English author Samuel Johnson once famously said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Saunter around and even the biggest cynic will find himself agreeing with Johnson. Yet it remains one of the most expensive cities in the world so here I am presenting to you some things you can enjoy without shelling a pound.

Trafalgar Square: Designed by architecture John Nash in the 1820s and constructed in the 1830s, Trafalgar Square is one of Britain’s greatest visitor attractions. Adorned by statues and sculptures, at its centre is the Nelson’s Column, guarded by four Narnia-like lions. Trafalgar Square is a favourite spot for political demonstrations. On a busy day, simply sit on top of the square and see the world go by.

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Street Performers: London’s street performers are some of the best hidden talents of the city. Just opposite Trafalgar Square, you would see some incredibly talented magicians and performers enthralling the audience. What’s more? Sometimes you can become a part of the act. The West Piazza of Covent Garden Market is another spot to catch some street performers.

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Art Galleries: Tate Modern and Tate Britain houses some of the finest artworks in the world. While Tate Modern has an enviable collection of modern art, Tate Britain focuses on British Art from 16th century onwards. The National Gallery on the northern side of Trafalgar Square has some of the best works from Western Europe from 1250 onwards. Masterpieces include Botticelli, Titian, Raphael and Michelangelo.

Museums: London’s museums are some of the best and free attractions. My pick is the Natural History Museum, South Kensington. This Victorian building houses some of the weirdest and wonderful things of the natural world while the Museum of London brings London’s past from the Roman period to today colourfully alive.

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Westminster Abbey: The Abbey is a large, mainly Gothic church that attracts and welcomes people from all faiths. A treasure trove of paintings, stained glass, pavements, textiles and other artefacts, Westminster Abbey is where some of the most important people from Britain’s history were buried or commemorated.

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Parks & Gardens: Undoubtedly, London has some of the best parks and gardens in Europe. My favourite is the St. James’s Park due to its close proximity to Buckingham Palace. A perfect spot to soak in the warm summer sun (we wish!) and get re-acquainted with your inner self, the vibrant flora and leafy vegetation can bring a sense of calmness to the most agitated soul. Hyde Park and Kensington gardens are other favourites.

Street Markets: London’s street markets are a study in individual style and people behaviour. All markets have a unique vibe about them and offers a good chance to indulge in shameless people watching. Camden town, Portobello, and Brick Lane are some of the famous ones.

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British Library: Its mighty walls attract scholars and geeks all the time. But did you know that it also displays literature as diverse as Magna Carta and original Beatles lyrics? Two small galleries off the main foyer also present ever-changing temporary exhibitions on literary themes. Surprise, surprise.

Free Walks: The best things in life are free as is the famous cultural walk. Explore the South Bank and the Bankside areas of London. Start at Waterloo Station and walk towards the London Eye. Overlooking the river, you will see Westminster Bridge, London Eye and County Hall. Walk further and you can see Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tate Modern art gallery. It’s the cheapest culture studies you can ever get.

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The lovely snow capped mountain was staring at me quite audaciously. It was teasing me to come and experience it up, close and personal. I was in two minds—should I, should I not?? That it was a training ground for legends like Edmund Hillary was not lost to me. And there was that mind boggling number—1,085 meter high. It makes Snowdon mountain range in Wales the highest range in the area. It wasn’t a mere tease but flirting with danger. So again the question remained—Should I, Should I not??

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But sometimes we all need to man up. This definitely was my time. With my boy prodding me, I rolled up my sleeves and decided to take the hike. We gingerly started our trek on this Alpine topography. The path we chose was easy but still less used because the mountains can be a bit tricky with snow. Perhaps, it was this prospect of danger that kept us going. That the only way is up. With each passing stretch the lovely village of Snowdon seemed to pass away becoming a mere dot in the humungous landscape. The heavenly vista of bluish-white Mountains is beautifully broken by glistening, icy lakes and the mountain train which takes you through the range.

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After about five hours we reached the peak and before we knew it, we were enveloped in a cover of snow while wind billowed with full thrust. It’s only with lot of willpower you try to move up to reach the peak. Finally, we reached the peak. And it was like experiencing God, the wind doesn’t kiss here it bites you. You reach top and you feel very humbled. There’s a reason why it’s lonely at the top because no man or beast is quite strong enough for nature. If the peaks decided to unleash its fury; only the unseen God can save you. But then the view, the calmness of mind, the agony of the untrained muscle is worth all the efforts. Mountains are not to be underestimated. If going up is challenging, coming down is equally is tricky. With each step I gingerly took I felt the snow melting right under my feet, the surface stirring me a bit. It was demanding every ounce of attention. Meditation! We reach down in about two hours passing through hordes of pretty little yellow flowers and school of sheep munching away oblivious to everything.Image

When you reach down, it’s a moment of realisation–that  Earth can really hold you down.
It’s strangely calming.

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Spring has always been associated with regrowth, rejuvenation and resurrection. In India, there are many festivals that celebrate this season of hope.

In Kerala, situated in India’s southern most part, spring is celebrated with a festival called Pooram–a festival dedicated to goddess Kali or Durga. The invincible goddess of destruction from Hindu mythology.

I was lucky enough to experience the festival for the first time in Malappuram. Here’s a glimpse.

ImageBootham or Pootham: The mythical warrior of the Goddess.

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Chaliyan’s (Weaver’s) horse:  The horse which brings prosperity to the town. Four men shoulder this horse and run around, a popular myth is that if the horse breaks during the run, it can bring ill-luck to the town.

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dance of the divine

Setting the stage

Setting the stage

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Yes, I want some change too

The world is really divided into two groups—one who loves Brick Lane and one who loathes it. One can only sympathise with the latter for Brick Lane is not your ordinary Sunday market but a maelstrom of different cultures, people and persuasions meant for the open-minded and the adventurous at heart. It’s a place where Western promise meets East End madness and the result is truly mind blowing. Get up early on a Sunday morning and head towards the market, located on the northern end of Brick Lane and along Cheshire Street in East London.

Brick Lane market is not easy to miss; it’s a place where posh boutiques stand in comfortable ease with ramshackle stalls selling a plethora of eclectic goods from old books, antique cameras, vintage clothes to cutesy bric-a-brac. A place popularised by bargain hunters, art students and curry houses, Brick Lane is the part skipped by tourists in their luxury cars. It is unpolished, little wild, rough around the edges and absolutely unafraid.

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Whatcha looking at?

Don’t miss the Vintage market put up at the Truman Brewery every Sunday between 10AM-5PM. It’s a place where you will find arrays of stalls peppered with accessories, glam fur coats, vintage frocks and men’s suits from 1920s to the 1990s.

Whilst there are many Indian and Bangladeshi curry houses, on Sundays, the market is bustling with food vendors offering cuisines from every corner of the planet. Chomp in some authentic Ethiopian food or sip Turkish coffee, dig in Chowmein from Tibet or have a tasty dish of Pad Thai. The food like everything else here perfectly embodies the rich cultural diversity that London itself offers.

Saunter around its dynamic streets and indulge in shameless people-watching. Wherever you go peppy street music and colourful street art pleasantly accompanies you. In short, Brick Lane is a bundle of contradictions—it’s ordinary yet extraordinary, predictable yet exotic, bizarre yet classic.

Just don’t forget to reach early (around 9AM) to get the best bargains. The nearest tube is Aldgate East and overground is Liverpool Street. And bring some cash; finding a cash machine in this labyrinth is tougher than solving the riddle of Mona Lisa.

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   How Welcoming

The skies are bright again but the mind knows no relief. I am bleary eyed, ridden with insomnia and a doubtful mind; I look for a quick out from the mundanity. Sometimes, escapism brings a great joy, calmness and clarity of mind. Introspection, I call it.  The beauty of the ocean, its greatness, the sound of waves lashing against the rocks calms me, uplifts me, inspires me, awes me and definitely humbles me.
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With the rays of sun slowly teasing my senses and my heart fluttering at the prospect of yet another new discovery I step out hopeful and head towards South sea beach in the water front city of Portsmouth.  The sea comes in many tantalizing forms as I discovered. Here there is no sand but the beach is made of many  different types of stones, scattered and littered. I gingerly walk on them collecting some which catch my attention. They are pink, jade, sea green and some with a bit of sea weed on them. As French explorer, Jacques Yves Cousteau famously said, “the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
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Yes, it has me firm in its net.  In the horizon, somewhere where the sky meets the sea line, I see piers. There are two piers, I am told. The south parade pier and the Clarence Pier; the sites are now amusement centers. But to me from this distance the sight looks like a picture perfect postcard evoking great wonderment.

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People come and go. Some are running, some are cycling, and many are even flying kites.  As for me, I am once again lost in my bubble. I am at the safe place where the sea and its waves is my biggest comfort. Once again, the sea has succeeded in wrapping me around its safe arms. I feel uplifted, a tiny smile plays on my lips and the former frown lines are disappearing. The sea whispers to me to march on with head held high and that everything will be alright.
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The dark clouds which were hovering around me are long gone and I am at a beautiful, happy place.
Just me, my thoughts and of course the ever calming sea.