When the opportunity knocked, back in April, to sign up for a bloggers retreat scheduled between September 30th and October 2nd in Varanasi, I knew I wanted to be there. By April 6th my seat was confirmed. It was a very long wait. But it finally happened.
Without the husband and kids, I left for Varanasi with my first new friend Neha Sharma who blogs at Growing with Nemit. Apparently, this was her first time travelling without her husband and son. It was my fourth trip on my own.
We landed in Varanasi and even the blast of its hot and sticky air (when we stepped out of the airplane) did not dampen our spirits. By the time we reached the hotel, we were drenched in our own sweat. Still, dripping with perspiration, we had already clicked and shot more than 50 photographs and videos.
On meeting the rest of the bloggers that I have known online for a few years now, and spending three days and two nights with them, I realized that connecting online and living together offline were totally different experiences. Read here for the general benefits of meeting offline.
And this is exactly what we enjoyed the most.
Just being in this city of Uttar Pradesh was amazing but the bloggers retreat #blogchattermeets was the real reason for going there. Many of my close friends were confused about what I was doing in a place like Varanasi – known for its meditative aartis and authentic Banarasi sarees (both of which I have absolutely no connection with). Well, read on!
We met offline and had fun!
To repeat once again, I realised I loved having a room all to myself in Guleria Kothi. And, I hope to have the privilege of enjoying this feeling again, soon. By the way, I feel a little sad to admit that I side-lined Neha for this unique once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Sorry, Neha. Mwah!
I had a nice time taking part in all the workshops and informal activities organized by the team. Informal not illegal. We had a painting workshop with Ruchika Mehrotra where we learnt to incorporate in our paintings the five elements of Varanasi which are Water, Temple, Umbrella, Flag and Boat.
There was another workshop by Scrap Shala where we put together our own potpourri while eating sandwiches and fries on the side.
Blogchatter organized a few other activities at the bloggers retreat where we had discussions, artwork time, boat rides and the book launch of The Blogchatter Book of Thrillers. We also had a storytelling and sing-song session with Umesh Kabir.
Putting a face to their website names was a good feeling. Like stated above, you get to know the person better when you meet them in person rather than online or when you read their blogs. Due to this offline meeting, and midnight chit-chats, I got to know MORE about my blogger friends:
Jayshree Bhagat (who blogs at MakeUp and Beauty Blog) is naturally funny. She loves dressing up and posing. And, I love clicking photographs. We made such a great pair that we got drenched in the rain (while clicking pictures and shooting videos) together. We laughed a lot while running back into the hotel. Later that night, we got to know that we were the only ones who hadn’t watched or read Harry Potter!
Noor Anand Chawla has been my co-host at Blogaberry Dazzle since January 2021. After speaking on the phone for almost 3 years, we were elated that we finally got to meet offline. I admired her flare for public speaking. I have to admit that she was a treat to be around. Oh and she has watched and read the whole Harry Potter series multiple times!
Anshu Bhojnagarwala was a very important soul that we could not just ignore. She was our compass who had the cardinal directions embedded in her brain. Without her, we were sure to get lost in the dark, narrow and wet lanes of Varanasi.
Aesha from Aesha’s Musings is a sweet person filled with ideas. She was the one to suggest that I visit Sarnath because I had six hours between hotel check-out time and flight boarding time. Thanks so much, Aesha, Sarnath was a beauty!
Varsha Bagadia (who blogs at A Vibrant Palette) is a damsel who loved running in a saree. Across the river or down the stairs, you could see her pallu fly high! We also clicked some Gangubai Kathiawadi poses that came out quite well.
Tulika Singh who blogs at Obsessive Mom and Beat About the Book has an awesome vocabulary and was inspiring to listen to. I could learn a new word in almost every sentence. Check out her write-up on our Varanasi trip and you’ll know what I’m raving about. Also, I admire her guts to handle two websites! It’s NOT easy!
Bhavana who made us realize that I was Charlie and Jayshree was Juliet had apparently changed her instagram handle several times. After being inspired by our conversations, you can finally find her at @bhavanathelekhika, hopefully, going to be blogging soon, too.
Aditya Sathe (who blogs at Adi’s Journal) was great company after our retreat was over. I mean I admired that he calmly got through the retreat with 14 women around (him being the only male). But, the trip to Sarnath was when I realized he was great company to go exploring with.
Did you know Sarnath is a place, 10 kms from Varanasi, where Gautama Buddha taught his first sermon after attaining enlightenment? And, it’s well built, too. Except the Chinese, Sri Lankan and Burmese Buddhist Temples, we went into all the other temples to admire their beauty.
No, I did not forget Neha. I just kept this one for the end because I was in awe of her strength and determination to carry all her video shooting equipment (tripod, 2 cameras, gopro, selfie stick, extra batteries, etc.) wherever we went. I was happy I had my mobile to click and shoot whatever I wanted. But, she also had the presence of mind to keep shooting and clicking the scene, activity, herself or all of it. Thanks to her, we have videos of some events that we didn’t shoot because we forgot we could do that and were busy clapping or enjoying the event. However, she also was a grasshopper flicker. I wouldn’t dare go near one but she actually went and flicked one because Jayshree was afraid of it. It was around 5 feet away from us. After that, she googled how many legs the grasshopper was supposed to have because some said it was a cricket while some of us confirmed that it was a grasshopper. Seriously! After midnight!
All these fun experiences and more wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts put in by The Blogchatter team. Without pouring all their khoon aur pasina in this offline retreat, #BlogchatterMeets would’ve still been a dream. Therefore, we are all grateful to them for this wonderful opportunity and hope we have plenty more now that the pandemic is behind us… sort of… maybe not… is it still on? But well, I want to get on another plane soon and do fun things with like-minded people just like I did in Varanasi!
What say my fellow bloggers who were present, absent or just plain missing all this due to unavoidable personal commitments? Are you ready for another bloggers retreat?