Can We Reduce Single Use Plastic During the Pandemic?

Can we stay home and stay safe, yet reduce single use plastic during the pandemic? Choices, alternatives and demanding change.

The Covid-19 pandemic has penetrated every aspect of our lives.

As much as I hate to write or even admit it, it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. We’re still far from a vaccine, and even when it does arrive, distribution around the world could take a long time.

In the meantime, we must continue to try keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe. That means we should use a mask and sanitizer, wash our hands frequently, practice social distancing, avoid touching our face and not go out to crowded spaces except when absolutely neccesary.

Also read: What’s the Future of Travel Blogging When Nobody’s Travelling?

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Unfortunately though, that also means a significant increase in our single use plastic consumption.

Personal protective gear – masks, hand sanitizers, surface disinfectant bottles – are typically non-biodegradable. Staying at home means more deliveries, e-commerce and food takeaways, which often come in non-recyclable plastic. Perhaps we’re discarding a lot of things we would’ve normally re-used, out of the worry that the virus might be lurking around on all surfaces.

As we gear up to face the pandemic for the long haul and adapt to life in the new normal, we need to be aware that a single use plastic catastrophe might silently be brewing.

Also read: Sustainable Living Ideas as we Emerge Into a New “Normal”

How has the pandemic impacted single use plastic consumption?

I guess we only need to look at our personal consumption to guess the anwer.

Discarded plastic masks are already washing up on Hong Kong’s beaches. In the US, single use plastic usage is estimated to have gone up by a whopping 250-300%. Athens has reported a 150% increase in the amount of plastic in the general waste stream.

And in India, where waste management is already a huge issue, the fight against single use plastic has taken a backseat.

In the midst of this unprecedented pandemic, the world has lost the momentum we gained over the past couple of years to reduce single use plastic. Plastic bans and alternatives have been rolled back.

Infact, plastic lobbyists are claiming that single use plastic is a hero in the new normal!

Also read: I Love Spiti: A Campaign to Save Spiti Valley from Single Use Plastic

Is it important to reduce single use plastic while we’re in a pandemic?

I’m sure we haven’t forgotten the disturbing visuals of corals covered in single use plastic, turtles choked to death by plastic straws stuck in their nostrils and dead whales found with tonnes of plastic waste in their stomach.

Single use plastic has long been a global crisis. But it’s more important now than ever to reduce single use plastic, for three main reasons:

  • Biomedical waste that washes up on beaches or into the oceans can easily be mistaken as food. Fish, turtles, dolphins and other marine animals can choke on gloves, get entangled in the elastic bands of masks and get injured by face shields. With all this plastic filling their stomachs, they can starve to death.
  • Many recycling plants have been shut down over fears of the virus spreading through infected surfaces. That means what little plastic did get recycled / upcycled is now ending up in the landfill or being swept away into the ocean. It’ll leach into our groundwater and soil, and enter the food chain. Scientists are researching what that really means for our health.
  • Plastic pollution disproportionately affects low income countries with poor disposal facilities. Much of the west’s plastic waste used to go to China, and is now being sent to other countries in Southeast Asia. Even in rich countries, waste tends to be dealt with in poorer neighborhoods, causing public health problems. When incinerated, low grade plastic releases micro particles that have been linked to cancer. When sent to landfill, it often leaches into the groundwater. So yes, plastic pollution is very much a social justice issue.

Also read: 5 Easy Steps Towards Plastic Free Living

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So, can we reduce single use plastic while we’re in a pandemic?

Given that health and safety trump all else right now, here are some things worth noting:

  • A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that Covid-19 stays on plastic and stainless steel for 2-3 days, on cardboard for upto 24 hours and on copper for 4 hours.
  • According to the WHO, using a mask, frequently washing hands, social distancing and not touching the face are the most effective preventive measures. Surface disinfection with 70-90% alcohol is effective.
  • The WHO doesn’t recommend using gloves in public spaces.

In the early days of the pandemic, I decided that personal safety trumped my single use plastic consumption. In just a few weeks, the amount of plastic waste I was disposing became alarming.

So I spent a lot of time researching safe alternatives, and creative hacks to keep my single use plastic consumption as low as possible:

Use reusable multi-layered cloth masks instead of use-and-throw ones

cloth masks, reduce single use plastic, plastic pandemic
Prevent a plastic pandemic by opting for cloth masks. Photo by Vera Davidova.

Masks are important for our collective safety, but that doesn’t mean we need plastic masks that come out of plastic covers.

According to the WHO, the CDC and Johns Hopkins University, those of us not interacting directly with positive or suspected positive people (i.e doctors, nurses etc), are safe enough using non-medical cloth masks. N95 and surgical masks are use-and-throw masks made of non-biodegradable plastic – taking upto 450 years to degrade! Instead, we can opt for multi-layered cloth masks, which can be washed and reused.

I bought a set of five cloth masks from Pulkar – an organisation in Dehradun that supports women’s livelihoods. I find cloth masks far more breathable, comfortable (instead of elastic bands around the ears, they have to be tied behind), stylish and affordable.

After each use, I sanitize and quarantine them for upto 48 hours (the virus is expected to survive on cloth fabric about as long as cardboard). And when I’m doing my laundry, toss them into the washing machine.

Also read: How to Indulge Your Wanderlust at Home

Opt for eco-friendly e-commerce sellers who don’t wrap everything in plastic

eco friendly ecommerce
Reduce single use plastic by choosing eco-friendly e-commerce. Photo by Markus Spiske.

I think I’ve lost some of my sanity constantly outraging at Amazon and Urban Platter deliveries that arrive smothered in plastic for no good reason. I mean, why do non-breakable things like a pressure cooker whistle, a pan and even a pillow need to be wrapped in plastic?!

I limit using e-commerce for exactly this reason (aside from usually being somewhere too remote to receive deliveries and having no permanent address to receive them either). But now, in the midst of a pandemic with disrupted supply chains, closed shops and safety concerns, e-commerce is very much a part of my life.

Over time though, I’ve learnt to identify sellers that are conscious about not using single-use plastic:

Search for eco-friendly products

We needed a bunch of air tight containers so I searched for eco-friendly storage containers and zeroed in on the Star Work glass jars. Their products had great reviews and emphasized being environmentally friendly. And sure enough, despite being made of glass, the jars were delivered without any single-use plastic!

On the other hand, the couple of things I ordered from Amazon Basics came wrapped in layers of plastic despite being non-breakable. Ugh.

Now whenever we need anything, I use “eco” or “eco friendly” as a suffix while searching for it to identify plastic-free sellers.

Read reviews that mention the packaging

When I’m unable to find any eco-friendly sellers, I check if the reviews mention packaging – either while generally reading reviews or by doing a quick Ctrl+F search.

Also read: What I Learnt Volunteering on a Remote Island in Cuba

Leave public feedback for sellers, both positive and negative

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Name and shame brands that don’t reduce single use plastic. Photo by Marc Newberry.

I know it sounds like one more thing to do. But unless brands and sellers hear that we value plastic packaging free products and deliveries, they’re unlikely to make any changes.

Every time I receive an order, I try to leave public feedback on the e-commerce platform mentioning the packaging. Praising it if it is single-use plastic free. And highlighting the unnecessary use of plastic, which is more often the case.

Amazon has the option of seller feedback as well as product review. The former seems to be private feedback, though it does impact rankings on Amazon. I try to fill in both.

If enough of us do this, my hope is that Amazon will take notice and include a feature to rank packaging. Perhaps even a way to filter products with eco-friendly packaging!

Also read: Inspiring Women I Met in Bhutan – and What Happiness Means to Them

Insist that informal home deliveries are single-use plastic free and return the packaging immediately

eco friendly delivery
Fight the plastic pandemic by getting home deliveries in returnable containers / packaging. Photo by Misky.

I’ve switched from frequenting organic farmers’ markets wherever in the world I am, to ordering vegetables and fruits on whatsapp from local farmers or shops that stock their produce. Given that social distancing is hard at supermarkets and grocery stores, it’s prudent to have things delivered at home as much as possible.

That has one negative side effect though – plastic bags.

When I place an order, I always insist that they not be delivered in plastic bags. Thatched baskets, cardboard boxes and cloth bags are all good alternatives. In any case, I try to immediately empty the products into my own containers and return the packaging to (hopefully) be re-used.

This is also a great way of ensuring that I have the least possible interaction with a surface that might have been touched by multiple hands and possibly be carrying the virus. If I accept the packaging, I’d have to find a way of discarding it – increasing both, my exposure and trash.

Also read: Why I Switched to a Menstrual Cup – and How You Can Too

Carry a washable cloth bag and reusable containers for takeaway

single use plastic alternatives, plastic free living
My little kit to reduce single use plastic in everyday life and on my travels.

As India and the world slowly start to open up and emerge into a new “normal”, I’ve been thinking of how I can be both safe and environmentally-friendly.

I’ve been carrying reusable cloth bags for several years, and I think they’re our best bet now during the pandemic. Carrying my own bag means I don’t have to expose myself to plastic bags that have passed through multiple hands, on which the virus can survive for 2-3 days! Instead, I get home, empty my cloth bag and wash it with soap and water.

I’ve decided that no matter how much I crave diverse food during the pandemic, I’ll only ever order from places that deliver in eco-friendly packaging. In Hyderabad for instance, Le Terrassen Cafe has been using non-plastic single use cutlery and glass bottles. In Goa, Saraya has initiated a daily meal plan where lunch is delivered in returnable steel tiffins.

When I really want food from elsewhere – a slice of indulgent vegan chocolate cafe for instance – I will continue to carry my own resuable container. Again, relatively safer, washable and better for the planet.

Also read: 15 Responsible Travel Tips for More Fulfilling Experiences on the Road

A “sanitize, quarantine and reuse” routine rather than an open and throw routine

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Getting rid of the open and throw routine to avoid a plastic pandemic. Photo by Nathan Dumlao.

When I heard that the virus can survive upto 72 hours on plastic surfaces, my first instinct was to open every plastic bag of grocery (unfortunately I didn’t have access to an organic zero waste store), empty it into a container and toss the plastic bag into the bin.

But each time I did that, I felt horrified. Especially when the bag was a resealable bag that I would normally have re-used.

I then read safety recommendations by North Carolina State University, and was relieved to learn that it’s okay to re-use bags as long as they are cleaned and disinfected.

Now, instead of the ‘open and throw’ routine, I wash the outside of any plastic bag that enters the house, dry it and store it in a cupboard. Empty the contents in a container when needed. Sanitize it again if I’m feeling extra paranoid, quarantine it for a few days further and re-use it.

Also read: Work from Home Tips from Someone Who’s Been Doing it for a Decade

Experiment, make and grow more at home

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Some of us have a lot more time at hand with no social outings and travelling on the cards. I’ve been finding some solace in the kitchen, as well as in growing vegetables, herbs and microgreens.

I never imagined that someone like me, with a marked lack of cooking ability, could bake a good loaf of bread. After a disastrous first time, it turned out surprisingly easy and tasty!

I look to Minimalist Baker, Vegan Richa and A Sweet Alternative for inspiration for easy vegan recipes. A simple google search is a good starting point too.

It’s been fulfilling to make, bake and grow my own. And it also means I’m consuming more home-grown, organic, chemical-free food, and creating less waste, especially single use plastic.

Also read: 11 Tips to Ease Your Transition Into a Vegan Lifestyle

Segregate waste and consider eco-bricking

I know I’ve been talking about segregating waste far too often on my blog and Instagram. But I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that the vast majority of us still doesn’t choose to segregate!

All it takes is two separate bins for wet and dry waste. The wet waste can be composted, even if you live in an apartment (consider the Eco Bin). Dry waste should ideally go to a recycling facility. Else it can be given away to a local ragpicker who is likely to salvage as much as possible. Further segregating dry waste into glass bottles, cartons etc can make processing of the waste easier.

Unfortunately though, single-use plastic is such low grade plastic that it can’t be recycled. If burnt, it releases toxic chemicals. If sent to landfill, it ultimately leaches into the groundwater or lands up in the ocean. The best solution so far – besides reducing consumption of course – might be to create ecobricks. Then pool them together with a community of people and build any needed structure.

Also read: Quarantine Recycling: Staying green under quarantine

What else can we do?

plastic oceans, plastic pandemic, reduce single use plastic
Demand bigger changes to reduce single use plastic and save our oceans. Photo by Javardh.

Advocate for policy change

Even though the fight against single-use plastic looks pretty dismal during this pandemic, I feel hopeful about the possibility of policy action since it’s already happening in Thailand. In Bangkok, an awareness campaign to segregate waste is already underway, along with setting up of public collection points for plastic waste to be recycled.

Can this happen in India? With a combination of aware, conscious, motivated citizens demanding action from local, state and central governments – absolutely.

Ask e-commerce platforms to introduce a packaging rating and filter

We collectively need to ask e-commerce platforms like Amazon, Flipkart and Urban Platter to introduce a feature to rate the eco-friendliness of sellers and products. A filter to sort products by planet-friendly packaging could make it easier to identify brands that care about reducing plastic waste. A rating system can allow consumers to easily share feedback.

The best way to do this is using social media, and tagging your local e-commerce providers.

Also read: Inspiring Indian Using Social Media to Drive Positive Change

Shudder to think of the plastic pandemic brewing in 2020. Photo by Anshu A.

According to UN Environment, nearly 13 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans every year. In the Mediterranean Sea alone, the WWF estimates that the equivalent of 33,800 plastic bottles are dumped into the water every MINUTE.

That’s in an average year. I shudder to think what 2020 means for the oceans, marine life, groundwater and our own health.

Have you noticed changes in your plastic consumption during the pandemic? What steps are you taking / going to take to reduce single use plastic?

The post Can We Reduce Single Use Plastic During the Pandemic? appeared first on The Shooting Star.

Can We Reduce Single Use Plastic During the Pandemic? published first on https://airriflelab.tumblr.com

Meet the Bhutanese Blogger and Solo Traveller Unearthing Bhutan’s Best Kept Secrets.

Meet Tshering Denkar, an intreprid solo female traveller and Bhutanese blogger, documenting her Bhutan solo travel adventures.

I was in awe of Tshering Denkar even before I met her.

I first read her travel blog – Denkar’s Getaway – after receiving an invitation to share the stage with her at the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival in Bhutan. She had spent the past couple of years travelling solo across the length and breath of her own country. Hiking, hitch-hiking and living with indigenous communities in remote mountain hamlets!

Travelling is never about the labels. But being Bhutan’s first solo female traveller and the first Bhutanese blogger in the travel space is a pretty big deal.

I mean, scan through global travel writing archives – or even articles about travelling in Bhutan – and tell me how many voices of intrepid female South Asian travellers can you find?

In Thimphu, I finally met Denkar – full of energy, excitement and humor – and despite being an introvert myself, we immediately connected through our mutual love for the road. Her travel stories eventually led us to Haa Valley and plans to explore the remote eastern provinces someday.

While hiking with Denkar in the mountains of Thimphu, I learnt how the King of Bhutan reads her travel blog and even invited her to meet him! He encouraged her to keep exploring the wonders of Bhutan, and inspire more Bhutanese people to explore their own country.

Also read: Inspiring Women I Met in Bhutan and What Happiness Means to Them

bhutanese blogger, tshering denkar, denkars getaway, hitchhiking bhutan
Bhutanese blogger Tshering Denkar trying to hitchhike!

An unexpected journey

Prior to becoming a full time traveller, I was teaching in a prison in Thailand. One day, an inmate asked me, “Teacher, how is the world outside?” ~ Denkar

Denkar’s journey towards becoming a travel blogger and vlogger started in the most unlikely of places – a prison.

She travelled to Thailand to volunteer as an English teacher, and ended up staying longer to pursue further studies. While volunteering, she got the opportunity to teach at a prison in the Phitsanulok province in northern Thailand.

One day, an inmate asked her a question that would compel her to re-evaluate her life choices. How is the world outside? she wanted to know.

Denkar says she was haunted by that question, and slowly began to cherish the things she had always taken for granted. The freedom to be outdoors, explore, travel, meet new people and have interesting experiences.

She ended up backpacking across Southeast Asia, then decided to explore her own home country, Bhutan! For the past two years, she’s been travelling solo, living with locals across the many dzongkhags (districts) of Bhutan.

Check out Denkar’s adventures on her blog, Instagram, Facebook and Youtube channel.

Also read: From panic to positive living: The pandemic in Bhutan by Denkar

merak, eastern highlands
Denkar, the first Bhutanese blogger in the travel space, with her host in Merak (Bhutan’s eastern highlands).

Bhutan solo travel

Dance to your own music and let the world blend into your tune. ~ Denkar

Denkar vividly recalls her first solo trip in 2018.

She bade goodbye to apprehensive friends as she boarded a local bus to Phobjika valley – alone, with a one way ticket! She was on a tight budget, and had made up her mind to hitchhike and couch surf if she needed to.

As the bus winded along the gorgeous green mountains, she felt herself connecting with the wanderer within. She quickly made new friends, felt determined to chart her own path and ended up staying longer than planned.

And she hasn’t looked back since. Phobjika became the first of many, many solo travel adventures across Bhutan. Seeking refuge wherever she found it, connecting with locals and going deeper wherever she went.

Also read: How I Conquer My Solo Travel Fears

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Funding her adventures and becoming the first Bhutanese blogger in the travel industry

My greatest achievement is that people understand what I do now! ~ Denkar

Like most South Asian parents, Denkar’s were worried about her financial well-being. The idea of spending hours behind a laptop at home or being paid to travel is still pretty alien in this part of the world.

Denkar’s father wanted her to work as a civil servant after she returned to Bhutan with a masters degree from Thailand. But she knew she wanted to do something different. She never saw herself fitting into a traditional work environment.

So she set out to prove that she could make a living from travel blogging / vlogging. She’d be the first of her kind in Bhutan!

And she did it. Her primary source of income is content writing. She also partners with like-minded brands on her travels.

She says her parents are now obsessed with her travel stories and offbeat adventures across the country!

Also read: How I’m Financially Sustaining my Digital Nomad Lifestyle

bhutan solo travel, bhutanese blogger, panbang waterfall
Bhutan solo travel | Denkar at the magnificent twin waterfall in Panbang.

Social stereotypes and hitchhiking in Bhutan

Denkar has hitchhiked to the remotest of villages in Bhutan on trucks and boleros! As in the rest of the world, hitch-hiking is considered a big NO for Bhutanese woman.

But when Denkar began fighting the social stereotype and putting her faith in strangers, she learnt that hitchhiking in Bhutan is safe as long as you keep your wits about you. She has hitched rides with mountain porters, truck drivers and students. Some bought her lunch. Some shared their deepest secrets with her. Many probably drew inspiration from her fearless ways.

Also read: An Open Letter to Parents: Let Your “Kids” Travel

tshering denkar, denkars getaway
Bhutan solo travel | The joy of winter.

Offbeat Bhutan solo travel recommendations

Explore Panbang in one of Bhutan’s most remote districts​

Until a couple of decades ago, little was known about Panbang in Bhutan’s Zhemgang Dzongkhag, close to Manas National Park in India. Despite some recent development, the locals still live in thatched bamboo and grass roof houses, believe in shamans and drink tongba (fermented millet brew)!

Trek to Nuptsonapata in Haa Valley

Denkar says one of her all-time favorite treks in Bhutan was to Nuptsonapata in Haa Valley. Arduous though it was, it was filled with lush mountains, wildflowers, rare white poppies, an encounter with nomadic shepherds and an emerald lake!

Also read: 15 Responsible Travel Tips to Change the Way You Experience the World

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Denkar on the trek to Nuptsonpata, documenting Bhutan solo travel.

Meeting the King of Bhutan as the first Bhutanese blogger / vlogger!

Besides being recognized as Bhutan’s first travel blogger, Denkar says being invited to meet the King of Bhutan in 2019 was her life’s greatest honor.

“We need to breathe Bhutan,” he told her. He spoke about the beauty of Bhutan and the need for Bhutanese people to explore more of their own country. Denkar says it was then that it really struck her. Her journey as a blogger could make a difference in the way her own people (along with those outside) saw Bhutan.

She pledged to the King that she would travel far and beyond to bring fascinating stories about Bhutan to the world.

Also read: “I Love Spiti”: A Campaign to Save Spiti Valley from Single-Use Plastic

bhutanese blogger, solo travel bhutan, bhutan travel blog, solo trip to bhutan
At Royal Highland Festival, Bhutanese blogger Denkar wearing ‘Thukhanja’ and ‘zem’ of Layap women.

Advice for women who want to follow their solo travel dreams

Denkar: “I believe if you travel solo far and long enough, you will meet your true self. My only advice is stop being a couch potato, wishing ‘if only’ your life was like that of someone you follow online.

If you feel you want to go out there and experience the world, do what it takes. Make the emotional commitment, carve your own path, get ready for some sacrifices and prove to yourself and those around you that you can do it.

Go be the author of your own story.”

Also read: Unusual Solo Travel Destinations to Feed Your Adventurous Spirit

bhutanese blogger, laya bhutan, solo travel bhutan, tshering denkar, bhutan travel blog
Bhutanese blogger | Waking up to snow in Laya.

How did you find the courage to take your first solo trip? Or what’s stopping you? Do you follow any Bhutanese blogger?

This post is part of my Solo Travellers Series – which aims to shed the spotlight on solo travellers from across Asia. Courageous souls who are challenging conventions in their own fierce ways yet typically underrepresented in the travel space. 

If you’ve met inspiring solo travellers from Asia who I could consider featuring in this series, please connect us!

Meet the Courageous Indian Woman Travelling the World Solo – On a Wheelchair.

Meet the First Solo Female Traveller from the Maldives

Meet the Indian Software Engineer Who Quit His Job to Climb Mount Everest – But Not How You’d Imagine

Thanks to Tshering Denkar and Remya Padmadas for their inputs.

The post Meet the Bhutanese Blogger and Solo Traveller Unearthing Bhutan’s Best Kept Secrets. appeared first on The Shooting Star.

Meet the Bhutanese Blogger and Solo Traveller Unearthing Bhutan’s Best Kept Secrets. published first on https://airriflelab.tumblr.com

How We *Almost* Got Stranded in No Man’s Land at the South Africa – Lesotho Border.

Travelling to Lesotho from South Africa? We nearly got stranded while crossing the South Africa Lesotho border at Maseru’s Pioneer gate!

We rang in 2020 in a remote village in Lesotho, hanging out with its Basotho people and trying to pick up a few words in their Sesotho language!

I have to confess I knew so little about the country of Lesotho before spotting it on Google Maps. After nearly 2.5 months of being a digital nomad in Cape Town, the road was beckoning again. Besides, room prices and tourism had begun to peak across South Africa as we entered the busy Christmas-New Year period.

So we applied for a single-entry e-visa for Lesotho and got an approval within 2 days. Arranged a Lesotho driving permit, booked an overnight bus from Cape Town to Bloemfontein (the closest South African city to Lesotho), picked up a rental car from Bloemfontein and drove into Lesotho. An insanely beautiful country, nicknamed the “Kingdom in the Sky” because it has the highest lowest point in the world! ⁣

The plan was to spend the holiday season in Lesotho. Then use our multiple-entry visa to return to South Africa. We’d drive all the way to Kruger National Park and spend a week there. And just before our South Africa visa expired, return our rental car in Johannesburg and board a flight to India.

We had our documents and visas in order. The plan was foolproof. Or so we thought.

Also read: How I Manage Visas on my Indian Passport as I Travel the World

lesotho rondavel, lesotho travel, travelling to lesotho from south africa, south africa lesotho border
Travelling to Lesotho from South Africa | Our rondavel at Semonkong Lodge in Lesotho.

Entering Lesotho: The South Africa Lesotho border

After a 1.5 hour drive from Bloemfontein, we arrived at the Van Rooyen bridge – one of the border checkposts to enter Lesotho.

Crossing was a cake-walk: Park the car on the South African side, get an exit stamp and drive across. Then park the car on the Lesotho side, get an entry stamp, pay 40 Rand for the car and drive through. No questions asked, no documents (other than the Lesotho e-visa) checked.

Also read: How I’m Financially Sustaining my Digital Nomad Lifestyle

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South Africa Lesotho border | Hiking with a female guide in Lesotho.

Exiting Lesotho: The Lesotho South Africa border⁣

After nearly 10 days of living in traditional rondavels (round houses), hiking with a local female guide, spotting rainbows, gazing at starry night skies and trying the local sorghum beer, we bade goodbye to Lesotho.

This time, we drove via Maseru (the capital of Lesotho) to the Pioneer gate to re-enter South Africa. Followed the cars at the border to a drive-through exit immigration, where we got stamped out of Lesotho. Handed over the exit vehicle stamp and got onto Maseru Bridge leading to South Africa.

Our car crawled along Maseru Bridge in a massive traffic jam. Alongside, droves of people walked across the border. It felt like a mass exodus from Lesotho to South Africa just like I’d imagine happens at the Mexico-US border.

We finally hit the South African immigration, and things started going downhill…

Also read: Solo Travel Moments That Left Me Scared Shitless

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Travelling to Lesotho from South Africa | The spectacular drive!

Asked to go back to Lesotho despite a multiple-entry visa for South Africa

We joined the long immigration queue to re-enter South Africa. Sweating in the heat, crawling forward bit by bit, we had no idea what awaited us at the counter.

My partner and I submitted our passports together to the South African immigration officer.

He quickly scanned and stamped mine. But when it came to my partner’s passport, he started going over each page. Finally, slowly, he looked up and asked, where is your South Africa visa?

Of course it was right there, covering an entire page in the passport. Exactly the same as mine. A multiple entry visa that granted us multiple entries into South Africa. Valid for 3 months. Valid for entry before a date in October.

That’s the date he pointed to, saying the visa had already expired! But you see, we had already entered South Africa (the first time) before the said date. Having done that, the visa allowed us multiple entries over 3 months. We showed him our original entry stamp and tried to explain the situation.

But he told us, quite condescendingly, that we must go back to Lesotho and apply for a new South Africa visa.

Also read: Why Long Term Travel is More Like Real Life and Less Like Instagram

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South Africa Lesotho border | On a hike in the Western Cape.

Our options

To be honest, we didn’t have many options:

  • We couldn’t go back to Lesotho because we had a single-entry visa and had just been stamped out. A new e-visa would take atleast 2 days to come through.
  • Even if we could enter Lesotho, the South African embassy most likely wouldn’t allow us – Indian passport holders – to apply for a new visa. Visa conditions dictate that we apply in our country of residence.
  • We worried about our upcoming plans in South Africa. The rented car to be returned in Johannesburg in a week. The rather expensive accommodation booked in Kruger National Park. And the two flight tickets to India.

Our only option was to beg this unreasonable man to stamp us in, or remain in no man’s land!

Acknowledging our lack of options, we asked the visa officer if we could speak to his supervisor. That enraged him, but he left his cubicle with our passports as we followed him.

But instead of going into the adjacent immigration building, he stopped to show our passports to a man who seemed to us like a security guard! His uniform was different, and he was carrying takeaway food. Still we tried to plead our case with him, but the two men rudely told us to shut up. Then with an air of finality, they firmly told us that our visas had indeed expired.

Also read: Four Years of Travelling Without a Home

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Finally, a helpful officer

By now, we were seething with anger.

We stood outside in the hot sun, discussing, debating what to do. The weird thing was the officer had already stamped my passport but refused to return it to me. One option would’ve been for me to enter South Africa alone and plead our case at the nearest Indian embassy. Atleast there were some cans of emergency vegan food lying around in the car – incase one or both of us had to spend the night in this godforsaken no man’s land without our passports!

Seeing us standing around for the next hour, a female officer stepped out of the immigration building to ask if we had been helped. It seemed like she already knew why we were waiting.

Finally she led us to a senior immigration officer, this time a real one, with a formal uniform and name tag. He patiently heard us out, walked us to our original visa officer’s counter, went over our passports, determined that our multiple entry visa holds and stamped my partner’s passport.

As he returned our beloved passports – stamped and ready to go – he laughed and said, “Where are the rupees?”

Also read: Bittersweet Feelings in South Africa’s Mamelodi Township

milnerton beach sunset, south africa lesotho border, travelling to lesotho from south africa
Travelling to Lesotho from South Africa | Sunset at Milnerton beach.

On hindsight, what really happened

Crossing the border back into South Africa was such a relief! We cursed and laughed and thanked our stars.

But as we pieced together the previous few hours, some things stood out:

  • We seemed to be the only tourists in that day’s immigration queue. Most were either Lesotho or South African citizens with residence visas. That perhaps made us easy scapegoats to make a quick buck.
  • It was quite unlikely that the original visa officer was confused about our multiple-entry visa. After all, he stamped my passport – with exactly the same visa – without much thought.
  • If he really meant for us to go back to Lesotho, why did he hold on to our passports?
  • “Where are the rupees?” Does that explain his motivation?!

That was, no doubt, one crazy border crossing experience. But to be honest, after spending 70+ days in lockdown, I would go back in a jiffy even to that crazy day at the South Africa Lesotho border 😉

Have you had any unexpected visa encounters on your travels?

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The post How We *Almost* Got Stranded in No Man’s Land at the South Africa – Lesotho Border. appeared first on The Shooting Star.

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Sustainable Living Ideas to Embrace as we Emerge Into a New “Normal”.

In the midst of a pandemic, all roads seem to point towards a more sustainable lifestyle. My tips to embrace easy sustainable living ideas.

The past 50+ days of lockdown living have been an emotional roller coaster.

I’ve felt a deep longing to be in the midst of nature. The forests, the mountains, the sea, I’ve craved them all. This longing made me realize that I never fully appreciated the freedom (and privilege) to experience the incredible beauty of our world. It equally made me dwell on my environmental footprint as an inhabitant of a shared planet.

In the midst of a pandemic linked to deforestation, biodiversity loss and intensive animal farming, the future seems to point towards a life that is more sustainable, compassionate and mindful.

But will decreasing our individual footprint make any difference in the big picture? We only need to look at the past for inspiration. Many social and political transformations came about as a result of mass movements that began with individual awareness and personal choices. The more invested we become in sustainable living as individuals, the more likely we are to drive change as a society.

For those of us not directly affected by the on-going crisis, this slowdown can be a chance to make small but lasting changes towards a sustainable way of life. So behold, some sustainable living ideas to experiment with, at home and on the road:

BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY TOWARDS MINIMALISM

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Sustainable lifestyle ideas | Living out of 2 bags since 2013.

I know Marie Kondo is all the rage these days, but minimalism isn’t a new trend. It’s simply the idea of consuming mindfully. Owning less, buying less, having fewer material attachments.

In fact, most people in India and elsewhere lived minimalist lives before the days of television and social media. Before marketing, ads and influencers started telling us that we want more than we need.

How I ended up living out of 2 bags

Back in 2013, when I was contemplating a life of long term travel, I had cupboards, drawers and bags full of things I didn’t really need.

So I spent a few days taking stock of everything I owned. I gave away most of my clothes, shoes, books, appliances and assorted possessions to anyone who could use them. Gradually I gave up the apartment itself, and have been living out of two bags since.

Why minimalism

Over the years, it’s felt mentally liberating to shed the weight of my material attachments. I know now, that my contentment has nothing to do with trips to a shopping mall or the latest fashion trend.

Harmless though it seems, fast fashion is one of the most polluting industries on the planet. So I’ve pledged that whenever I acquire something new, it will be recycled or upcycled, support a local cause and/or be environmentally sustainable.

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Tips for minimalist sustainable living

  • Think about how much you really need: Use this time at home to re-evaluate what you really need. Perhaps you’re comfortable with a few sets of clothes and shoes. Perhaps your office regime demands more. Perhaps you’re too attached to some books but can consider swapping others, or donating them to a library. You could lay out all your things, and objectively assess what you must keep and what can go.
  • Start slow: It’s great to be excited about some big sustainable living changes, but slow down a bit. We’d do more harm than good by getting rid of things we think we don’t need, only to buy them again later. In my case, while downsizing my possessions, I stored some backup stuff in the boot of a friend’s car. A while later, when he had to sell that car, I rummaged through it again to find a couple of essentials I’d been missing. You could similarly store some things to reconsider after a few months.
  • Notice the inner changes: As you embark on a sustainable lifestyle journey to buy and own less, notice how your needs and wants change internally. Personally, I feel a lot less attached to what I still own and rarely ever crave material things. It’s pretty amazing.

Books / documentaries about minimalism

  • Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things: Made by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus – the two guys who essentially made ‘minimalism’ a mainstream idea circa 2016. This America-centered documentary explores the American dream and materialism in western societies – but is pretty relevant to urban Indian lives.
  • The True Cost: A documentary about the true cost of fast fashion and why we need to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle.
  • Essential Zen Habits – Mastering the art of change, briefly: Essential Zen habits by Micronesian writer, runner and vegan Leo Bautata, on the art of embracing change, has been on my wishlist for a while.
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: As someone who hasn’t really had a ‘home’ in a long time, I don’t exactly relate to Japanese author and much-loved organizing consultant Marie Kondo. But I know a few whose lives her book has changed!

Also read: How I Fit All My Life Possessions in Two Bags as I Travel the World.

SEGREGATE, COMPOST, REDUCE AND RECYCLE YOUR WASTE

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Sustainable living ideas | Compost your waste. Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash.

A few years ago, I visited a state-of-the-art waste management plant in Goa. At the conveyor belt, I saw workers sorting out recyclables from all kinds of waste. Curry covered boxes, plastic in all forms, rotting vegetables, tattered clothes, umbrellas, muck covered toys, even rotting carcasses! It is sickening that a fellow human should have to dig through all our waste just because we refuse to segregate it.

Since this is a semi-private waste plant, workers are given protective coats, gloves, a face mask and health insurance. But most ragpickers and informal waste workers (in India and other developing countries) have access to none of this.

Visiting that plant and meeting workers who once lived off the public dumping ground made me realize that the least we can do to adopt a sustainable lifestyle is to deal with our waste more mindfully.

I now consciously look for Airbnbs / homestays that segregate and compost their waste. As far as possible, I try to reduce my waste by avoiding things that come in single-use plastic, thereby reducing my junk food intake. And no matter where in the world I am, I keep my eyes and ears peeled for recycling spots to give my recyclable waste.

While in Cape Town, I decided to experiment with a month of being zero waste on the road – not easy but not impossible. I’ll be writing about that zero waste sustainable living challenge soon.

How to segregate and compost waste

The conversation about waste seldom makes it to our living rooms. No wonder, my folks put up so much resistance against the simple act of segregating waste. But now that I’m locked down with them, they’ve finally relented!

The process is really simple. All you need to do is use two bins instead of one. All wet waste (food waste, soiled plain paper and anything biodegradable) goes into one. All dry waste into another.

For the wet waste, dig a pit in your backyard if you have one. Discard the wet waste in it once or twice a day, and cover with an equal amount of dry leaves.

If you live in an apartment, get yourself an Eco Bin, which allows easy and hygienic disposal of wet waste. In a few weeks, you’ll have compost to grow your own vegetables! See this comprehensive pit composting guide if you have a backyard or these indoor composting options.

The dry waste should ideally be sent to a recycling facility. Figure out if there’s a collection service or center in your vicinity. If not, perhaps you could arrange for community collection, to be sent to the nearest facility every week or month. Alternatively, discuss with your local ragpickers what they are able to salvage and try to find solutions to the remaining waste.

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Tips for low waste sustainable living

  • Assess all your waste and find creative solutions: Consciously keeping track of all your dry waste for a few days can be eye-opening. Then it’s time to find creative ways of reducing it. Can you refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle or find alternatives to it? It’s how I switched from shower gel and shampoo bottles to bars, started making my own snacks and began sourcing plastic-free energy bars made on order.
  • Get your house members on board: If you share your space with family or friends, it’s important to get their buy-in atleast for segregation if not a sustainable lifestyle entirely. Involving my folks in the ideation process (what to use to collect wet waste etc) helped. To ensure that the waste isn’t mixed up, I created a “dry waste” sign next to the regular dustbin as a reminder.
  • Consider a community garden for collective composting: While in Cape Town, we lived in a studio with a small balcony. Since we weren’t staying long enough, it didn’t feel worthwhile investing in an eco bin to make compost. So I got in touch with a community garden nearby, who were happy for us to drop off our wet waste every couple of days to be composted. If we had stayed long enough, we would’ve bought our produce there. Win-win!

Ideas for plastic free sustainable living

  • Buy produce directly from farmers: Many towns and cities around the world have farmers markets, where farmers directly sell their produce without plastic packaging. Sharan’s organic farmer markets in Mumbai every Sunday, Dehradun’s Wednesday organic market, Cape Town’s weekend markets and Thailand’s Thursday stalls are just some of the places I’ve bought my produce in the past few years! It ensures a fair price to farmers and fresh organic produce that I can carry in my own cloth bags.
  • Shop at zero waste stores / supermarkets that sell produce in bulk: Pretty much everything we consume – from lentils to nuts to detergent – comes in plastic packaging. While in Cape Town, I was delighted to find two zero waste stores, so I could buy essential grains, legumes etc in my own jars or bags. In Georgia, the Carrefour store sold everything from pasta to rice in bulk. In India, Chennai, Gurgaon and Goa have organic zero waste stores, while some kirana stores still sell in bulk.
  • Make your own plastic-free alternatives: Instead of unhealthy store-bought snacks, I’ve been trying to make namkeens with mixed seeds and easy raw chocolate brownies at home. Instead of sugary store-bought beverages, I drink fresh juice and make my own iced tea. A sustainable lifestyle should ideally be healthier too.
  • Reuse plastic creatively: Many people grow plants in discarded plastic bottles. Eco bricks – pet bottles densely packed with single-use plastic – are all the rage now and can ultimately be used to erect sturdy structures.

Also read: Plastic Free Living: 5 Steps to Embrace Single-Use Plastic Alternatives

SWITCH TO A MENSTRUAL CUP

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Sustainable lifestyle ideas | In love with my menstrual cup.

I have to confess that the idea of inserting a menstrual cup in my vagina felt so scary that even after I bought one, I shied away from trying it for three whole months!

For the uninitiated, a menstrual cup is an eco friendly alternative to pads and tampons. The cups is made of health grade silicon, and inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual blood. Now that I’ve been using one for over a year, I can tell you it’s hygienic, safe and super comfortable!

The best time to experiment with a menstrual cup is when you’re staying home and have easy access to a comfortable bathroom – i.e. this lockdown!

Why a menstrual cup enables sustainable living

My conviction to switch to a menstrual cup came while volunteering on a remote island in Cuba. I was surprised to spot single-use plastic on the seabed that wasn’t even available on the island! Those stunning corals and marine life were co-existing with plastic bags, shampoo bottles, straws and what not.

I had switched to “biodegradable pads” by that time, but further research revealed that they degrade only when discarded and composted separately. I couldn’t do that on the road, nor could I live with myself for sending 10-15 plastic pads to the landfill or ocean every month.

Tips to use a menstrual cup

  • Sterilize the cup: Basically just put it in boiling water before and after your period each month. That ensures any bacteria on the surface is killed.
  • Try different folds and positions to insert it: It took me a few periods to figure out how to get the cup in. I watched Youtube videos, read extensively about our inner structure and experimented with a bunch of different folds and positions. When I finally figured it out, I realized it doesn’t hurt. AT ALL!
  • Use your pelvic muscles to remove it: I worried myself silly thinking of how I’d remove it when I finally managed to get it in. The relieving part is that it can’t get lost inside 😉 I learnt to use my pelvic muscles and breath to push it down a bit, then squeeze it between my fingers and pull it out.

Advantages of a menstrual cup in pursuit of an enviromentally friendly lifestyle

  • An eco-friendly alternative: A menstrual cup can be used for upto 10 years with care – easily saving 1800+ single-use pads as trash. Definitely a worthwhile alternative for a more sustainable lifestyle.
  • Easy to use and clean once you figure it out: The only other zero waste menstrual product is a cloth pad. It works like a regular pad, but needs to be washed after every use, which can be a pain. On the other hand, after the initial mental and physical challenges of figuring out a menstrual cup, it is super easy to use, maintain and carry.
  • Physical activities are easier with a menstrual cup: I find it way easier to hike, swim, do yoga and other physical activities while wearing my cup. My biggest fear is that I’ll forget it’s inside!
  • A long term investment: Considering that a menstrual cup can be used for a good few years, it works out way cheaper than pads in the long run. Both financially and environmentally.

I love my Lena Cup (bought on Amazon US while travelling in that part of the world) and absolutely recommend it.

My cup-verted friends recommend the SheCupCupvert Cup, Boondh Cup and Rustic Art Cup in India. I highly recommend buying cloth pads as a backup for low flow days. There are several options on Amazon India and Amazon US. A set of 4 suffices for me.

Also read: My Detailed Guide on How to Use a Menstrual Cup, With All Your Questions Answered

CREATIVELY REUSE AND UPCYCLE WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE

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Sustainable lifestyle ideas | Learning to make upcycled handmade paper in Kerala.

I’ve often found it hard to focus during this lockdown, with all the negativity and indefiniteness playing on my mind. But perhaps it’s the perfect time to unleash our creative spirit to do things it’s otherwise hard to find time for.

In February this year, I met small-scale entrepreneurs across Kerala who benefit indirectly from tourism through vocational jobs. I learnt how to upcycle old newspapers into artisan handmade paper. A sweet couple demonstrated how they recycle used candle wax to make creative candle designs. A tea planter turned tailor has been making cloth bags from old clothes so people can stop using single-use plastic bags.

In South Africa, I learnt how to make trendy wallets from used tetra boxes! In Myanmar, I met a women’s collective who upcycle used coffee and other plastic packets into cool bookmarks and lamp shades.

On my closed women-only Facebook group, one creative soul bought discarded wood from a ragpicker to make a sofa. Another made a hip bookshelf with old drawers!

Why make reusing and recycling part of your sustainable living plan

I sometimes read about people making a move towards slow fashion and a plastic-free sustainable lifestyle by buying new “minimalism-friendly” things as they discard everything else.

And I get it, it’s tempting to buy that multi-purpose scarf thing on Instagram that can be worn 10 different ways. Or to throw out all plastic jars and buy a new set of glass jars to feel good about ourselves.

But here’s the thing. Sustainability and minimalism are pointless pursuits if we’re creating all this trash, or craving the next trendy minimal wear. We need to use what we’ve already got – for the maximum amount of time we can.

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How to reuse and recycle during the lockdown

Limited access to non-essentials during the lockdown is the perfect opportunity to get creative. Google has tons of DIY ideas for whatever you need and how to make it based on what you already have at home.

After a long hiatus, I feel ready to acquire a new dress. So I’m trying to remodel my current one into a skirt, and upcycle one of my mom’s old sarees into a dress. We’ll see how the experiment goes 😉

In the next few weeks, my notebook will run out of pages, so I’m going to try making handmade paper. It’ll be hard to replenish my shampoo and conditioner bars, so I’ll try to make a version at home. Many of my friends are making their own cloth masks and sanitizers. The sustainable living possibilities are endless!

Also read: 15 Responsible Travel Tips for Authentic, Meaningful Experiences on the Road

EMBRACE A COMPASSION-DRIVEN VEGAN LIFESTYLE

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Have you been wondering how the hell life went from being business as usual to this scary, bizarre lockdown situation?

Scientists pretty much agree that the source of the COVID-19 outbreak was a wet market in Wuhan, China. Hens, fish, snakes, birds, porcupines, pangolin, even wolf pups are sold there – to be cooked and eaten. The virus likely came from bats, and was possibly transmitted by a snake, pangolin or chicken, into humans (pangolin is the prime suspect). That makes it a zoonotic disease, one that spread from animals to humans.

Similarly Ebola, SARS, bird flu, nipah etc are all infectious outbreaks that began in bats, but spread to humans through hunting, pig farms, poultry farms and animal markets. Deforestation, biodiversity loss and closer interaction with wild animals helped create the perfect breeding grounds.

There’s been a rise in the spread of infectious diseases in the last 50 years. Our population has grown. But also we have more livestock since 1960 than the last 10,000 years of domestication combined! As we use more animals – for trade, farming, food etc – we increase the probability of cross-species transmission of infectious diseases. Dr Gauden Galea, WHO Representative, China, said in an interview with CNN: “As long as people eat meat, there is going to be some risk of infection.”

It’s not yet well understood how exactly zoonotic diseases work, but I guess it’s pretty clear that they are rooted in the abuse and misuse of animals and their habitats.⠀⁣⁣ ⠀⁣⁣

So perhaps this lockdown is a good time to find our inner compassion to stop abusing animals and nature, and reduce the danger to our own lives?

Why go vegan (or consume less animal products for sustainable living)

  • The animal suffering: Being vegan is simply a pledge to stop exploiting animals – to the greatest extent possible. ⁣⁣⁣That means not using animals for their meat, eggs, milk etc. Not separating them from their babies or castrating them. Not buying products made of leather, silk, wool and down feather. Not using toiletries and cosmetics tested on animals. Not supporting zoos, not riding animals, not using them to carry our loads. Not supporting the pet industry. ⁣⁣If it involves an animal, first google to see what it entails.
  • The environmental impact of animal based food: A whopping one-third of the world’s freshwater is currently used to produce animal foods, including meat and dairy. Nearly 80% of all agricultural land is used for livestock. 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions – and 12% of those in India – are attributed to raising animals for food (in comparison, flying contributes 2% of global emissions). Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the U.S., China, the European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world! Sustainable living? I think so.
  • The health benefits of plant-based food: Vegan diets haven’t been studied long, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that meat and milk are associated with cholesterol, heart disease and blood pressure. I’ve met people of various age groups in India, Iran and Germany who’ve reversed diabetes, thyroid and other health conditions by switching to a whole foods plant based lifestyle.

How to turn vegan at your own pace

  • Research and work out your motivation: Considering that food is an integral part of our daily life, experimenting with being vegan – even for the duration of the lockdown – is a choice that will stare you in the face everyday. So the first step should be to read articles and books, and watch documentaries and videos to firm up your motivation. I even did some primary research by living with small-scale cattle farmers in the Himalayas and visiting free-range dairy farms, sheep rearing facilities, animal rescue sanctuaries and horse riding estates. I’ve learnt to ask tough questions and gathered some shocking answers.
  • Transition at your own pace and look online for alternative recipes: Depending on how sustainable lifestyle changes work for you, you might want to take it slow or do it overnight. Maybe start with a firm decision to not buy anything that contains animal products – including groceries and cosmetics. Maybe start with cooking one vegan meal a day. If you feel the need for vegan alternatives to milk, butter, cheese etc, a simple google search will reveal a ton of easy recipes.
  • Figure out how to get your nutrition on a vegan diet: This lockdown is a good time to embrace vegan food that is also local, seasonal and healthy. Most basic Indian food can easily be veganized without ghee, paneer, butter etc. Leafy greens, seasonal veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, lentils, chickpeas, beans etc are ready available. Start with this guide by the NHS to figure out nutritional needs. Note that most people – vegan or not – are deficient in Vitamin B12 and D3, so consider supplements.
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Books / documentaries to inspire a vegan sustainable lifestyle

  • Animal intimacies: Written by anthropologist Radhika Govindarajan, Animal Intimacies is a book about farming and mountain life in Uttarakhand. Written from the social perspective of small scale farmers but an insight into the life of domesticated hill animals as well. I found myself tearing up reading it.
  • For a moment of taste: An in-depth expose of what happens to animals commonly used for meat, eggs and dairy foods in India, written by investigative researcher Poorva Joshipura. I just ordered my copy.
  • Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows: A book by social psychologist Melanie Joy on the psychology of eating meat.
  • Earthlings: An intimate look at how humans have used animals for economic gains. Narrated by Joaquin Phoenix. Earthlings might be hard to watch, but if you feel like turning it off, remember that we’re literally paying to make it happen.
  • Cowspiracy: The first documentary to introduce the environmental impact of animal-based food to a mass audience. Must watch if you’re interested in pursuing a sustainable lifestyle.

Also read: 11 Tips to Ease Your Transition Into a Vegan Lifestyle

How to Travel as a Vegan and Find Delicious Food Anywhere in the World

GROW YOUR OWN MICROGREENS AND OTHER FOOD

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Sustainable living ideas | My microgreens start to sprout.

Nothing’s given me as much joy in this lockdown as growing my own microgreens! We’ve all likely sampled microgreens – those little plants with a couple of leaves that often appear with a starter or dish at a cafe or restaurant.

But I was first introduced to their amazing nutritional content at The Sunshine Food Co in Cape Town. The owner Elisha fell in love with farming microgreens, and now offers the most badass vegan activated charcoal burgers I’ve ever had.

So I read up, watched a couple of videos and drew inspiration from Instagram to experiment with growing my own. In reused takeaway containers filled with soil, I sowed mustard, urad dal and basil seeds. And was amazed that with little effort, they grew beautifully in a couple of weeks! I added them to my smoothies and sandwiches.

I then managed to get okra, bitter gourd and black eyed pea (lobia) seeds from an organic farmer, though those will take a while to grow.

The joy of growing your own food

This lockdown has left many of us craving to reconnect with earth, and growing our own food is a therapeutic way of doing that. It also allows us to be more self-sustainable in an uncertain future.

Besides, it’s rather reassuring to consume something home-grown, that you know hasn’t been infiltrated with chemical fertilizers or pesticides. And I can swear it teaches us to value the hardwork of our farmers enough to never negotiate for their produce again!

Practical tips to grow produce at home

  • Know that we can grow stuff no matter where we live: Whether we have a backyard garden, a rooftop or just a window, it’s possibly to grow atleast some of our own food. Grow herbs in the garden, transform a terrace into an urban rooftop farm or try soil-less farming with hydroponics.
  • Microgreens are the easiest and quickest to grow: Even though I’ve spent time living at / near organic farms and learnt a lot in theory, I never end up staying long enough to see the seeds reach the table. That’s part of the reason I love microgreens. They’re easy to grow, adaptable to most weather conditions and packed with nutrition. But most importantly, they can be harvested within 2-3 weeks!
  • Keep it organic: My folks, like many others, thought ‘organic’ is a myth. But since I’m here a while, I started getting produce delivered from local organic farmers. Everything from desi tomatoes to peaches to lemons taste so much more flavorful that even my folks are noticing the difference. As you grow things, keep it simple – natural, pesticide free and chemical free. You’re sure to grow into this sustainable lifestyle and notice the difference in taste.

Also read: How to Indulge Your Wanderlust at Home

CATCH UP ON THE HEALTH OF THE PLANET

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Sustainable lifestyle ideas | Thinking of better times, in Mauritius.

I know these are overwhelming, unprecedented times. I have good days and bad each week. I feel angry, helpless, sad, guilty and a whole other gamut of emotions.

But this is also a time of introspection. A chance to learn more about this genius planet of ours without stepping out. An opportunity to chase a deeper understanding of the relationship of our species with nature, man-animal conflict, climate change, social justice, animal rights and impactful ways to pursue a sustainable lifestyle.

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Unlike pandemics of the past, we’re lucky to have virtual access to the world through Netflix, zoom, webinars, lives, kindle and other technology.

Perhaps the greatest favor we can do ourselves is to treat this “great pause” as a chance to unlearn, rethink and realign our lives. In a way that is personally gratifying but also reduces our impact on the natural world around us.

Also read: Inspiring Women I Met in Bhutan – and What Happiness Means to Them

Have you committed to any sustainable living ideas during the lockdown? What do you plan to try?

I’m now accepting guest posts on my blog on responsible travel and sustainable living. If you’d like to contribute a story, please see my guidelines here.

If you’re a sustainability-minded rebel struggling with your life choices, join my closed women-only Facebook group.

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Pin these ideas for a sustainable lifestyle.

The post Sustainable Living Ideas to Embrace as we Emerge Into a New “Normal”. appeared first on The Shooting Star.

Sustainable Living Ideas to Embrace as we Emerge Into a New “Normal”. published first on https://airriflelab.tumblr.com

The 7 Most Common Archery Injuries And How To Prevent Them

Although archery is a relatively safe sport, if done improperly it can be dangerous and result in serious injury. The most common archery injuries tend to be in the arm or shoulder, but they can usually be prevented by using the correct technique and ensuring adequate recovery. Let’s look at the 7 most common archery injuries and how you can prevent them.

1. Rotator cuff injuries

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and their tendons
around the shoulder joint. As such, it’s no surprise this area is prone to
injury when practising archery.

When you draw your bow consistently, you put pressure on the
muscles and strain them. Over time, you might experience a dull aching pain in
the shoulder and your range of motion may be restricted.

Prevention tip:

If you experience pain when drawing back your bow, take a break and let the muscles relax to prevent injury. Some archery stances lend themselves more to rotator cuff injuries, so choose a comfortable stance using the proper bow-drawing technique. Make sure you also use your back muscles to pull your arm back, to lessen the pressure on your shoulder.  

You can regularly exercise your rotator cuffs to make the muscles stronger and prevent injury. This YouTube video demonstrates a workout to exercise these muscles using just a stretch-band that you might already have at home.

2. Tendonitis

As an archer, you’ve likely experienced “archer’s elbow”. If
not, you’ll definitely want to keep it that way. It refers to tendonitis in the
elbow, which is when your tendon (the connective tissue which attaches muscle
to bone) becomes inflamed. For archers, tendonitis is most common in the
elbows, but also occurs in the shoulders and wrists.

When you bring your bow to a full draw, for example, it puts
repetitive or excessive strain on the tendon and can be extremely painful.

Prevention tip:

If you can’t maintain correct form when drawing your bow, you might need to drop the draw weight as it’s likely too heavy. It’s also important to strengthen the muscles you’re using, such as the shoulder and scapular muscles, so your tendon isn’t compensating for them. Of course, it’s important to practise your archery skills, but you shouldn’t neglect the all-important gym exercises that prevent these archery injuries.

3. String slap

String slap happens when you release the bow string and it
slaps your lower arm. It can be surprisingly painful, and you’ll probably experience
bruising or tenderness in this area if it happens to you.

Prevention tip:

The easiest and best way to prevent string slap injuries is to wear an armguard to protect your lower arm. They’re cheap to buy and handy if you’re just starting out. To avoid the string slapping your arm, ensure you have the correct posture and form, as well as the appropriate draw weight.

4. Chest bruising

Another string slap injury occurs when the bowstring slaps
against the chest during shooting. It’s nothing to worry about, but it could
cause significant pain and bruising, which you want to avoid where possible.

Prevention tip:

The quickest way to prevent chest bruising is to invest in a chest guard to stop the string hitting your chest and prevent your clothes from getting in the way. If you don’t want to buy a chest guard, you should wear tight-fitting clothing that won’t catch on the string.  If you have a large chest, you may want to wear a supportive bra. Correct stance and technique are also, once again, very important.

5. Muscle strain injuries

There is such a thing as overtraining, especially in a sport
that involves so many repetitive movements. When you’re working certain muscles
too hard, it’s only a matter of time before you experience a muscle strain
injury.

In archery, these repetitive muscle strains normally occur
in the arms, wrists, hands, shoulders and neck. They’ll feel achy and stiff and
you may experience cramping in those areas.

Prevention tip:

If you’re a keen archer, you might not want to hear that rest is the best way to prevent muscle strain injuries – but it is. You should take regularly breaks to give your muscles the chance to relax. Luckily, there are ways to improve your archery technique without physical practice. In fact, several of the best archers in the world highlight the importance of mental training. Why not try these ideas to exercise your brain and improve your archery whilst you’re away from the range?

6. Bruising

If your fingers are on the bowstring for too long when it’s
released, it can rub them, and this can cause blisters to form. This usually
happens when you hook the bowstring too much or your fingers are in the wrong position.

Prevention tip:

To avoid friction and painful finger blisters, put your fingers on the string correctly and make sure you maintain the correct hand position. If your fingers are still blistered and painful, you might want to consider wearing archery gloves when you practise.

7. Hand cuts or punctures

Unlike the above injuries, this isn’t caused by the
movements involved in archery. Instead, it’s caused by negligence when handling
archery equipment. Archery arrows are extremely sharp, so it’s essential to
handle them with care. If not, you risk cutting yourself or sustaining a
puncture wound.

Prevention tip:

First, establish how best to handle your arrows safely to avoid injury. You can also buy an arrow quiver to cover your arrow points and prevent injury. Alternatively, when using broadhead arrows, make sure to invest in a broadhead wench to ensure the sharp blades are covered. 

Unfortunately, even by taking these precautions, accidents can and do happen. That’s why you need specialist archery insurance. At Gunplan, we provide up to £50,000 of Personal Accident cover for archers, to protect you if you suffer an injury while practising. Find out more about our cover by clicking the link above, or get a quote in minutes today.

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Chhattisgarh: Tribal Life, Motorcycle Adventures and a Lingering Sadness.

Dreaming of Chhattisgarh travel in the distant, post-lockdown future? In my first Chhattisgarh travel blog post, a glimpse of my solo adventures and why I *almost* fell in love. 

I bade goodbye to Chhattisgarh with bittersweet feelings. Over nearly two weeks in the state (well before the lockdown), I rode pillion through eerily quiet sal forests late at night, with barren white ghost trees shimmering under the moonlit sky. Took a poop under a jackfruit tree with a cobra in the vicinity! And crossed flowing rivers to reach remote tribal settlements, as both my adrenaline and curiosity surged.

While travelling through Bastar and Kawardha, I lived in an off-grid village of the Gond tribe deep in the forest. In this demarcated Naxal territory, I joined my host family around a fire, trying to decipher the complexities and misconceptions of tribal life.

With hastily shut eyes and an aching heart, I witnessed a goat sacrifice in the traditional festival of the Dhurwa tribe. Rumor has it that back in the day, humans were sacrificed at their forest altars. Apparently clueless outsiders who overstayed their welcome!

Also read: The Mystical Ways of Arunachal Pradesh’s Galo Tribe

chhattisgarh travel, dhurwa tribe, bastar people, chhattisgarh people, bastar culture
Chhattisgarh travel | A Dhurwa man decks up a tiger idol near the sacrifice altar.

In a traditional healer’s hut, alongside medicinal herbs, I was shocked to discover worn-out bird feet and pangolin shells (gathered years ago), still used to heal people. In obscure villages, I met artists and craftsmen, working with bell metal and bamboo crafts – their extraordinary lives and rare skills mocked by the tag of “other backward classes”.

With no toilets in remote tribal villages, I relieved myself under a jackfruit tree. On the short walk back to my host family’s house, I was shocked to spot an Indian cobra, lying lifeless on the path. Possibly the fallen prey of an eagle.

Also read: Solo Travel Moments That Left Me Scared Shitless

indian cobra, bastar forests
Chhattisgarh travel | A (dead) cobra lurked in the vicinty!

In a local haat (tribal market), I drank landa – homemade fermented rice brew with a nutty texture – in a tendu leaf cup. Under a grand old mahua tree, I met a sweet Baiga family fermenting mahua liquor in a boiling pot. They wouldn’t let me leave without tasting some delicious hot potent brew in a leaf cup, even though it was just after breakfast.

I met women of the Baiga tribe who still tattoo their foreheads, arms and legs. In semi-permanent mud houses they live, sharing the land with bears, leopards, tigers and other creatures of the forest.

And perhaps I’ll never forget that evening, when in the twilight hours, the sudden rush of freedom gripped me as I stood under the torrential spray of the gushing Teerathgarh waterfall! If someone had told me that I’d be 50+ days into an indefinite lockdown as I type this, I would’ve savored that rush just a little longer.

Also read: Offbeat, Incredible and Sustainable: These Travel Companies are Changing the Way You Experience India

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Chhattisgarh travel blog | A man sells chillies at a local haat in Bastar.
bastar tribal haat, landa rice brew bastar
Chhattisgarh travel blog | Landa in a tendu leaf cup at a local haat.

And yet, I felt a deep sadness as I spent time with the tribes of Chhattisgarh.

The old rituals, the traditional way of wearing clothes and hair, social interactions in the forest and the tribal haats have fallen prey to the influences of “modernity” and religion. The once nutritional diet of millets and superfoods – like kodo, moringa and mahua – has been replaced by rice and daal, leading to malnutrition. An abundance of indigenous knowledge about the forest and the sustainable, zero-waste use of its resources is on the brink of extinction.

The shift towards ‘modern’ habitat conservation techniques has alienated the very communities that have protected this land for centuries. Many tribal communities have had their connection with the forest severed.

Also read: Inspiring Women I Met in Bhutan – and What Happiness Means to Them

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Chhattisgarh travel | A Gond boy carries freshly harvested banana in Bastar.
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Chhattisgarh travel | A scenic village in Kawardha.

As I lived with tribal families, broke bread with a shaman under the stars and heard stories of socially progressive customs, I had one lingering thought. That the current generation of tribal elders is our last chance to retain India’s ancient indigenous knowledge to live sustainably with nature. Their children, who still have the forest in their blood, could easily be trained as naturalists, guides and conservationists, instead of just being a source of menial labor.

Instead of labeling them as ‘backward’ people, we need to acknowledge the centuries of wisdom they’ve gathered from living in harmony with the land.

As we move “forward” in a world wrought with materialistic greed and environmental degradation – especially in the midst of a pandemic linked to biodiversity loss – travelling in Chhattisgarh was a reminder of what we stand to lose along the way. 

Also read: How to Indulge Your Wanderlust at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Chhattisgarh travel | Dusk at Teerathgarh waterfall, minutes before standing under the spray!

Chhattisgarh travel info

I explored Bastar with Bastar Tribal Homestay and Unexplored Bastar, and Kawardha with Bhoramdeo Jungle Retreat. They’re all committed to responsible travel in Chhattisgarh. I’ll be sharing more about them in other Chhattisgarh travel blog posts, coming soon.

Have you travelled to Chhattisgarh or is it on your wishlist for the distant future? What would you like to read in my next Chhattisgarh travel blog?

ALSO READ:

15 Responsible Travel Tips for Authentic, Meaningful Experiences on the Road

What the Village Folk of Kumaon Taught Me About Life

My Alternative Travel Guide to Goa

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Things To Do in Kasaragod to Refresh Your Connection With Nature.

Away from the crowds of South Kerala, pristine moments and things to do in Kasaragod in North Kerala. Featured image: Marieke Weller (Unsplash).

I landed up in Kasaragod on my quest to discover Kerala beyond the beaten path. As I swam in the Kasaragod backwaters (they are that clean!), kayaked amid pristine mangroves and learnt how terribly skilled I am at rowing a round coracle boat, I quickly fell in love.

If you make your way to North Kerala – and you absolutely SHOULD – set aside a few days for some unique things to do in Kasaragod to re-establish your connection with nature:

Watch the sunset over a unique estuary made by the Arabian Sea

arabian sea sunset, north kerala, kerala sunset
Things to do in Kasaragod | Sunset over the Arabic Sea. Photo: JANUPRASAD.

Even though it was some eight years ago, on my first solo trip to Kerala, I still vividly remember that magical sunset. A boat maneuvered the pristine Kasaragod backwaters and deposited us on a sandy strip of land. On one side, the waves of the Arabian Sea roared. On the other, the backwaters gently flowed. We walked along, splashing in the waves, dipping our feet in the warm water.

And just as a the sun was about to sink below the horizon, we stood at what felt like the edge of the world. The Arabian Sea hugged the backwaters.

Turns out, the estuary on the Kasaragod backwaters is actually man-made. It was created by rice farmers who hoped to channel out the excess monsoon water from their fields into the Arabian Sea. But as nature would have it, the water level rose several times more during high tide, claiming the entirety of their paddies.

Also read: What India (and the World) Can Learn from Sustainable Tourism in Kerala

Kayak among mangroves and appreciate their role in the natural ecosystem (one of the most unique things to do in Kasaragod)

mangrove kayaking
Things to do in Kasaragod | Kayaking in a mangrove. Pic: Ivana Cajina

Mangroves are nature’s bridge between land forests and aquatic ecosystems. These trees and shrubs grow in salty terrain. They serve as breeding and feeding grounds for marine life, recycle nutrients and help prevent soil erosion. They tend to provide protection to coastal communities against cyclones and tsunamis. And are estimated to absorb more CO2 than most forests!

But most of all, they are some of earth’s most unique creations. With their roots above water, they’re a sight to behold and a paradise for birdwatching. As you kayak among the mangroves of Kasaragod, notice the beautifully meditative feeling of silently drifting along.

Unfortunately, 40% of mangrove forests on India’s west coast have fallen prey to urbanisation and shrimp farming. Something to dwell upon as you row.

Also read: My Alternative Travel Guide to Goa

Row a coracle boat under the moonlit sky

coracle boat
Things to do in Kasaragod | Try to row a coracle boat. Photo: Alka Jha

I’ll never get over my fascination with those round coracle boats. Traditionally made of interwoven bamboo, used by fishermen in southern India. They look easy enough to row, but each time I try my hand at one, I go round and round in circles!

And so it was on the Padanna backwaters of Kasaragod. Under a half moon and a fairly dark sky shimmering with stars, I rowed a coracle boat as little fish jumped around me, shining in the moonlight. What a feeling!

Also read: Offbeat Kerala: 11 Travel Experiences to Inspire the Artist in You

Catch a Theyyam performance in the land where it was born

theyyam kasaragod, things to do in kasaragod
Things to do in Kasaragod | Catch a Theyyam performance. Photo: Manyu Varma

Although the ancient storytelling artform of Theyyam can be witnessed across Kerala now, it was here that it began some 1000+ years ago (some say in the neolithic times!). Through extravagant face art, costumes and headgear coupled with awe-inspiring ritual dance, theyyam evokes the tribal spirits of the ancestors that once called this land home.

Every winter, the temples and some homes of Kasaragod come alive with the awe-inspiring Theyyam ritual. The practice is passed down from elders in each family – and many artists begin learning in their pre-teen days to perfect the act.

Also read: 15 Responsible Travel Tips for Authentic, Meaningful Experiences on the Road

Swim in the Kasaragod backwaters

kerala backwaters, sustainable tourism in kerala
Things to do in Kasaragod | Swim in the Kasaragod backwaters. Photo by Marieke Weller on Unsplash.

Sounds like no big deal. But the Kasaragod backwaters are perhaps the only ones in Kerala clean enough (and devoid of houseboats) for a refreshing dip. The sand below is soft and solitude is a given. Look up to see soaring eagles or keen kingfishers eyeing their prey. Hear the rustling of the palms. After all, it’s these little joys that live in on our travel memories.

Also read: What the Kumaoni Folk of Uttarakhand Taught Me About Life

Rejuvenate at an eco-friendly retreat on perhaps Kerala’s most spectacular island (one of my fav things to do in Kasaragod)

oyster opera kasaragod, kasaragod backwaters
Things to do in Kasaragod | Stay on Kerala’s most spectacular island.

Until I arrived at Oyster Opera, I only saw houseboats when I imagined Kerala’s backwaters. But this eco-friendly retreat, set up by the visionary Gul Mohamed, added a new dimension to the backwaters for me.

On this stunning island, surrounded by the breezy waters and swaying palms, local materials have been used to recreate traditional architecture with creature comforts. Think laterite stone huts, red tiled roofs, even a floating thatched hut. Feast your eyes and tastebuds on incredible local food – easily catered for vegan travellers. Then get ready for some hammock, swimming or beach bumming time!

Also read: Awe-Inspiring Uttarakhand Homestays to Tune Out of Life and Tune Into the Mountains

Feel like a cast-away at a beach between the backwaters and the Arabian Sea

kerala beach, north kerala, kerala offbeat
Things to do in Kasaragod | Image: J A N U P R A S A D on Unsplash.

People often claim that North Kerala has some of the best beaches. Though the beaches in Kasaragod might not make my favorites, I wouldn’t pass up the chance to have high tea surrounded by palm trees. As the Arabian Sea gushes nearby and the backwaters serenade me.

Luckily, many of Kasaragod’s beaches are still deserted. Unknown to the beer-drinking, loud music-playing herds of tourists. Which is why I’ll refrain from naming them here. So when you land up on one, you can feel like a cast-away too!

Also read: A Traveller’s Guide to Gujarat’s Best Kept Secrets

Have you discovered any unique things to do in Kasaragod?

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Inspiring Women I Met in Bhutan – and What Happiness Means to Them.

The Bhutan happiness index has intrigued me for a long time. So I tried to figure out what happiness means to its people.

Is this indescribable feeling happiness? I wondered as my partner and I hiked through the blue pine forests of Bhutan’s Haa Valley. Up gentle hills we walked, alive with the scent of rain from the night before. Prayer flags fluttered in the wind. White and pink wildflowers dotted the landscape.

I had landed up in Bhutan last autumn to speak about my book at the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival. And found myself immediately drawn to the old world charm, neighbourhood forests, mountains, traditional architecture, people, food and slow life of the capital city Thimphu.

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Perhaps like everyone else, I’ve been intrigued and fascinated by the idea of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness. Is Bhutan really the happiest country in the world, I found myself wondering. Will I be able to glean the secret to happiness while I’m there?

Over nearly a month of traversing the magical beauty of Bhutan, I ended up meeting local writers, entrepreneurs, travellers, farmers, thinkers and dreamers. Some were fleeting encounters, some easy friendships. To some, I couldn’t help but pose the question, what is happiness anyway?

As we stay home and introspect about life during this global lockdown, I’m finding solace in their answers:

Happiness is having a purpose in life (and the Bhutan happiness index is not a literal measure)

bhutan and happiness, bhutan gross national happiness, bhutan happiness
Bhutan happiness index – a development indicator, not a literal measure.

I was in complete awe of Sonam Pelden – a Forbes 30 under 30 tech entrepreneur – as she spoke about Bhutan’s evolving digital landscape at Mountain Echoes. I felt her enthusiasm for the digital world back when I worked in Singapore, but perhaps I’ve lost some of it to cynicism along the way.

Chatting with her though, I first learnt how Bhutan actually calculates its Gross National Happiness Index (GNH). Unlike popular perception, the GNH is not a literal measure of happiness or even emotional contentment. It assesses changes in 33 indicators through surveys with randomly selected households. Parameters include psychological well-being, education, health, governance, ecological resilience and standard of living. This ultimately gives a glimpse of whether people are moving from the “unhappy” end of the spectrum towards the “deeply happy” end. But more than that, it helps create a development road-map targeting low-performing parameters.

Sonam says candidly, “The narrative put forth by popular media propagates the notion of a naïve blissful nation – albeit enticing – where tribes of smiling people are constantly gripped in song and dance. This is a dangerous half-fiction which needs to be fought on all fronts. It incubates anti-intellectualism and a sense of entitlement, and perhaps even more troublesomely, manages to distort how Bhutanese people perceive themselves. There is so much more than smiling and dancing to Gross National Happiness – and we need to push that forward!”

Personally for her, “the pursuit of happiness means the pursuit of usefulness. Ultimately being useful and having a purpose in life – i.e adding value to my community and to myself makes me feel more fulfilled, more alive – all the things we associate happiness with.”

On the other hand, “being happy implies permanence – it implies you have completed all your prerequisites and now you get to sit atop your giant pile of happy forever. You have retired from the everyday roller coaster of emotions to simply revel in your happiness.

And this is why I have a problem with Bhutan being dubbed as the happiest place on earth.”

Also read: Unexpected Friendships in the Dominican Republic

Happiness is a mindset

bhutan happiness, bhutan happiness index, bhutan and happiness
With Tashi, chatting about Bhutan, happiness and life.

“I’m too smart to be sitting at home,” Tashi said, only half joking. She aced her studies, but life had different plans for her. Back in the early 90s, much like in India, women in Bhutan were expected to marry early, as per the wishes of their parents.

But that didn’t stop her from becoming an entrepreneur. She refurbished her 80-year-old house in the remote Ura village of Bumthang Valley and opened it up to travellers seeking a taste of rural life. That’s how we met.

As a passionate and forward-thinking farmer, she was chosen among a handful to travel to Austria and learn from organic farmers across the country! When she returned, they even helped her build a stone oven to practice bread making – the only one of its kind in all of Bhutan.

In her cosy kitchen, we gathered one night to drink homemade ara – a fermented (and potent) local rice brew. Chatting about life in Bumthang and her adventures in Austria, I couldn’t help but wonder what she made of happiness.

“To me, happiness is something we set our minds to. No matter how hard life gets, it is about being able to take it easy, think in positive ways, and just feel satisfied with what we have,” she explained.

Indeed, it’s easy to complain about the cards we’ve been dealt by life. But perhaps the only way to pursue happiness is to choose how we play the hand.

Also read: What the Village Folk of Kumaon Taught Me About Life

Happiness is seeking inspiration on the road

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At the Mountain Echoes festival, I was delighted to share the stage with Tshering Denkar – Bhutan’s first solo female traveller and travel blogger. Her passion to get off the beaten track in Bhutan, hitchhike to remote parts of the country, connect with indigenous communities and bring their stories to the world is infectious.

We ended up hiking in the forests of Thimphu together. And that’s when I learnt that she was invited to meet His Majesty The Fifth King of Bhutan after he read her blog! He commended her for her fearless travels and curiosity about her own land. Indeed, her blog inspired us to travel all the way to Haa Valley. And her stories of the remote eastern corners of Bhutan make me long to return to the country.

“Happiness to me is Bhutan’s offbeat trails and unexplored places. It is seeing how people in far-flung regions, even without basic necessities, seem content with their lives. It is about becoming a part of other cultures and traditions on my sojourns. Happiness to me is Bhutan itself,” says Denkar.

As a fellow traveller, I think I get it. Being on the road often makes me feel close to the illusive, inexplicable feeling of happiness.

Also read: Meet the Courageous Indian Woman Who Travels the World Solo – On a Wheelchair!

Happiness is an inside job

paro taktsang, tiger's nest hike
Hiking up to the famous Paro Taktsang.

As a vegan traveller, I was amazed to learn that Bhutan has no slaughterhouses! Consciously harming sentient beings is considered out of line with the Buddhist principle of compassion. Ironically though, Bhutan imports meat from India…

The quest to understand Bhutan’s complex relationship with animals led me to Yangso. The pioneer of Bhutan’s small but passionate vegan movement and founder of the country’s first vegan club. Through her, I discovered vegan-friendly local brands and connected with other Bhutanese vegans. We ended up hosting a meetup in Thimphu and swapped stories of vegan, eco-friendly and minimalist living. Her passionate advocacy for animal rights in a country whose national dish is ema datshi (cheese and chillies), left me inspired. So I had to ask Yangso what happiness meant to her.

“Happiness to me is an inside job. I maybe in the most peaceful and happiest country in the world, but to me happiness is a state of mind. It is embracing the present moment. It is acceptance. It is patience. It is knowing that my existence matters,” she said.

That inside job is not always easy. But I know for a fact that to the billions of animals suffering out there, her existence matters. And hopefully, her patience will pay off.

Also read: On Life and Contentment: A Conversation With Buddhist Monks in Thailand

Happiness is giving back

mountain echoes literary festival, Her Majesty the Royal Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck
With Her Majesty the Royal Queen Mother. Wish I’d asked her the Bhutan happiness question!

At the end of our panel, Denkar, Pem C (the founder of Bhutan’s first lifestyle magazine) and I had the great honour of being invited to chat with Her Majesty the Royal Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck. I would only later learn how rare that honour was!

For someone who inspires so much awe and respect among the Bhutanese, I was surprised to hear her open up about her youthful adventures before she embarked on a different journey as one of the Queens to the visionary Fourth King of Bhutan. I didn’t get the opportunity to ask her about happiness, but her eyes lit up as she spoke about her foundation, Tarayana.

She travelled across Bhutan, to far-flung villages, trying to grasp the challenges of rural living. And set up the Tarayana Foundation to support sustainable development and vocational livelihoods on the remote countryside. Green technologies are at the core of these projects – including micro hydro power projects in off-grid villages, bio sand water filtration, dry composting toilets and solar dryers for food preservation.

It sounds to me like happiness might just be about making a difference in the lives of those less privileged than us, in whatever way we can.

What do you think of the Bhutan happiness index? What does happiness mean to you?

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What’s the Future of Travel Blogging When Nobody’s Travelling?

With every passing day of this global lockdown, I can’t help but think about the future of travel blogging. I mean, if there’s no travel, there’s no travel blogging, right?

I’ve dedicated almost a decade of my life to this travel blog. It’s my primary source of living, yes. But it’s also my passion, my bridge to the world and one of the few constants in my nomadic life.

Yet somehow, I’m not worried, nervous or depressed.

On the one hand, I know that the travel industry (including travel blogging) is going to take a big hit during this crisis. Personally, my blog traffic has been dwindling, on-going projects have been put on hold and potential assignments postponed indefinitely.

But on the other hand, I believe that sometime in the distant future, we will travel again. Borders will re-open, businesses that survive will emerge stronger and we’ll get our passports stamped. And when that happens, travel blogging – especially the kind that’s rooted in sustainability – will become more important than ever.

Instead of dwelling on the future of travel / travel blogging on my own though, I reached out to friends and fellow bloggers for their insights. Adventurous souls who focus on a mix of solo, sustainable, budget, luxury and regional travel.

Behold, perspectives from around the world on what travel might look like in the future – and how we can prepare ourselves as storytellers in this space:

Domestic and regional tourism will bounce back first

Just like travellers, travel bloggers need to look closer home for new adventures and collaborations

I was dreaming of going back to Iran this spring, and possibly onto Azerbaijan before we found ourselves in a global lockdown. As much as I miss being on the road, I’m trying not to dream of it.

But I’ve been receiving constant updates from friends in the responsible tourism space in India, on the devastating economic impact of India’s lockdown on local communities. Even as nature seems to be healing without human activity, tourism jobs and wildlife conservation efforts are at stake. That makes me long to not just explore the incredible beauty of India’s countryside, but also to support and promote responsible tourism in the region.

Infact, the idea of boarding a long distance flight and getting stuck in a far off part of the world is a scary one. Besides, speaking of the future of travel, some think that when international borders open, there might be a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all travellers until a vaccine comes along.

Audrey and Dan of the responsible travel blog Uncornered Market believe the days of ubiquitous dirt-cheap travel are likely over for a while. “Closer to home aligns with a desire for the familiar (a typical response following a crisis) and reduces the risk of a cancelled flight or a closed border. It also supports local, regional and national economies. Long-haul travel will take more time to resume as it will have to adapt to visitor, immigration and border policies,” they say.

Adeline Gressin of the French travel blog Voyages etc concurs: “France will be the first destination I will travel in when everything will reopen. I can’t wait to hit the road to visit my family and friends around the country and do some local tourism at the same time. And then? Who knows.”

The era of slow travel is finally here

Travel bloggers who fly long distance for short travel campaigns will need to realign to this new reality

Until a few years ago, the prospect of waking up in a new country or continent every week or two – flown around by tourism boards – was extremely thrilling. But as I became aware of my personal carbon footprint and a desire to linger longer in every place I visited, that changed.

In the past couple of years, I’ve found myself drawn to slow overland journeys and long stints in (the seriously few) countries that allow Indian passport holders to remain within their borders for 3 months. It’s likely that post Covid-19, that’s what the future of travel will look like anyway. We’ll stop impulsively jet-setting around the world and opt for more meaningful travel.

Keith Jenkins, founder of iAmbassador and the luxury travel blog Velvet Escape, thinks “there’s hope that the global economy will bounce back once this is over but the current signs for a swift recovery aren’t very encouraging. It will take much longer for international travel to recover as people remain cautious. They will conduct more research about the destination and about local healthcare systems before travelling.”

Creative new revenue streams can help bloggers tide through the crisis

Now might be the time to go back to the drawing board to rethink income sources in the short and long term

Although I’ve focused on sustainable travel for a long time, I’ve also slowly been inching towards writing stories on sustainable living. That goes hand-in-hand with my personal transition to veganism, cutting out single-use plastic, using a menstrual cup, opting for sustainable clothing and an inclination towards minimalism.

I haven’t thought about monetizing this part of my work yet, but keeping the future of travel in mind, perhaps now is the time. I’ve certainly drawn inspiration from fellow bloggers:

Kate McCulley of the popular solo travel blog Adventurous Kate is “taking this [lockdown] as an opportunity to create new revenue streams by working directly with my readers. It almost feels like a creative reawakening for me. So far I’ve launched One-on-Ones with Adventurous Kate, where my readers can have a 45-minute private video call with me. I’ve also launched private blog consulting, a mentorship program, and my Patreon will be launched next week,” she says.

And Mariellen Ward, who runs the India-focused travel blog Breathedreamgo, has decided to continue building her new travel site, India for Beginners, saying, “I did not cancel the agreements I have with a couple of writers who are working on content for the site. Things may never be exactly the same again — but we will not be in this crisis phase forever.”

Meaningful, low impact, sustainable travel must replace overtourism

Travel bloggers and influencers need to rethink their values or risk becoming obsolete

Kashyap Bhattacharya, who redefined hostel living on his blog Budget Traveller, thinks “in the post Covid-19 reality, it will be more important than ever to travel with companies that really give a damn about the world and us, humans. I think a new world of more conscious travellers will emerge and we’ll be much more grateful for the ability to travel. So, in a perverse way, we’ll hopefully emerge from this more humble, more sane and grounded – that’s my hope.”

Popular tourist cities like Venice and Amsterdam have been grappling with overtourism for the past few years. But it took nature just a few days to bring all human activity to a grinding halt and start rebounding in these places.

When we emerge from this crisis, we need to ensure we don’t walk into another one. That means the future of travel is all about becoming more conscious of how we promote destinations, reduce our individual carbon footprint and use our tourism money to meaningfully support local communities and businesses.

Adeline Gressin believes that “sustainability in the travel industry will not be a choice. It will be a duty, and we, travel bloggers and influencers will have to be there to deliver this important message for our businesses to survive.”

Innovative ‘pay now, travel later’ campaigns can help small businesses survive

Bloggers must help small businesses in these times of crisis; we can’t exist without each other

The responsible travel groups I’m part of – from India to South Africa – are full of heartfelt pleas. Small businesses that focused both their resources and revenues on supporting local communities, environment conservation and heritage preservation, are slowly sinking.

With no revenue in the foreseeable future of travel, laying off staff and halting sustainable development might soon become inevitable.

Kashyap Bhattacharya thinks “it’s important to pay it forward in times like this. I have a few friends in the hostel industry struggling at the moment, so with the help of two companies, Stay the Night and hostel.consulting, we’re launching a campaign to encourage travellers to Adopt a Hostel by buying a voucher to ensure their survival. Unless we help each other, we won’t survive this crisis.”

Travellers need to reconsider animal activities on the road

Travel bloggers and influencers need to stop promoting tourism activities that abuse or enslave animals

Living in our little cages in this unprecedented lockdown has, hopefully, made all of us think about animals in zoos. Just like us humans, they are social creatures, deprived of their community life and natural habitat. They too, suffer from depression and other mental health conditions when denied access to the world. And we pay to keep them in lockdown forever.

Scientists are in consensus that as long as deforestation, biodiversity loss and large-scale animal farming continue, we increase the probability of cross-species transmission of infectious diseases. Covid-19, Ebola, SARS, bird flu, nipah etc are all zoonotic diseases that jumped to humans through proximity to wild meat, pig farms and poultry farms.

Maybe what we’re facing now is retaliation for all these decades of heartbreaking, inhumane, unjustifiable treatment of animals. And it’s high time we make travel, food and lifestyle choices that are not just more ethical, but also better for our own survival.

Based on past crises, the travel industry will bounce back and still need bloggers

Atleast one tourism board is positive that travel bloggers will still play a key role in destination messaging once this crisis is behind us

I wrote to a handful of friends in tourism boards and airlines for this post. But as expected, in these unprecedented times, the focus for many is on providing emergency support to stranded travellers rather than dwelling on the future of travel.

However, Chaminda Munasinghe of Sri Lanka Tourism was reassuring when he said, “Looking back at incidents such as terror attacks and natural disasters, it is clear that the travel industry gradually bounces back. Even in Sri Lanka, in the aftermath of the Easter attack in 2019, tourism quickly bounced back. We expect a boom in global travel – to destinations that are safe and covid-ready. And to that end, bloggers and influencers will play a major role in the decision making process.”

I certainly hope so. For the sake of an industry that accounts directly / indirectly for 12.5% of all employment in India and 1 in 10 jobs worldwide. Including mine.

What do you think is the future of travel / travel blogging?

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The 5 Best Air Rifles For Shooting Rabbits

When it comes to finding the best air rifle for shooting rabbits, there are lots of models available on the market. Here’s a selection of the best, featuring options for both beginners and experienced shooters.

Pellpax Storm X Deluxe Kit

If you consider yourself a novice rabbit shooter, this is the perfect rifle for you.

It’s easy to use and comes with an array of features that are ideal for shooting small pests. These include a muzzle energy of between 11 and 12ft/lb and ornately textured grips for a secure hold. And let’s not forget its good-quality scope.

With rabbits mostly active at dawn or dusk, you need a rifle with a large lens scope for a greater range of vision. That’s why the Storm X Deluxe Kit includes a 3-9×50 scope, which fits the bill for rabbit shooting. It also comes with a screw-on silencer, which comes in handy when you’re trying to avoid spooking other rabbits in the area.

Weihrauch HW77K

This is considered by many to be the best air rifle for shooting rabbits, due to its power and accuracy.

If you’ve been struggling to hit rabbits from a long distance, the Weihrauch HW77K will help you overcome this issue. It’s incredibly accurate and has low recoil, making it a popular choice for pest control and target shooters. The trigger is also extremely precise, giving you extra control of your shot placement.

The Weihrauch HW77K comes in 4 calibres – .177, .20, .22 and .25 calibres. The.22 is widely regarded as the best option for rabbit shooting, as it has a good “smacking power” and is therefore ideal for achieving a clean kill. There are also more pellets available for this calibre, giving you a wider range of options.

Air Arms S410

This is one of the most reliable air rifles on the market. It
has a classic style, impressive accuracy and a multi-shot format. As such, it can
be used by both experienced and novice rabbit shooters.

The rifle also comes with a 10-shot magazine, meaning you won’t
have to worry about buying pellets before you head out on a hunt.

Check out the below review of the Air Arms S410 and watch it in action. As the reviewer says at the end of the video – if you can pick one of these up, you’re onto a winner.

YouTube Video

BSA Lightning XL SE Tactical

This rifle is popular among sporting shooters due to its durable, all-weather design. It also has a polymer coating, making it very comfortable to hold and easy to grip. So, if you’re planning on going rabbit hunting in a variety of weather conditions, this is the air rifle for you.

Part of the BSA family, the BSA Lightning XL SE Tactical has a fully adjustable trigger and strong build quality. Another of its standout features is the legendary cold hammer forged barrels that BSA air rifles are famous for. This ensures power, accuracy and a great all-round gun.

Gamo Varmint Stalker Deluxe

There’s very little not to like about the Varmint Stalker
Deluxe. At £169, it’s one of the best value air rifles around, and you get a
lot for your money.

This gun is both powerful and accurate, which is ideal when you’re targeting a rabbit in the distance. It’s capable of firing .177 calibre pellets with a 1250 feet per second velocity and has a very smooth trigger. What’s more, its custom trigger design makes it highly durable in a wide range of scenarios.

It also has a high quality black synthetic stock with rubber inserts for better handling, making it a great option for all-round shooting.

If you do decide to purchase a new air rifle, it’s important that you get the right insurance to protect it. After all, the last thing you want is to pay huge sums of money if your air rifle is damaged, lost or stolen. Thankfully, our specialist insurance ensures that your kit is completely covered should the worst happen. Get an instant online quote today.

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