One thing we love about our job is that it always feels like a vacation. Recently, our resident photographer landed up at a destination so beautiful, in a car so cool, he had to bring out the big guns!
Check out the view!
Nashik, in Maharashtra, is an Indian city tuned mostly towards religious tourism and the occasional trek. In recent years though, this city has taken on a unique personality. One, that has truly intrigued and amazed the entire country and the world!
Nashik is home to India’s most popular Winery – Sula Vineyards. Just outside the city limits stand the stately Vineyards. An expanse ripe with enthusiasm, technique and a unique taste for the good life – that’s the Sula vibe. Right then, we struck a chord with the place.
Arriving in style!
We drove from Pune to Nashik in the striking Mercedes Benz GLA. A car we chose for its unique form and laudable capability. Right from the get-go, the GLA 200 CDI took on the challenge of the Indian road with solid gusto. Traditionally, Mercedes Benz cars occupy a luxury oriented placement in the Indian market. Touring in the GLA however, we felt brand Mercedes Benz was now venturing into territory not just for the chauffeur driven CEO but also for the one who likes to take charge of the wheel and steer into the good life, head-on.
Head into the Indian countryside and one is greeted with boundless beauty albeit coupled tastefully with the occasional bad road. A place not ideal for soft, sexy and luxurious cars, surely. It is here that the Mercedes Benz GLA, with its rugged disposition, throws down the gauntlet in the face of this fact. Roads, good or bad, are easily traveled by this mid sized GLAdiator of sorts. The GLA also excels in quenching the thirst for trailblazing across the countryside. All this while keeping the driver cocooned in familiar luxury. It is by far the best suited Benz for the aspirational Indian.
All about the GLAm!
Talking aspirations, the Sula winery was born out of sheer passion and a great attitude. CEO Rajeev Samant took what little he had, poured his heart into his work and gave rise to a truly global wine brand. The creation of Sula has brought about a wine revolution in India. Growing at a healthy pace and gaining popularity by the minute, Sula’s Wines have captured the attention of most curious travelers and wine connoisseurs alike.
Taste the Sula Life!
Attention is something the GLA grabs by the ton as well. The GLA’s road presence is something which needs to be felt to be believed. This luxury SUV gives India the pomp of a three pointed star, the elegance of a luxury tourer and the go-almost-anywhere attitude! The GLA rivals the Audi Q3 and the BMW X1 when we look at price points. The Mercedes Benz GLA looks stunning from every angle, something that its rivals struggle to do even on the best of days.
The GLA is big enough to command the road and small enough to even be called compact! On the motorway, the GLA drove flawlessly across hundreds of kilometers that we threw at it. Eventually the roads ran out and we were doing trails towards Nashik and this is where the GLA came into its own. We weren’t worried about ground clearance, we knew there was enough power and all doubts about the GLA’s capabilities evaporated as we circumvented traffic jams on the Pune – Nashik Highway by driving through tricky village paths & broken roads!
We did not push the GLA beyond the broken road however. When driving a luxury car of this form, it isn’t always the best course of action trying to do high articulation maneuvers. That’s simply not what the GLA is about. A 7 speed dual clutch gearbox mated to a 4-pot diesel motor churning out 135 bhp provides effortless on-road performance on the new GLA 200 CDI. The diesel engine does create some noise outside and on the inside as well but it’s not something which affects the overall drive experience. Space is tight on the inside, making the GLA in essence a two person tourer.
Two of us, with our luggage and camera equipment traveled very comfortably in the GLA. We fell in love with the fantastic driver and spotter seats in the car, these seats make long drives an absolute dream! The unmissable sport mode makes easy pickings of sharp mountain curves and the suspension which is specially tuned for India (owing to the increased ride height) does well to keep the GLA centered and the occupants charged up ;).
Ideal for India!
On a drive which ends at a location as stunning as the Sula Vineyards, we had to go all-in. We reached Sula and were greeted by their brand managers, Nirvana was given a one-on-one tour of the Vineyard and the manufacturing facility. Not to forget the tasting of 10 most popular wines from Sula!
Sunset at Sula!
A visit to Sula can be an all encompassing experience. Soléil, the restaurant, serves Indo-French Cuisine at the vineyard and ‘Beyond’ is a luxury hotel managed by Sula for its patrons. They also undertake tours of the winery for a small fee which includes a quick wine tasting as well. If chilling out is all you plan to do, you can head to the cafe overlooking the Vineyard for some amazing sunsets and snacks.
The Nirvana Favorite – Chenin Blanc Reserve.
We’re no wine boffins but we do have our favorites! On our scales, the Chenin Blanc Reserve and the Late Harvest Chenin Blanc take the top spots! Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Shiraz and Merlot are a few more among the varieties produced at Sula. If you are someone with a genuine thirst for travel and love a unique experience, a visit to these Vineyards is a must-do. It is one of the most unique weekend experiences one can undertake.
In it to win it!
Pushing the realms of possibility and chasing perfection relentlessly are traits both Sula & Mercedes Benz embody. Our boy Nipun Srivastava cut short his vacation and took on the task of showcasing both the car and the destination, single-handedly. This, because we value true originality, class and quality. Any such endeavour inspires us to do more and way better than ever before. We thank Sula Vineyards for their exemplary hospitality.
Motoring and alcohol do not mix, let’s be clear.
Here at Nirvana we practice the highest norms of motoring safety. We adore the vehicles we drive and use, behooving us to do our job responsibly.
Do share our Sula story if you liked it! In our bid to encourage motoring conversations further, we’d like you to comment below and tell us what you think.
We’d love to know how our readers satisfy their cravings for the road! Cheers!
Lex Talionis! – A long term update on the Mahindra Thar!
We’ve spent an adventurous four years with this mean and mod-friendly machine! So before we let you through to our original story on the Thar, here’s a quick look at the major modifications on our daily driver!
Mahindra Customisation: Snorkel, Midnight Edition Front and Rear Bumpers: Inspire confidence while fording and enhance maneuverability / aesthetics.
Bimbra 4×4: Heavy Duty Rock Sliders, Fiber reinforced Hard Top (V2), Aluminum Roof Rails: Protection from rocks underneath and the Hard Top takes cabin comfort and security to the next level.
Hella: Front Auxiliary Halogen Lamps (Comet 500 Black Magic): Used as DRLs and driving aid.
Onella: Rear Auxiliary LED Lamps: Rear driving aid and campsite illumination.
Aurora LED: Front LED Bar (Off-Road): Off-road path-finding.
Cooper Tires: Discoverer STT Pro 31″ Mud Terrain Tires on 15″ Steel Wheels: Improved off-road capability, increased stability on road, the trade off – an audible ‘humm’ while at speed, reduced top end.
Mopar: Wrangler Hood Latches: Aesthetics primarily, eliminates squeaky noises made by stock metal bonnet Latches.
DampMat: Thermo-Acoustic Insulation: Reduced cabin noise and heat by 50%. Improved life inside cabin (and air-con efficiency) immensely.
ARMORO: Custom Spare Wheel Cover: Adds attitude and improves overall aesthetics, protects spare rubber from elements.
Built not Bought!
Each modification/add-on mentioned above has been made after careful research and due scrutiny of each available option in the category. The custom accessories market in India is steadily growing and so are the options that are natively available for enthusiasts to use on their individual rigs.
Now, back to our original story on the Mahindra Thar!
The Jeep Life!
Those who follow our work will know we did a quick review of the Mahindra Thar some time ago. The Thar is an SUV which carries the tag of a Jeep in India. People who drive these brutes are often from a different school of thought altogether. These men and women, like most, value comfort, style, ease of handling and most of all practicality. With all these in the bag though, there is still something missing. The chase for this missing element is what makes people buy a Jeep.
A jeep is not practical, it isn’t comfortable, the handling on these machines is appalling and as for styling – it hasn’t changed for the last 7 decades. So then, what is it? What makes one buy a Jeep? Nirvana set out to unravel this mystery in the best way there is!
We cleared our schedule, packed up as much stuff as we could, stuffed it into a Mahindra Thar and then drove off in tandem with the rising Sun. For the first few kilometers, we battled the blistering cold as the Thar warmed up. The cabin heater takes its own time to wake up and the canvas-ish soft top roof was not helping things either. Eventually though we did find some semblance of temperature inside the cabin. The drive had now begun. We were now officially giving chase to the element, that one thing which makes one go out and buy a jeep.
Barreling through the cold morning winds, we’d defog the windscreen manually (with a cloth) every few minutes. Irritating at first, it is something a Jeeper gets used to very quickly. Much like the bumpy ride one has to deal with even on smooth highway roads. The rear end of the Thar sits on an antique leaf spring suspension setup making it jump over every little lump of tar on the Indian road. Safe to say, the ride is not something to write home about. Even with the fully independent pot hole eating front suspension, there is only so much this Jeep can offer.
Highway Crusin’ – Indside Story!
The 2.5 Litre turbo-diesel does tend to impress when given the beans on the highway. Sluggish at first but given time, the Thar holds its own on the highway. For what is essentially a box on wheels, the Mahindra Thar is a gem on smooth straight roads. On mountain roads however, curve after curve, one has to calibrate to the comfort zone of this Jeep. The driver learns to read the road for potential bumps and it’s his/her skill which decides how smooth or unnerving the ride will be.
Barring a rudimentary seat-belt, there is nothing between the passenger/pedestrian and certain loss of limb. Oh, maybe the less than adequate brakes might soften the nudge a little. And then there is the price tag; eight and a half lakhs on the road (Pune). Phew! So where does all that money go? Clearly the interiors (or the lack of them) is not something which eats up the budget.
As we found out, the Borg&Warner 4×4 transfer case mated to the 2.5 turbo is where the money’s at. It is the off-road capability of this Jeep that costs. Off-road loyalists in India will probably want to discount the Thar’s ability when things get a little too technical (Compared to a traditional solid-axle). Not to say this jeep is bad when taken off the road. We found the stock Thar to be adequately endowed for someone looking to break into the world of Indian jeeping. Having said that, we were still miles away from discovering the magic element (and our destination!).
I can go anywhere!
We had driven a few hundred kilometers by now. Over highways and in the curves, we’d found our rhythm with the Thar; then something funny happened.
As we got used to the Thar’s antics, she took on an almost endearing personality. Like a human being, even with all its limitations, the Thar kept moving. Eating miles and sipping diesel, she got us to our destination – Our holy grail – Hedvi.
Holy grail – Hedvi!
Despite all the niggles, we had fallen for the Mahindra Thar! Every time we looked, we couldn’t take our eyes off it! On a beach, out trailblazing in the wilderness or even on the city street, the Thar cuts a very crisp figure. And gosh is it attractive! Driving down the streets, everyone from young boys and girls to middle aged couples and even a few Army and Police personnel will give you the thumbs up.
The Thar almost always becomes the conversation piece because truth is, the Jeep (as a concept) has seen it all. Over the past century, in all corners of the world and in every walk of life this vehicle in all its forms has proven its mettle beyond doubt. Starting from the military, through utility and going all the way till recreation, the Jeep can do everything.
The compromise in comfort and luxury, we feel, is fair in return for the capabilities and downright uniqueness. Safety on the other hand is something Mahindra & Mahindra still need to work on for the Thar.
Finally though we’d cracked it; we now knew why one buys a jeep. Read on.
Travel till land’s end!
Romance is rare, charm is even rarer and class, well that’s almost extinct. There is a reason why a charming, secure and confident man makes any woman swoon. The reason is romance. Any man who is secure in himself and confident about his abilities probably knows how to woo a woman. He could walk onto her turf with his charm and the only thing a lady will do is welcome him. No matter how uncomfortable it is to be together, no matter how unpractical the love is and regardless of the cost, if the romance is alive – the love will flourish.
And that is it ladies and gentlemen. The romance of a lifestyle is what attracts enthusiasts to jeeps like bees to honey. It’s the romance of doing things differently, standing unaffected by the way the ‘herd’ looks at living and going where few bother to look which sets true blue Jeepers apart. Living with a Jeep is not for those corrupted by comfort!
The virile lifestyle!
Comfort zones become a thing of the past with a jeep. A well kitted out vehicle and with a strong skill set on tap, anyone can become an explorer. In fact, we love the romance of Jeeping so much, we’ve bought one! The vehicle you see in the pictures is a bone stock* Mahindra Thar from our very own Nirvana stable!
Expect a lot more travel and Jeeping stories hereon out! Also, in our bid to encourage motoring conversations further, we’d like you to comment below and tell us what you think. We’d love to know how our readers satisfy their cravings for the road! Cheers!
For more Jeeping photography click on The Jeep Life!
Well, the title should really be Shooting Car, since we’re gonna talk about just one motor. Mercedes Benz and theroadtonirvana.com have, through downright amazing photography, created a relationship unlike anything else we’ve been a part of. Continuing the same, we shot the C-Class earlier this year in all its glory, right here in Pune, India. Our Home!
We LOVE our motoring. What we love even more than that are vehicles which make magic happen. Both on the road and in front of the lens, there are some cars which truly take the cake. The 2013 Mercedes Benz C-Class is one such epic motor. Here we go!
Gift wrapped in a package of precise and confident design, the 250 CDI was delivered to us and we were told, it is your way or the highway. You know what though, “our way is the highway!”. You see, it’s all about analogies when it comes to motoring. Magic – is one such one-word analogy.
What is absolutely imperative for us before shooting any vehicle is the fact that there must be a connection between the photographer and the ride. That is, we need to take these beauties for a spin – a good old fashioned drive through the country. More often than not, triple digits and then some on the speedometer builds a connection of sorts between the vehicle and its driver. “I begin to trust the vehicle and that helps me feel right at home shooting these cars and bikes” says our lead Photog Nipun Srivastava. We agree!
Making that connection
We’re a little selfish in most our endeavors here at Nirvana. What we mean is, “motoring” is great but what use is motoring if one doesn’t travel?
You don’t just simply head out looking for shots, no. You head out looking for an experience, photography, just happens. That’s what we believe and that’s what helps us grow as photographers, travellers AND motoring enthusiasts!
Head out, chase the Sun.
Nipun drove the C-Class onto back roads which surround Pune city amidst the Western Ghaat hills of India. “How can you not have a sunset shot?” we thought just as we roared off on one of our signature short drives onto unknown roads.
Pune, incidentally is also the home of Mercedes Benz in India. The assembly plant for these cars is just a 30 minute drive away. It was mandatory for us to showcase the C – Class on the roads of our city. We made our way to Pune’s shopping street, the Mahatma Gandhi Road!
Like a boss.
Driving this C-Class Mercedes is a pleasure. The handling is damn crisp at high speeds which inspires confidence on the road. Then comes the interior which was pretty chic and gave us all the luxury we asked for with every touch. For a car of its class, in India the C-Class is slightly overpriced according to our experience. Still, no harm in dishing out dough for quality.
One shortcoming the C-Class shares with most its counterparts is the lack of adequate ground clearance for Indian roads, there’s just no way around that one. She drives smooth with a ten-on-ten automatic transmission but you do get flappy-paddle mode which takes a little getting used to. On the whole though, we would buy this baby. No grille or combination rings can outclass the three pointed star on Indian roads! Wink!
THE SPORT MODE: Yes, we did press that pretty button. The C-Class revs higher in Sport and other boring things change to give back a sharper, more fun ride.
After our mandatory road-tests were done, it was time for us to do what we do best – have fun with our cameras! We put in close to three hours scouting for and setting up a single shot and then we shot the star among stars! You won’t believe how awesome peanuts and diet coke taste out in the cold sitting beside self clicking cameras and a beautiful car. And then when the final shot comes out of processing, it just makes us swoooooooon!
Star among stars!
Shooting this car over three days was a fantastic experience for us. There are few things we value more than good vehicles, good places and good people. This shoot was right up there with some of our best over the past three years. Having said that, ladies and gentlemen, this is just the start. There’s a BIG Nirvana surprise coming soon! Hint: It loves flying!
A Masterclass in Quality, Mercedes Benz.
For all their awesomeness, we would like to thank Mercedes Benz Stuttgart, Mercedes Benz India for blessing us with the car and a BIG thank you to the master drivers who helped us navigate through each step of our insane shoot!
Until next time,
Early this year, we hightailed it through the Indian state of Gujarat in a car. A 2500 kilometre long journey packed into a tight 4 days. They say the best journeys are the ones that are planned the least. This mad drive into Gujarat was exactly that. One crappy car and four drivers can do a lot more than one might assume.
Gir and Gujarat
Our biker friend, Pankaj Goyal, was getting married deep inside Gujarat and we had to be there to bid our boy goodbye. We drove endlessly and under the cover of darkness in mid January. Swapping driving and navigation responsibilities at every rest stop, we saw the sunrise. While we were still on the road and now only about 50 kilometers from our destination, our minds started wandering.
500 miles from home, it was imperative that we make the most of our journey. But, time was short. We met our friend and his lovely fiance, stayed and shot the wedding (our first wedding shoot evaar!) and then darted out into the vastness that is Gujarat.
The Gir national park and wildlife sanctuary is very popular amongst tourists and hardcore photographers. To be true, all our wildlife gear was sitting pretty back at base! Our photography, cameras and lenses were optimized to shoot a wedding, not the wild!
Thus began our trip to Gir, the final stronghold of the Asiatic Lion.
This was the first time any of us were visiting this part of the country. Yet again, we started our drive in the night. Gujarat, in India, is synonymous with ‘development’ or so we thought. We drove into the interiors and were taken by surprise, the roads in this part of the country were abysmal. To make matters slightly more challenging, the gates into Gir National Park did not open till 8am.
We snoozed in our car till a shabbily dressed, half asleep forest guard let us in. At 8 am and on the outer boundary, things got worse. As one drives into the sanctuary, roads virtually disappear. This was bad news for our overloaded car. Our speed was less than an average of 25 km/h.
Nothing but nature
They say everything happens for a reason and after 2 hours the slow, irritating and bumpy early morning drive bore fruit.
We saw her, as she walked protectively behind her two cubs. Protective but not concerned, we were on her turf. The four of us suddenly froze, as if in a daze. She was aware of our presence, we shut off the engine of our car. Just for a second, she turned to look at us.
I see you
That was the moment when the photographer in us took over. Before she could look away, we had our shot. That little moment felt much longer when we were in it. In her gaze, she sized our vehicle up. We were no threat.
Just as soon as we had clicked a couple of photos, she turned and walked away. As if she knew she had given us what we wanted, our first sighting. Before even entering the safari zone, where people go weeks without a single sighting, we had met the Lioness.
Luck and a Lioness
It was clear, luck was on our side.
We reached our campsite cum hotel a little after noon. All four of us were eager to try our luck at catching a glimpse of another Lion. We just had to go on safari. A completely modified SUV, optimized for carrying up to 6 people arrived to take us around the forest.
Our group of four was allotted one of the longest safari routes through the main forest. Our driver and spotter (Forest department registered) were adept at telling us about every aspect of the flora and fauna here. Albeit in a routine and practiced manner.
Dust, grime and a whole lot of fun!
One hour into the safari and having seen just a few hundred deer and buffaloes our spotter got news of a Lion sighting over the radio. We reached the spot with about 25 other jeeps already waiting at a distance.
A safari at Gir is rather amusing. There are unsaid practices here which make sure the paying tourists get their shots.
Sightings at Gir are actually enabled by people called ‘Trekkers/trackers’. These Trackers are local villagers hired by the forest department to patrol a designated piece of land. Their job is to relay the presence of Lions in their sector to the higher ups.
There were a lot of tourists at this sanctuary, the kind who come for the heck of it and not for the value forests of such nature hold. There were mammoth lens toting photographers too, who maybe didn’t care about the way they got their shot, as long as they got it.
And then there was us. Four confused guys, on a safari in India for the first time. We didn’t have our lenses but our conscience was alive. Sort of.
Here’s the truth about Gir. Everybody wants a sighting but not everybody gets one. It is sort of possible to ‘arrange’ for one to get a proper sighting. If a Lion has been sighted, drivers and forest guides act as if their vehicle has broken down. Then, once everyone else has left the spot, one ‘pays’ the tracker and gets the shot one wants. The moment guides/drivers learn that you’re interested in taking pictures, the offers come up.
We were gifted with another sighting. A slumbering male Lion, snoozing in the afternoon shade, lying on a carpet of dry grass.
The Lion was lying flat on the ground. Looking at us photographers the tracker walked to a bush and shook the branches, which alerted the King. It looked up to see what the commotion was about. We all got our shot.
It is at this point that I realized the sorry state of the wild here. Yes this was a forest and yes the Lions were free to roam the boundaries of Gir, but there was something missing. That thrill of the chase, the chance of getting lost. And the sheer convenience of looking at these Lions had made this a very mediocre wildlife experience.
The only issue we had to deal with was dust. Which, had we been prepared, would not have caused us any discomfort.
My land exists but my wild is lost.
Gir is simply not what it is cracked up to be.
We had our share of fun. Buttered paranthas in the biting cold, under the stars and around the bonfire, licking pickles of unimaginable potency with me carefully keeping my distance from the sweet Gujarati Daal.
We had to be heading home, people among us had work to get done. But the disease of travel is such that it never leaves you cured. We took the long route out, stopping over at Somnath to check out what the temple holds.
Somnath, the forbidden temple.
It was a lackluster trip once we left the wedding but as any good road trip is incomplete without its share of mishaps, ours was yet to give us the final challenge.
On our way back, doing three digit speeds, we lost our brakes. Yes. The game was still on!
At a remote dhaba, we waited for 5 hours as a mechanic charged us a bomb and got us new brake pads. Then, we drove for a thousand kilometers and reached home. Safe.
This land holds secrets, too many to count on ten fingers. Gujarat.
A much delayed article. A year late, to be precise. There are some things in life that happen out of the blue. Like this brilliant (professional) life starting trip. I got to work with two of the most accomplished and inspiring editors I know. Read on to find out about Zanzibar and my 30 day trip to the island in early 2011.
As a photographer, I had decided that Africa was a place I’d visit only when I felt completely prepared. It’s an overwhelming continent, something I’m sure everybody knows already. More so for a photographer I can report. Thing is, with its grave prospects for downright dumbfounding photography (for the viewer and photographer alike), the continent of Africa had intimidated me for quite some time. I had hence decided within my head that I would venture into that part of the world only when I, as a photographer, was better ready.
All that changed in an instant when I received my confirmation email from Mambo Magazine. Mambo was a travel/culture online magazine based in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Yet again, my life had managed to trump my game plan but I wasn’t complaining! I was to spend a month on the Island of Zanzibar, interning as a photographer and writer. I took off.
When you first reach the Island of Zanzibar, you may feel like this is not the quintessential African destination but rest assured. Zanzibar is as African as Africa gets. There is wildlife, there is culture and there is the experience of a lifetime.
Zanzibar lies about 35 miles off the coast of Dar-es-Salaam, a part of Tanzania in east central Africa. I took a 20 minute flight to Zanzibar from Dar-es-Salaam. One can also opt for the ferry which takes about 2 hours to get you there. Both options invite you into this grove of uniqueness with absolutely stunning vistas. Whether you look at it from the air or while racing across the Indian ocean, this archipelago is a treat for the senses.
Once on land I found that life here is laid back. Nobody here is in a hurry, ‘Pole pole’ as they say, slowly slowly. People here are friendly and are completely at ease with tourists. Tourism being the main industry in Zanzibar, the main town known as Stone Town revolves around the traveller.
In Stone Town one notices how life here is like any other tourist town but with a slight twist. Zanzibar is home to many different ethnicities, right from Indians to people from the Middle East and of course the African Swahili. The various cultures and people here coexist in a beautiful mixture that is bound to catch your attention and keep you enthralled. As you walk through the maze of narrow streets and lanes that is Stone Town, you will see small shops on both sides of your path selling local art and souvenirs. One can find scintillating paintings of the forests and the Masai and even abstract which are capable of capturing the attention of the most discerning connoisseur.
For the food loving kind, the by-lanes of Stone Town offer authentic Swahili street food in addition to the retro barbeque and grilled preparations of sea food and meats. Make your way to Forhodani park and you will be treated to tens of vendors selling grilled sea food such as fish, shrimp and octopus right off the grill!
A dish called ‘Urojo’ is a local delicacy, it is a savoury soup and is very healthy and filling – perfect for the weight-watchers. Kassava chips are a popular local munch. If you’re a little fussy, almost every cuisine in the world can be found here, right from the best pizza and pasta from Italy to lassi and tava biryani from India. If you’re feeling lavish, head to the Serena Inn, a Stone Town five star, for a pint of Kilimanjaro. Overlooking the ocean, this little escapade will refresh you at any time of the day.
A pint of Kili
Stone town is also home to a lot of beach cafes, such as the Livingstone. It sits right next to the ferry terminal and hence is always surrounded by interesting happenings, the staff of the Livingstone will also make sure that your time at the resto-bar is worthwhile and that you leave with a stomach full of grub and a spring in your step.
The Livingstone Cafe
The Swahili culture is a very unique one indeed. The women here wear colourful attires and although shy at first, they won’t mind if you ask before taking a picture. Even the clothes worn by the locals have interesting angles to them. The ‘Kanga’, a type of head gear worn by the local women has interesting quotes printed on them which have a hidden meaning. Women communicate amongst themselves and with their husbands and friends using these Kangas, without speaking a single word!
Vibrance in cloth
Zanzibar is the birth place of Swahili. The language is not too tough to grasp for the average traveller, basic Swahili is easy to pick up. ‘Jambo’ a word which means hello, ‘asante’ which means thank you and for Indians, ‘Pilli Pilli’ which stands for chilli is enough to get you through your vacation in paradise here. Even if you’re not a language person, the cheerful spirit and energetic charm of the locals will coax you into learning a few words. Don’t be surprised if you hear people using some Hindi words, for instance the word ‘bas’ stands for enough, just like in Hindi.
You get the full tourist experience in Stone Town but if you want to see the real thing, head out. I recommend renting an SUV and taking a drive across the island. That way one gets a chance to really gain a feel for Zanzibar. But, even that is a tad touristy if you ask me.
For the hard-core traveller who really wants to discover this place inside out, I suggest you hop onto a ‘Dalla-Dalla’ or a local bus and hang on! These are small Toyota trucks modified to carry a monumental number of passengers. It’ is the perfect way to break the ice between you and the experience. These trucks/busses are the lifeline of the island. Make sure you loose your inhibitions before hopping on though!
Do the Dala Dala!
Being the biker I am I took a six day motorcycle ride across the island and its various beaches/villages. A motorcycle ride according to me is the best way to experience the openness and beauty of Zanzibar. The exhilaration of riding along the smooth roads which mostly run parallel to the coast and feeling the cool ocean breeze is incomparable to any other pleasure. Every spot on the island has a completely different feel. I spent a month here and still can’t wait to get back. Read more about my motorbike ride here: The Magical Motorcycle Tour.
Bikin’ it in Africa!
The villages are a complete contrast to the town. Hardly any shops, empty roads and the sounds of the Ocean. Stay on the east coast for a couple of days and experience the beautiful sunrises over the calm waters of the Indian Ocean.
Sunrises here leave one speechless.
Party? Make your way to Kendwa – it’s the party king of Zanzibar. A great place to chill out and meet fellow travellers. On the west coast, you will be treated to amazing sunsets every evening. Rest assured, you’ll have a story to tell from here!
Distances are short here, if you’re in a car. In a couple of hours one can cross the entire island from North to South. The roads are good too but once you’re in a village, be prepared to ride through some sandy patches. It is all great fun though.
Road to nirvana! Wink!
Zanzibar also has great wildlife. The Jozani national park in the centre of the island is home to the African Red and Black Colobus monkeys. If you are lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the native Blue Monkey. The guides of the park will take you through the forest foliage and past huge centuries old Baobab trees. They will help you track down the whereabouts of these playful tree dwellers.
The Red Colobus and Blue Monkeys.
If you have the guts, head to the Zala Park. Zala is a reptile sanctuary managed by two inspiring locals who have dedicated their lives to conserving wildlife on the island. The park is home to some of the most dangerous snakes in the world like the Green Mamba and the Cobra. Who knows, you might even get to hold one.
Zala Reptile Park!
Dolphin tours are also very popular with the tourists here but there is a catch. The excessive tours operated here, some say, are leading to the detriment of the dolphin population. I steered clear of this option to be honest. If you’re lucky, sitting on one of the pristine beaches of this wonder island, you might just get to see the dolphins playing out in the ocean.
The southern shore
Take the sea safari on the east coast though. That will give you a guided insight into the daily life of the people living in the coastal regions and will take you close to the culture of the real Swahili Zanzibaris. See how the local women make a living by farming seaweed and making rope from coconut fiber. It’s quite the learning curve!
When you want more, take some Swahili cooking lessons. Learn what they eat, how they cook and help do it. Enjoy a cosy meal with one of the local families, right in their home. Take in the cheerful hospitality while you drink coconut water and talk to the family. On this island, even a month is less time!
Be it for the honeymooners, backpackers or even adventure freaks, with its myriad avenues when it comes to that extra ordinary travel experience, Zanzibar will see you bowled over. Whether you are looking for a week away in a foreign land or even planning to take your family along for a different kind of trip, my suggestion is, head to Zanzibar and let the Swahili vibe take over.
For me, Zanzibar was an eye opener. Mambo and I did a photography workshop on the last day of my trip. It was the first time I was going to be teaching! The workshop was a roaring success! House full!
Cameras love Zanzibar!
In more ways than one this trip managed to force open my mind and instill in me the confidence needed for the coming year and it’s travel. Africa does that to you. Do visit, it’ll do you a world of good.
To see more pictures from Zanzibar – Click here.
Top ten photographs from my trip to Zanzibar – The Zanzibar Post.
An in-depth Island experience: The Magical Motorcycle Tour.
Swahili cooking: Click here to read.
The Sea Safari: What lies beneath.
Travel article in the Pune Mirror on Zanzibar by Nipun Srivastava: Click here to read.
For any further information regarding travel/cuisine/entertainment/safety in Zanzibar, contact: www.Mambomagazine.com