is to start a month early and take it one room at a time, whenever you have a spare day. That way it doesn’t get overwhelming. Clear out stuff not getting any use—dump, donate, or upcycle. (Get some decluttering tips here from my experience in organising our home.)

colourful Diwali lantern in the shape of a star with light bulb inside against a dark night sky

We try and finish all the prep work in terms of decor and food till the day before Diwali. The Diwali strings of lights and lanterns also go up a few days before the festival. It is wonderful to see streets and homes lit up in colourful lights and decorative lanterns.

On the morning of the festival, we finish the food prep for dinner. (Usually, we get part of it home delivered from a restaurant or a cloud kitchen.) 

Mornings are also for buying and decorating with fresh flowers, dried flowers, and /or paper or fabric flowers. 

A rangoli, a design on the floor, welcomes guests and gives your home entrance an added oomph. Rangolis can be made with just plain chalk, coloured powder from the store or homemade, flower petals, or washable paint.

After a relaxed lunch, it’s a good idea to take a nap so that you are rejuvenated for the evening’s festivities. Get all dressed up and do your puja (if that’s something you do), then  begin the party time—meet friends and family, burst firecrackers, eat, drink, and be merry. Playing card games is also a beloved Diwali tradition.

silver tray with marigold flowers and silver idols of Hindu gods surrounded by 4 colourful ceramic oil lamps with the wick lit and the background is dark

What are some of the ways you celebrate Diwali in your homes? Drop in your family traditions in the comment.

Narrow Jetty jutting out to the clear blue sea with a lighthouse at the end of it, and a palm tree towering in the foreground

An Exotic Island Getaway to the Andaman Islands: A Perfect Beach Vacay

Let me start by saying I am not a beach person. I much prefer the cool mountain air to the salty breeze of the seas. That being said, the beaches of the Andaman Islands are unlike any other I’ve been to. The clear blue waters offer a gradient of almost every shade of blue. The soft white sandy beaches are clean and a pleasure to walk on, especially in the evenings. And oh the colours of the sky! They change into brilliant hues of blues, pinks, purples, and yellows throughout the day, complementing the seascape below.

sunset on the radhanagar beach at havelock island in the Andamans. the sky is in different shades of blue and yellow with white and grey clouds, and the sandy beach below has people strolling

This was also the first beach I’ve been to where I saw shells with residents still inside, instead of just empty washed-up ones. The greenery on the islands is also noteworthy. Everywhere you turn, you see a shade of either blue or green. 

Even if you don’t enter the waters, like me, you will still find this location to be a relaxing and calming holiday away from the chaos of daily routine.

Things to do at Port Blair

There are a few things to do at Port Blair but you wouldn’t need more than a day to cover the main points. You can hire a cab for the day for convenience, but point-to-point rides would be cheaper since most of the day will be spent on a ferry.

roads at prt blair flanked with green trees on either side. a very clean, green and fresh island day

Cellular Jail: 

The infamous jail built to exile political prisoners by the English colonists was a very humbling reminder of the struggles for our independence. The rows and rows of individual cells, the graphic montages of the labour and torture endured by the imprisoned, and the glaring reality of the gallows make you appreciate the sacrifice of so many people for the freedoms we enjoy today.

Veer Savarkar’s cell, Subhash Chandra Bose’s picture gallery, and the Martyr’s flame are some of the highlights here. There’s a light and sound show in the evening for those interested. The photo gallery showing the life and times of the prison and the hangman gallows were a little too much to take in for our 6-year-old.

There were people taking pictures of themselves locked in the jail cells, which I found to be insensitive. But I guess to each their own!

Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex

This is the central point for all water activities on the island. Ferries for other smaller islands also leave from here. There’s a promenade you can stroll on and a play park for kids as well. It is just under half a kilometre from the Cellular Jail so you can just walk up to it. 

At the jetty, you can opt for water sports such as jet skiing. Our six-year-old loved the experience of the speed. For all other activities, you need to head to North Bay.

You’ll need to hire a ferry to take you to Ross Island and North Bay. You can choose to only visit Ross Island and back, or both islands. These are smaller islands and do not have the option for overnight stays.

Ross Island (Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep)

Ross Island was the administrative headquarters of the Britishers stationed at the cellular jail. The ruins of some of the structures like the church, printing press, and barracks still stand, supported by the tree roots that have grown over them. It gives an almost ghost-town feel were it not for the bustling crowd of tourists.

As soon as we alighted the ferry, we were greeted by herds of free-roaming chital deer grazing nonchalantly. Some of them let us get close enough to touch them. Our son was hesitant at first, but he did go near one of them. Unfortunately, the next deer he went near, bent its head and its antlers poked his face, which scared him but didn’t injure him. 

Feeding the deer is strictly not allowed. Keep an eye out for other residents such as peacocks and red-whiskered bulbuls, especially near the jetty.

You can explore the island on foot, although you might not get enough time to do that since the boat stops here only for an hour. We hired one of the electric carts to take us to the top of the hill and then walked up to the lighthouse for a breathtaking view of the open sea. 

The waves crashing just a few metres in front of us as we stood on a narrow bridge was an overwhelming experience. The cool sea breeze tempted us to spend more time here but it started raining mid-way so we headed back, glad that we packed our rain ponchos.

The same golf cart took us back to the jetty, stopping on the way for us to take a few pictures. 

North Bay Island

Island coast with a sand beach and a forest of palm trees with a red and white lighthouse jutting out from between

Our next stop was North Bay Island. The iconic red and white lighthouse on the island can be seen in the older version of the 20 Rupee currency notes. It is known for the coral reefs around the island. 

There’s not much sightseeing you can do here except trek up to the lighthouse. This is the place for all water sports. You can purchase the tickets at Port Blair or from vendors here on the island. 

Some activities offered here include snorkelling, scuba diving, parasailing, and sea walking. You do not need to know how to swim for any of these activities. The instructors will provide some basic training before taking you further from the shore where you can see live corals and colourful fish. Kids under 10 are not allowed to do these activities, but they can accompany you on the boat. If you plan to do any of these activities, then carry your swimwear. The rest will be provided by the vendors.

There are two types of glass-bottomed boats that you can hire to see the sea without getting in the water. The small dolphin boat and the larger semi-submarine. However, with the water being muddy and the glasses too thick, you can barely see any blurry shapes of fish that come near the boat, let alone the colours of the sea life. 

blurry view of the fish from the semi submarine boat ride at north bay in the andaman islands

If you’re not participating in any of the water sports, you can skip this island altogether. The boat waits here for about 2 to 3 hours. There are small shacks that serve food but there’s no proper place to sit and wait. Tourists are not allowed into the water on their own, so you wouldn’t be able to enjoy a beach day either. I didn’t feel it was worth the time and money at all and would have preferred to skip this island completely. It is like any other over-commercialised tourist spot.

Things to do at Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep)

Havelock is far from the madding crowd of Port Blair. The small island has just one main stretch of road that connects all the major tourist spots. Everyone drives within the speed limits here, even on empty streets, which was reassuring to see. 

Radhanagar Beach

This beach is truly deserving of the title of the top 10 beaches in the world. The white sandy beaches and the clear blue shades of the water contrast beautifully with the changing colours of the sky. It felt nice to walk on the clean beach enjoying the gentle waves as the sun set presenting you with breathtaking colours.

Our son thoroughly enjoyed building sand structures and finding treasures from the sea. Kids don’t bother with minor inconveniences such as the scorching sun or meal times, and he would’ve stayed there the whole day if we let him.

Keep a lookout for small crabs that camouflage perfectly with the sand, and shells that move. We saw live hermit crabs for the first time on these beaches. 

collage of different hermit crabs on the sandy beaches of havelock island or swaraj dweep
Top Right: Mottled Crab. The rest are Hermit Crabs

We went here at the end of September just as the monsoon season was ending. The tides here are high in the mornings and recede in the evening. Post monsoon, the tides recede further making way for beach lounging and food shacks.

The Taj hotel doesn’t have a private beach, but it is directly accessible from the hotel from morning to sunset. If you looked towards the hotel from the sea, you wouldn’t even know there was a big hotel right there. The mangroves disguise the resort so that the beach life doesn’t get distracted by artificial lights at night.

Kala Patthar Beach

This is known as the sunrise beach. It is a 20-minute drive from Taj, where we were staying. We reached there exactly at 5 am as the sky started to turn a light blue. However, it was a cloudy day so we didn’t experience the full potential of the beach. The big black rocks that dot the beach make for a good place to sit and enjoy the waves. You might also find it bustling with sea creatures like crabs.

There is a row of vendors offering food and drinks, even early in the morning. We noticed many biscuit packets thrown on the pristine sands even though a dustbin was nearby. The callousness of people amazes me sometimes.

a Mottled Lightfoot Crab crawling on a rock surface
Mottled Lightfoot Crab

We spent just about an hour taking in the fresh morning then headed back to our hotel for breakfast.

Elephant Beach 

man in scuba diving gear under water with a trainer also in gear behind him

If you plan to do any water sports on this island, then Elephant Beach is the place to go. A boat from the Havelock Jetty takes you to the beach. If it’s not raining, and you have the time, then you can also choose to trek there.

My husband had opted for the scuba diving package from the hotel. A day before the dive, the staff trained him in the pool for about two hours. This gave him some confidence for the dive. He left the next morning after an early breakfast. A trainer stayed with him throughout the dive. Since it had rained the previous day, the water wasn’t as clear as he had hoped, but it was still a thrilling experience.

Snorkelling, parasailing, and fishing are also offered here.

Reaching Port Blair

view  of the andaman and nicobar islands from the plane. the wing of the plane is jutting out and we can see small islands in a sea that's reflecting rainbow colours

There are direct flights from a few mainland cities to the islands’ capital city. Port Blair’s Veer Savarkar Airport is a small one, but a much larger one is being built next door which will welcome international flights as well. It’s slated to open in the next few years.

Everyone needs to show their double vaccination certificates before baggage collection to enter the city. A soft copy is ok, but we got a printout just in case. You get a ‘vaccinated’ stamp on your hand to let you through. For kids under 5, there are no health certifications required.

For kids over 6 and other unvaccinated adults, an RT-PCR test is mandatory once you reach Port Blair. It is provided free of cost. A bus takes you to the testing centre where they do a nasal swab, and the results are sent to your phone the next day. This made it necessary for us to stay in Port Blair for a day as our 6-year-old wasn’t vaccinated.

Although most of the sites asked us to get an RT-PCR test for our son before travelling, no one bothered to check it and our son had to go for the government test regardless. Factor this delay into your travel planning.

When to visit the Andaman Islands

collage of the winged creatures spotted in the andaman islands. a Common Birdwing, a Red-whiskered Bulbul, a Clipper butterfly, and the Racket-tailed Drongo
Clockwise from top left: A Common Birdwing, a Red-whiskered Bulbul, a Clipper butterfly, and the Racket-tailed Drongo

This is a tropical rainforest region high in humidity most of the year. Its proximity to the equator means that even though the temperature might not be very high, the sun is still strong enough to burn your skin. Use and re-apply sunscreen throughout the day to protect yourself.

the night sky with a few stars shining through with the view of tall green trees from below

During the monsoons, most water activities are closed. We travelled in the last week of September as the monsoons were receding. The weather was sunny and humid with intermittent rain, but the breeze was cool. October to February is the best time to visit, although the crowds and the prices increase exponentially during this time.

Getting around the Andaman Islands

the bright yellow catamaran Nautika which ferries between port blair and havelock islands

The most convenient, albeit expensive, way is to hire a car. You can choose from the freelancers you’ll meet at the airport, or book through the travel desk of your hotel. ITC’s travel desk was especially helpful in arranging a cab for us whenever we needed it. They were just slightly more expensive than the regular fares.

There are also autos and buses you can use. You could hire a self-drive 2-wheeler for your stay as well if you are comfortable riding it. Just be mindful to follow traffic rules here.

On Havelock Island, we hired a cab from the jetty instead of booking it through the hotel as their rates were much cheaper. We used the same driver’s services for going around the island during our stay.

The catamarans to Havelock or Neil Islands need to be pre-booked online. We chose Nautika which was new and comfortable. The regular luxury seats were great and not much different from the more expensive Royal section.

The last ferry to the islands leaves around 1 pm from Port Blair, so if your flight arrives late afternoon, you’ll need to spend a day in Port Blair. It takes roughly 90 minutes to reach Havelock. Although they insist on you arriving an hour early for check-in, I felt 30 minutes would’ve been enough. They didn’t check any of our vaccination certificates or RTPCR reports. Our bags were screened though.

On the way back from Havelock, we wanted to make the most of our time at the resort, so we chose a late checkout and took the last ferry out at 3:30 pm since our flight was the next day. The jetty here doesn’t have an indoor waiting room. There are some shaded benches where you can wait. If you’re reaching early then it’s not a comfortable wait especially if it’s very hot or raining. You could also opt for an early morning ferry and catch an afternoon flight out of Port Blair.

We also experienced some rough seas on the way back. The turbulence was not pleasant, and if you get seasick, carry some medicine with you.

Hindi is spoken by everyone here. You’ll hear a lot of Bengali, Tamil, and Telugu also being spoken. Most will understand basic English as well.

Where to stay in the Andaman Islands

a small jetty for local fishermen and women jutting out to the sea at port blair. this was the view from the ITC welcomhotel at port blair with the smaller islands visible in the distance

Port Blair, Havelock, and Neil Islands are the most popular places you can stay in the archipelago. Since we didn’t want to crowd our itinerary, we chose to skip Neil Islands. The Nicobar group of islands is completely out of bounds for all tourists and locals.

Although the names of these islands have been changed recently, they’re still referred to by their previous (shorter) names for convenience. Havelock Islands is now known as Swaraj Dweep, Ross Island is now named Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep, and Neil Island is Shaheed Dweep.

Where to stay in Port Blair

Our first stay was in ITC Welcomhotel. The hotel has a splendid view of the sea and the nearby islands as you enter the reception and the restaurants. We literally went Wow as soon as we stepped out of the car.

child in a striped tee shirt looking over the balcony railing at the tall palm trees and open sea beyond with large ships sailing

The rooms are small but comfortable for a day as we were just two and a half people. It might feel crowded with an older child. Get a sea-facing room otherwise, your view will be of a random back alley stairway. Our Airtel phone network was reasonably good in the common areas, and we used the complimentary wifi in the room.

On our way back, we stayed at SeaShell next door to ITC. Their rooms are tinier than ITC and don’t have much of a view. Their popular rooftop restaurant is their saving grace. Our phones didn’t get a good network in the room. The wifi here works on a code and only for a certain time. For just one night, only one of us could use the wifi and we had to ask for a new code every few hours. It was quite annoying.

The Lemon Tree Hotel is right opposite the airport so might be a better option to just walk to and from the airport. We didn’t stay there so I cannot attest to its facilities, but the proximity to the airport seemed notable.

Where to stay in Havelock Island or Swaraj Dweep

Taj Exotica offers the quintessential luxury island experience. Starting with the welcome song by the staff and coconut water from the trees growing in the resort, to the indulgent massage at their spa, it was truly an exotic getaway.

Their cottages are large and spacious and the whole property is filled with greenery and trees that are over a hundred years old. A short 5-minute walk takes you to Radhanagar Beach from inside the resort itself. Evening tea is arranged at the beach entry every day so you can sip some masala chai as you watch the sun go down.

Their infinity pool under ancient towering trees and overlooking the open sea is a visual delight and a perfect place to lounge in the afternoons. The ancient Andaman Ash trees and the towering Gurjan trees have been integrated into the resort seamlessly, often jutting out of ceilings in the common areas.

the infinity pool at the Taj Exotica Spa at Havelock island with the open sea in the background, and child in red floatie swimming in the pool under towering trees

They also had plenty of activities for kids (some were charged, others free), including a game room, painting, treasure hunt, etc. Our son woke up at 5 am and had a full day of things to do till we slept at 8 pm.

The hotel had a good phone network and a stable wifi connection. We could make video calls even from the beach.

Barefoot Havelock is another great property and is located next to Taj on Radhanagar Beach. Friends who have stayed there have loved it.

The berries of a fishtail palm tree hangs in bunches on a tree
The fruits of the Fishtail Palm tree can cause rashes and itchiness, so stay away from these berries

Kala Patthar Beach has a lot more stay options for a variety of budgets. For those who prefer to be where the action is, this would be more suitable as there are also plenty of dining options within walking distance.

These islands run on generators for electricity, so be mindful of switching off ACs and lights when not in use.

Where to eat at the Andamans

We mostly ate at the hotels we stayed at. In Port Blair, the ITC had a multicuisine restaurant which was good, not great. On our day trip to North Bay, we ate in the semi-submarine boat. The menu offered mostly fried and quick service items only. 

Amaya, the rooftop restaurant at SeaShell is the most popular place in Port Blair. It serves awesome grilled seafood among other Indian and Indo-Chinese dishes. The service and ambience were great as well. They have live music after 8 pm with some super nostalgic songs for the 90s kids. They’re open for lunch as well and you can get a view of the open seas.

At Havelock, the food and service at Taj were incomparable. Instead of buffets, they only offer à la carte, even for breakfast. This way, you get freshly made hot food and there’s less wastage. Our son who refuses to eat mushrooms at home fell in love with the mushroom risotto at their Turtle House restaurant by the pool. Seafood is the way to go in any coastal town, and the choice here is exceptional.

Almost everywhere you stay or eat on the islands, you’ll get RO filter water instead of bottled water. Very few stores sell plastic bottled water. We didn’t have any issues with the water quality throughout our trip. Each of us had our own water bottle that we refilled when needed.

Coconut water is widely available all over the island and is the best alternative to sugary drinks to keep you well hydrated.

Things to carry

Collage of critters found at Taj exotica at Havelock Island. These are a garden lizard, the common Asian toad, and a tiny snail
Clockwise from top: A garden lizard, a tiny snail, and the Common Asian Toad
  • Mosquito repellant like Mostigo
  • Aloe gel for bug bites and sunburn
  • Hand sanitisers that attach to your backpack for easy access
  • Waterproof sunscreen (SPF 50). We used the Ultrasun Mineral Sunscreen. Another option is Aveeno
  • Large hat or scarf
  • Sunglasses 
  • Swim gear
  • Extra clothes (you’ll need them)
  • Rain gear (it can rain any time in this tropical region)
  • Reusable water bottles (please don’t buy plastic bottles here)
  • A good book if you plan to lounge
  • Face masks are required in the airport
  • Vaccination certificates
  • Basic first aid kit
    • Band aid
    • Medicine for motion sickness
    • Crocin
    • Anti-allergy medicine
    • Pain reliever
    • Nail cutter / Swiss Army knife
    • Something to soothe an upset stomach
    • Nasal decongestant

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