Drive Through Iceland 3 : Understanding the Logistics


Hekla Ice Glacier, Iceland

Katla Ice Glacier, Iceland

This is in continuation of earlier Blog: 2 Preplanning………..

Food – How do vegetarians survive?
We are strict vegetarians.  Pushpa, my wife was on a month-long shraavan fast, when she has only one meal a day. Unsure of what we would get for lunch, it would be best to have a heavy breakfast before leaving the hotel.  With enough cereal, bread, nuts and/or fruits for breakfast, even a sandwich is usually adequate for lunch. If breakfast and lunch are taken care of, dinner would depend on the vegetarian options we had on the given day.

As soon as we arrived at the airport, we picked up some snacks, bread and juice from a super market located right at the airport and went for replenishment wherever we got an opportunity. Considering  vegetarians options would be few, this would be our emergency backup. Water was taken care of since Iceland has the purest possible tap water!

As it turned out on this trip, our attempts at restaurants were not encouraging since they carried a heavy non-vegetarian odour.  We ended up back in the hotel’s restaurant or have the packed food we had with us – theplas, fruits, chutney, pickles and yoghurt. Nishi was happy as she would invariably get pasta and ketchup or sauce – very much to her taste. The last day was a feast because we got nice Italian pizza!  In any case, it was understood amongst the three of us that the main focus of our trip was to enjoy Iceland.  Quality of food was more or less irrelevant.

Cash or Card?

Visa and Master Credit cards were accepted everywhere in Iceland, even in the smallest of shops at the most isolated places.  Though I carried some local currency, it was not really necessary

Shopping was in restricted range as everything in Iceland is very expensive.  Practically everything is imported.

Going places

Iceland’s public transport system, especially the mountain buses, can get you to more or less all the places you would like to visit. But, I wanted to drive myself.  Besides, self drive would surely be more convenient and save a lot of time. I hired a car right from Keflavik airport –  a 4-wheel drive version of the Nissan CX5.

Iceland is shaped like a human heart!   Ring route No.1, a highway, goes around the country’s circumference, along the coast.  Most tourists with 8-10 days at hand, take this well-surfaced highway.  But, Route 1 misses out on a lot of interesting, though difficult to reach sites located in the interiors.

In August, the day time lasts about 18 hours from 5 AM to 11PM.  My average daily plan included a 3-4 hour drive and 5-6 hours of sight-seeing.  The plan was to start after breakfast at 8-9 AM, finish by 4-6 PM and then relax the rest of the evening.  We had enough cushion for any breakdowns or emergencies.

Since we had a child with us, we restricted the driving time to just 3-4 hours a day. That was a mistake.  Nishi enjoyed every moment of the experience, be it food, drive or trek. The so-called child, Nishi, had more energy than both of us and she would be absolutely fresh for nana-masti or a pillow-fight at the end of the day.  Had I properly assessed her level of energy earlier, I would have included a few more interesting places in my itinerary!

Contd as DTI 4 – fun begins…………….

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra


Drive Through Iceland 11: Natural Spas and Lagoons

In continuation of earlier blog DTI 10: Snow Mobile, James Bond Style

There were various beautiful lava rock formations. These rock formations also formed large caves, as large as an acre each.  Asphalt pillars were also seen here.  They were the by-product of lava flow during eruptions.  Though they were natural, it looked as if they were carved out of a large rocks.

It was then time for us to visit the Skogar waterfall.  It is known for the enormous force of the water. We climbed about half a kilometer on a steep mountain adjacent to the waterfall, to watch the source of waterfall.  It was cold and raining, but it did not stop us from trekking.

We stayed over night in a guest house owned by Mr. Uxi who was a very popular chef in one of the five star hotels in the Capital.  We enjoyed our stay there and so also the vegetarian breakfast he cooked specially for us.

Hberagardi Hot Springs 2015-08-13B

Hberagardi Natural Hot Springs

More natural wonders were to follow.  There is a specific hot spring belt running from Keflavik airport and it cuts across the country.  Geysers and spots where boiling water bubbles out, is common on this belt. On the penultimate day, it was time for us to visit a small town Hveragerdi, a town with countless natural hot water springs.    We could see smoke coming out of the hot springs all over the hill town.  They were just a few yards away from each other.  I guess some of the private houses had natural hot springs in their own backyard.

We climbed half the mountain to see the various hot springs.  At the top of the mountain there was a natural hot spring lagoon.  However the weather turned adverse with sub-zero temperatures, wind and rain, we did not go up to the lagoon.

We were in the coastal area which was created by lava flows.The lava had even extended to the coastal area of the country by 5 kilometers.  We drove through volcano eruptions through the trip.  While we were passing through the lava land, there were heavy dusty storms.  The wind was so strong that I found it difficult to control the steering wheel.  I guess the lighter vehicles would not have stood to that storm and would have flown away.


Lava fields, Iceland

Lava sand, lava eruptions and lava mountains – it is not an exaggeration to say that this is what makes Iceland.

These were completely isolated kachhaa roads.  There were occasions when we felt we have lost the way.  I started suspecting the accuracy of the GPS as we were left at a location surrounded by lava mountains and dusty winds with no one in sight. It was a great relief when we finally reached the main road leading us to Blue Lagoon, the last of our stops.

Blue Lagoon is the master of luxurious spas.  It is a lagoon, a large, open water body flowing from natural hot springs.  The pool water was a lovely, uniform marine blue.  The water was warm and at some places, even warmer.  We reserved this site as the last point of our tour.  After a hectic week around Iceland, these were well-deserved relaxing few hours.

Blue Lagoon 3B

Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Nishi, our 8-year old granddaughter was an entertainer and inspiration in all the activities, whether it was trekking on rough terrains, climbing the mountains, entering hot water springs in freezing temperature, glacier walking or snow mobiling.  It was good we had a child like her with us, to keep the child in us alive.

In earlier years, when I imagined about Iceland, I expected to see ice and snow all around; it was Iceland after all!  However, that’s not the case. I wonder whether a few more eruptions would make ‘Iceland’ into ‘Lavaland’.

Our wonderful trip had come to a close. A rich, fulfilling week later, we returned the vehicle and were at the airport to catch our flight back.

Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa

Edited By : Meeta Kabra

Drive Through Iceland 2: Pre-planning

This is in continuation of earlier Blog: DTI:1:Setup………….

The planning for the big trip began!  The research convinced me that an Iceland trip needed proper planning, even better than planning a trip to all available parks in Orlando.

As usual, I didn’t opt for package tours with travel agents.  I wanted to learn about the country on my own. Its geography, specialities and then plan the trip as per my interests. From the reviews and research, I noted each major and minor point that I should be careful about while travelling in Iceland.  This, not only saved my time and money, but I now also knew my options in case of an emergency.

I made a list of interesting places after looking up photos and information on each site.  The list was long. I flagged the selected places on Google map.  A rough estimate looked like I would need at least 15 days to cover it all.  However, 50% could be covered in 4 days, 75% in 8 days and about 85% 10-11 days.

I picked a balanced “8-days”. I would miss some waterfalls, glaciers and the like but would be able to visit similar features elsewhere in my trip.  To avoid criss-cross travelling,  I would have to stay at a different place on each of the 7 nights.

Hotels were few and far between.  And for sure, very expensive.  At best, there were 3-star hotels at some places.   Rooms with attached bath were about INR 25 to 40 thousand a night!  Guest houses were clean, comfortable and relatively economical at about 15 to 20 thousand Rupees per night.   Most of the hotels and guest houses on our route offered only “shared bath”.

While selecting accommodation, another thing I looked for was “rooms with breakfast included” as it would be difficult to get right breakfast on the roadside particularly when driving on highland remote roads.

We wanted attached bathrooms which were few in the first place, and the ones that existed were already booked.  Out of these, those with “breakfast included” narrowed down the availability further.

At an additional 10-15% offered rooms with free cancellation.  I started booking whatever best was available on the day as per my planned route. At the same time, I made a list of better hotels in the area. Every day since then, I would check for fresh vacancies (due to any cancellations) and book better hotels when available.  I did this practically every day for over a month.

We would be staying in remote places on five out of seven nights. For these 5 places, I made 28 cancellations and re-bookings!  I had to, for better accommodation!  Every change meant a change in my route and itinerary. Finally, I froze the plan just a week before I left.

There were many local agencies that provided tour plans. But, I always enjoy the thrill of driving myself, on routes that interested me the most.   I realised I would not be able to reach some of the highlands, if I rented a 2-wheel drive. So, I went for a 4-wheel drive. Many local set-ups offered vehicles at much lower prices, but I wanted to go with a known brand in car rentals, so that the vehicles are reliable while driving on mountains, crossing rivers and passing through rough lava fields.  I selected Thrifty as that seemed the most popular amongst the International car rental agencies in Iceland.

I felt reasonably comfortable to take on the trip.

To be contd...

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

Original Manuscript Of Ramayan – It exists!

Original - Tulsi Ramayan

Original – Tulsi Ramayan

In 2013,  my wife and I visited a very interesting holy town, Chitrakoot in Uttar Pradesh.  It is said Lord Sriram stayed here in his years of exile.  From there, we proceeded to Ayodhya, the birth place of Lord Sriram.   Heavy monsoons forced us to divert from the main highway.

On the diverted route, we were told that we would be passing through the place where Sant Goswami Tulsidasji, the author of Tulsi Ramayan used to live – Rajapur.

As I understood, Ramayana – the hindu epic about Lord Ram’s life – was written by Maharshi Valmiki in Sanskrit about 4,000 years ago. The original script is told to still exist in Nepal.   On my various trips to Nepal, I tried but could not find the exact location.

About 500 years ago, Sage Tulsidas translated the original, Valmiki Ramayan, in a more commonly understood local script Awadhi, titled Ramcharita Manas.   The prospect of experiencing the vibrations of the place where Sant Tulsiji lived and authored his Ramayan was of course, very exciting.

After negotiating 30 kilometers of rough road which was made almost impossible to drive through during the monsoon we reached Rajapur.   After asking around for directions, we reached a large piece of compounded land in this town.

In one corner, Government authorities have built a Hall in the memory of the great sage – Sant Tulsidas Memorial Hall.    We had to walk through the muck and potholes stacked with rain water to reach the memorial.  Contrary to my expectations, the place was completely isolated and badly maintained.   On further inquiry with the only gentleman who was staying there, I was told that this place was just a memorial hall and not the place where Tulsiji stayed.

After a few more inquiries with the locals outside,  we were guided to a small temple devoted to Sant Tulsidasji on the bank of River Yamuna,  about 2km away.   It was a beautiful and peaceful place!  The temple priest was from Tulsidasji’s descendant.  The temple displayed some of Tulsidasji’s very own belongings including the Saligramji (stone idol) he used to pray to, his wooden padukas (footwear) etc.

From my discussions with the priest, I understood that one of the Chapters of Tulsi Ramayan is still preserved around that place.  I could not believe it!    Would I really be getting a chance to see and offer my respects to the Ramayan!

I expressed my enthusiasm to the priest.  He directed us to a swamiji in the room across – the senior most surviving member from the clan of Tulsidasji.  Swamiji obliged and agreed to show us the original!

Across the temple, is a two room hut where Tulsiji stayed – the place where he was inspired to rewrite the Ramayan in Awadhi – to make it more approachable to the common man.  From a safe in this house, Swamiji  got a bundle out  clad with multi layers of colourful pieces of cloth.   He gently and respectfully, unfolded the cloth covers one after the other.

He unfolded about 7-8 of the layers, each of which appeared to have its own importance.  And there!  The handwritten original Ramcharit Manas!  Chapter: Ayodhya Kaand!  It was written on paper with hand made ink.  The paper was yellowish and recently laminated.

Tulsidaji Janmasthall Rajapur aug 2013 (5)

Ayodhya Khand – Ramayan

Ramcharitamanas - Storage

Original Tulsi Ramayan





 Swamiji then read out a couple of pages and explained the logic and sequence of how dohas, chands, (the couplets, etc) etc were written.  He had a well-researched book which was a translation of Awadhi words to Devnagiri (Hindi) script.

I was told that the other six chapters were thrown away in the river by rulers who wanted to destroy signs of the ancient Indian culture.

I did not feel like leaving that place located at the bank of Yamuna.

I felt like I was with Sant Goswami Tulsidasji and was being blessed.

Ramayan is preached and prayed in almost every nook and corner in India and wherever in the world Indian population has flung out to.   In spite of being such a document of such historical importance – whatever is left of it – there is hardly any security or maintenance efforts by the authorities.

Rajapur is 85 kilometers Southwest of Allahabad / 45 kilometers Northeast of Chitrakoot.   If you ever happen to be in the area, make it a point to visit Rajapur.  It would be worth every minute!

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

Drive Through Iceland 1: Setup

I recently had a very exciting and educative driving trip to Iceland. There is many a thing I want to share. I will be publishing my experience in a series. Here is the first in this series – how it all came about.

Jokulson Icerberg4

Why Iceland?

On 6 May 2015 I was set to leave for Trek to Annapoorna Base Camp in Nepalese Himalayan range.  Air ticket, insurance, expenses all paid.  As usual, my baggage was ready duly packed a month in advance!  Never mind, though, my family members make a joke out of it!  All items on my checklist ticked.  Only a thorough recheck a day before leaving, was pending.

About 10 days to go, my enthusiasm and excitement was at its peak for this trek. On 25 April 2015, post lunch, as I switched on the TV, “Severe earth-quake in Nepal” was the breaking news banner.  Most unfortunate.  News followed that the earthquake was of severe intensity and some of the villages around the mountain I was to trek had completely got devastated. Rescue operations were on.  Incoming commercial flights were closed. Tourism in Nepal came to a standstill.  My trekking trip got cancelled.  My efforts to visit Nepal to join the rescue and aid operations did not get positive response.

I did not unpack my bag; it was still intact lying near the life-size window at my bedroom.  Every time I looked at the bag, I was asking myself, is there any interesting place I could go to?.

Just around that time, Seema, my daughter in UK was insisting that Nishi, my grand daughter, had holidays and Pushpa and me should stay with them for a few weeks.  I initially resisted as I felt it would be a stay without much of action!  Then I was reminded that it was over 2 years since I had seen Nishi.    Oh! there was a reason that I should visit UK.  Before I could think further about it, my son Anand, booked most comfortable tickets for us for 4 weeks stay in UK.   But I kept thinking, ha!  staying for 4 weeks without adventure?  Not entirely convincing!  Surely it could be better!

For me, leisure travel means not just relaxing in premium hotels or at home.  There has to be some unusual action or adventure; a stay in a mountain tent or a hut, in near freezing temperature or something where action is primary, comfort is secondary and food is tertiary. To keep myself fresh, I needed to have at least one such trip a year.

I reactivated all travel related ‘blocked’ email ids and started looking at these ‘junk’ emails, in case they have some suitable place to venture out.  One of the junk emails was tempting – a 4wd driving trip to Iceland in Nov 2015.

In Iceland, there have been regular lava eruptions.  From internet browsing, I realised that due to its volcanic origin, Iceland has features like gushing geysers, ice glaciers, snow-capped mountains, volcano craters, lava eruptions, natural hot water springs, sea shores, black sand beaches and staggering waterfalls – all these natural phenomenon at a very close proximity to each other,

Iceland sounded like an interesting and unusual place; different from the 50+ countries I‘ve visited.

Iceland is close to UK, just a 3-hour flight from London, “why not take off a week for Iceland out of my 4-week stay UK-trip?”  Also, August was supposed to be a good time to visit Iceland. But then, this would defeat the purpose of staying with Nishi. I wondered if Nishi would be travel with us to Iceland. I thought Nishi was a little too sophisticated to make a trip that could get uncomfortable. All of 8 years, little Nishi makes her own decisions.  When Seema checked with her, Nishi responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes”.  That’s it!

Decided.  Go out for UK for a month, sneak out time for Iceland!

To continue ———–Blog DTI:2: Pre-Planning

Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa

Edited By : Meeta Kabra

Thoughts At The Most Peaceful Place

I had a crazy idea – to look for the most peaceful place on the earth!

In 1983, when I visited North Pole, Narvik was the northern most place, I could access. My first experience there in the midst of midnight sun left me with a great feeling.  In 2006, when I went to Antarctica in the South Pole region, the large icebergs floating in the ocean itself had an amazing and surprising soothing effect on the nerves.  On my expedition to Mt Everest, Base camp in 2008, trekking the mountain snow peaks by myself, probably calmed down my temperament by leaps.

North Pole Location

North Pole Location

In 2009 I planned my second trip to North Pole, this time to reach exact 90° N.   I did reach.   The place is aligned with the northern most tip of the earth’s axis of rotation. This place is just a large sheet of ice and has no inhabitants. I realised it was the most peaceful place I had been to till then.  I closed my eyes to experience the vibrations.  Soon enough my thoughts took me to a star shining absolutely bright, right above me.  This was of course, the Dhruv Tara, the North Pole Star, also called Polaris.

Wow! While the thought process started, I realised there were many lessons the Pole Star has, to make life meaningful, if only we could follow.

  • Pole Star is committed to stay firm for sure. Why can’t I be in my commitments?
  • A person, trillions of miles away on earth, confidently depends on the Pole Star to assess directions. Can I make myself dependable in such a way at least to those who are known and close by?
  • Pole Star acts as a guide to those who lose their path. If one gets lost on the earth’s northern hemisphere, one can make out the directions by looking at Polaris.  This guidance is unselfish, unconditional and unbiased. Can I be such a guide?

I wish we have the ability to follow what the Pole Star has been practicing flawlessly for ages –  Dependable, Unbiased, Firm and Guide to those who need!  All these, without any self-interest.

An Important Place – Ignored

On my first visit to Badrinath about 40 years ago, I was told that  the last Indian village was 3km away from there.  I trekked to get a feel of this village. Manibhadrapuri is the last Indian village on the Indo-Tibet border in Uttarakhand in the Himalayas.   The villagers were shy, innocent, humble and extremely simple.

A few small houses aside, the village had a few caves.  One of them, Vyas Gufa and another closeby, Ganesh Gufa are known as the places where one of the two major epics of ancient India,  Mahabharata was written.  It came as a pleasant surprise to me that I was standing at the spot where Sage Vyasa supposedly narrated Mahabharata and Lord Ganesh wrote it down as it was narrated.

After that visit, whenever I went to Badrinath, I cherished visiting Manibhadrapuri village.

Ganesh Gufa

Ganesh Gufa, Mana Village, Near Badrinath

Vyas Gufa, Village Mana near Badrinath

Vyas Gufa, Village Mana Near Badrinath

Plaque at Vyas Gufa

Plaque at Vyas Gufa, Village Mana

Such an important place is hardly publicized by the tourism department.  It is a pity that this place is not getting recognition it deserves.

If statues of politicians are erected to inspire, why can’t we glorify our ancient epics so that the people get inspired to lead a life these scriptures ultimate teach!

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra