Off-beat Destinations in Himachal Pradesh: A home has a heartbeat

You cannot turn people into homes. This myth got busted while travelling to the off-beat destinations in Himachal Pradesh. I always thought people are rivers, ever changing, ever flowing. During my recent travel, I learnt homes do have a heartbeat.

  • Experience peace & tranquility while living in the lap of nature at Kotgarh

This little village is the perfect interlude from the city as well as the over crowded hill stations during the summers. Kotgarh is the heart of Himachal’s Apple Orchard Country, it is where the famous Samuel Stokes began the apple boom. It is about 70 Km ahead of the state capital, Shimla and about 15kms from Narkanda, which is famous for skiing during the winters. The further you move ahead of Shimla, you realize that you have left the tourists far behind and reached a peaceful region with astounding views all around. Surrounded by apple orchards, and the simplicity of village life, Apple Orchard Homestay at Kotgarh offers all the urban comforts that we city dwellers are accustomed yet maintaining its old world charm.

There are  tastefully done wooden cottages, each with a shared long balcony overlooking the apple orchards and a breathtaking view of the mountains. I had spent hours just sitting in the balcony and gazing into horizon. There is a suite with an attic and a room in the old house as well.

A common dining room below one of the wooden cottage rooms serves delicious meals cooked by the homestay helps in the supervision of Meenakshi.

Breakfasts are typically a hearty affair with a range of juices, paranthas, eggs, sandwiches, sausages/baked beans. One can also have puri- aloo etc on prior request.

Lunches are served on prior intimation as most travellers prefer to explore the region during the day and usually end up eating out.

Dinner is again a lavish affair and one non-vegetarian dish is served along with the usual Indian vegetarian food.

Bonfires are also arranged for groups to escape the evening chill.

One can choose to spend time hiking on short treks around the village or just live the village life. I spent time chatting with your hosts over tea, meeting the village folks and learning about their simple yet happy lives. The village of Kotgarh has quite a few heritage sites to visit, like the Oldest Missionary School, Heritage Church Building, Oldest Hospital, Oldest Apple Valley.

You may indulge yourself in the activities:

  1. Short treks
  2. Picnic in the scenic regions
  3. Trip/Trek to Hatu peak
  4. Plucking fruits (Seasonal)
  5. Bird watching
  6. Reading/ Writing/ Painting

 Minimal pesticides and chemicals are used in the apple orchards, vegetables used in meals are sourced from local growers/ neighbors. Rain water harvesting is practiced at the homestay. Garbage and waste is separated into bio degradable and non-biodegradable waste before disposal. Local people are employed at the orchard for the upkeep of the orchards as well as the homestay. Meenakshi, the hostess is also actively involved in promoting local produce like jams and pickles, dried apples etc. I bought a few to savor the taste of the mountains for a long time after my trip.

 

  • Recharge yourself at a quaint little village hidden in the mountains of Himachal

The Village homestay at Fagu, is a home to witness the traditional Himachali lifestyle, to taste the authentic delicacies and to take a break from your city life and enjoy with a splendid view of the Himalayas.

The homestay is divided into two parts, the traditional and the recently renovated one. The host family itself lives in the traditional house which is about 80 years old. The old house is attached to the newer renovated portion that houses travellers by a hallway lined up windows to let the sunlight in. There are three rooms for accommodating travellers. The interiors of the rooms are tastefully done by locally found wood and stone. The mud room has walls done up in mud and thereby providing breathing walls. The rooms are spacious with a row of windows to let the sunlight in. The homestay is abundant with milk, buttermilk, ghee and the likes thanks to the cows owned by the family. The hostess Ritu is an expert when it comes to traditional Himachali dishes like Siddu and Patanda. The local cuisine is served if one is willing to indulge in local delicacies. Otherwise, simple yet delicious vegetarian dishes are served. Depending on the season, self-grown vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, peas, etc are served in the meals. The homestay is situated in the village of Cheog and is just on the outskirts of the forest that occupies most of the region. A scenic part-road part-dirt track of about 30 Kms in is the most exciting activity one can indulge in on cycles. Some other activities that one can consider while at the homestay are:

  • Visit Narkanda for Ice Skiing in winters.
  • Hill stations Kufri and Shimla are a short drive away.
  • Horse Riding on tracks in the nearby jungle.
  • Visit ancient temples of Tungish and Dharech.
  • Picnic in grasslands near the homestay.

It was an experience of a life time while staying at home Stay in Fagu. Wonderful property but more than anything else it was the generosity and hospitality of the host family that made the short vacation memorable.

Karam Singh, the host, is popularly known in the village “Highlander” The history behind the title takes you back in time when Karam Singh’s father and grand father took part in the freedom struggle. Because of his progressive farming techniques and efforts Karam Singh is a major contributor to the development of the area.

His son Sohan Singh Thakur is a social activist and an ex-Zila Parishad member.

Both father and son with the help of co-villagers have put the village on the world map as the largest contributor to the production of vegetable in Theog Tehsil.

The homestay rooms meant for travellers have been made from recycled or locally sourced stone and wood.

This off-beat destination will charm you endlessly.

 

  • Rejuvenate your senses at this hidden retreat in Dhauladhar Himalayas

The Lodge, Palampur is an eco-friendly home in the middle of a beautiful tea estate. You will love living with the hosts on a working tea estate, knowing about tea and eating delicious meals cooked from local and homegrown produce.

Wah Tea Estate has been part of the Prakash family since 1953. The previous owner, Sir Sikandar Hayat–Khan was the son of the Nawab of ‘Wah’, a town in Pakistan, from which the estate derives its name. The estate is one of the largest manufacturers of tea in the Kangra region. The teas are completely pesticide free, and carefully hand–plucked.
The Lodge came into existence when the owners decided to build themselves a home at the estate They were inspired by the local artisan’s craftsmanship with mud, wood and stone and decided to put their skill to use. The river stone and slate is hand chiseled and crafted to give it the feel of the local Kangra architecture. The bricks used to build the cottages are from the mud which was excavated when the foundation was being built. These bricks are all naturally dried in the sun. Even the white colour of the walls has been done with a natural formula, after extensive research on homes around the world.
The wood used at the lodge is originally from the Old Palampur Courthouse, which was demolished to be rebuilt a few years ago. Roof lining details, banisters from witness stands, and even whole doors and windows are originally from the Old Courthouse. Rest of the wood is pine and cedar from the Estate, in place of which multiple trees were planted.

Meals are an intimate affair at the Lodge. Almost everything served is grown organically in the kitchen garden or the green house which is a short walk into the tea estate from the Lodge. Get ready to bite into healthy as well as delicious meals from different cuisines. From local Himachali dham to continental baked chicken to a wholesome south Indian meal! And not to forget, never ending cups of tea originating from the estate was all around me! Guests can share any dietary requirements and the hosts strive to cater to guests preferences for all meals.

Palampur is at a distance of 250 Km from Chandigarh in the Kangra region of Himachal Pradesh and is famous for its tea plantations. One can see the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas from here and enjoy a host of activities in and around it. Listed below are a few of the activities that one can indulge in this off-beat destination while staying at the lodge.

  1. Visit the tea factory
  2. Tea tasting session at the tea estate
  3. Paragliding at Bir-Billing
  4. Treks at Triund, Billing and Barot, with options for overnight tented stays
  5. Visit Andretta, a village world famous for pottery and Sobha Singh’s art gallery
  6. Try your hands at the potter’s wheel at Andretta
  7. Angling at Barot
  8. Picnic near the river
  9. Cycling tour of the Estate
  10. Cricket or badminton at The Lodge at Wah
  11. Board games at The Lodge at Wah

The Prakash’s are highly inclined towards eco-friendly practices both at the lodge as well as in the Tea Estate. The Lodge was built with the aim of providing a luxurious stay in the tea estate without harming the environment in any way. The villas at The Lodge are made of mud, slate and wood. The food prepared at the lodge is locally grown. Most ingredients are from the kitchen garden and the green house, both of which are completely organic.

The hosts also invest in cooperative farming, the tea estate workers have been given plots of land and seeds to grow their own produce. Only what is needed for The Lodge (less than 10% of what they grow) is requested from them, rest is for them to sell or use as they see fit. The Lodge has also provided for job opportunities for the locals. All the workers in the garden, kitchen and housekeeping are from the neighboring villages and have been trained on the job by the hosts and the manager, Nikita Patel.

To know about more experiences at these off-beat destinations, Stay Tuned!!

If you want to experience it yourself and plan your journey, visit http://pheritales.com/d-i-y-journeys/

 

P.S: Some information has been sourced from different websites on the internet.

 

 

 

 

Where Days are made of Sun, Sand and Sea

Sun kissed beaches lined up with white sand, turquoise shaded transparent sea water, minimal human intervention and activity, far ahead of any competition of what you call paradise.

Lakshadweep islands are a group of 36 coral islands. For all those who aren’t travelling by cruise, Agatti is basically the entry gate to Lakshadweep. The airport which is one of the smallest I’ve ever seen is one of the most charming you’ll ever see. At times, beauty lies in small things, doesn’t it? As the aircraft descends, you get a feeling that it will land on the water, so close is the beach from the strip of runway. You can see the waves breaking down and forming lagoons. It’s beautiful, to say the least. I wanted to sail on a cruise but I didn’t prefer taking one because then your itinerary is scheduled.

From Agatti, I took a speedboat ride to one of the other islands and chose the Kadmat Island as the destination solely because they have a diving school and my intention was to do just that. The more the hardship while travelling, the more beautiful the destination appears. The speedboat ride from Agatti to Kadmat was worse than any experience on the most convoluted roller coaster ever designed. It’s difficult to describe a journey where you are being tossed in every conceivable direction every minute. But I got there! Finally! I could sit there for ages looking at them and may be would free the anchor someday and let them sail away. The first sight of Kadmat was breath taking; I approached the island just prior to sunset. Clear turquoise, rather almost green, waters calmly embraced the pure white sands. Every few moments the waters came and hugged the sand with joy, only to depart with a pang of separation, but with the hope to be back to spend some time with the shore. As this game of hide and seek went on between the waves and the shore, I disembarked on what turned out to be the most picturesque jetty that I have seen in my lifetime.

Nowadays on a holiday like this one, I prefer getting up before the sun rises. I did that on the first day morning and saw an enthralling sunrise with is orange-red reflection making the ocean look as if on fire. The increasing warmth of the sun in the background and some wonderful dry branches on the shore made for some amazing pictures. After breakfast, on our first morning, I was all set for our first dive of the trip. Pure enticing waters and a promise of colourful marine life were enough motivation for me to overcome the little fear that had settled in as I had not dived for about 18 months. The oxygen tanks, the buoyancy control device and the amazing divers all set with their dive watches tuned for another dive made us more restless as we took our boat ride 45 minutes into the ocean. My instructor Shamsuddin, rattled all the instructions I was supposed to follow without considering how nervous I was. Reminded me of the time when I was teaching a tough skill procedure to some of my team members in Accenture, and how narrow my tolerance was for their fear. When you are geared up and in water, there comes a command from the dive master to go down. At that point, I deflated the life jacket and allowed my weight to take me down. The descend requires you to adapt your breathing style and keep equalising the increasing pressure on your ear drums. Once the first few seconds pass, you open your eyes to the surrounding. The first glimpses are of all the little things that live under water. The fish are colourful, to say the least. Several are named after animals, so you have the leopard fish, the tiger fish etc, but what took our breath away was the large turtles that gracefully swam past us, as if to show us that big can be beautiful too.

On some of our dives, we saw spiky lobsters, the spikes of which resembled my childhood hairstyle. The schools of fish too seemed to be busy going about their daily business. I have still not understood why they swim a few feet one way and then turn back to return to the point of origin. I feel they play out the choreographed dance steps from time to time. In one of those silent moments under water I looked up to the sky from the ocean floor and I saw the fish shimmering in the rays of the subdued filtered out the sun. Even the sun does not like to be harsh on these underwater creatures. At that point, everything seemed to be in slow motion. You know your time under water is limited to the amount of oxygen in your tank and those few minutes you want to see as much as you can and more than that try your best to remember everything you see.

On the last dive, we went to this dive site called “The Wall”. It was a dive in which I started on the mountain peak under water that had a steep 20 feet fall into the valley. It was great to be under water but at the top of the mountain at the same time, falling down into the valley full of beautiful creatures. Buoyancy control is the name of the game under water. You have to strike a balance between floating up and sinking further down, almost like how we do it in real life on land. You don’t let your failures take you down and the success to make you rise up so much that your feet don’t touch the ground.

Good friends can share a lot of silence with each other very comfortably. I made few friends while diving for those few days. There were few travellers from Portugal and Mexico. When we came up from our dives generally for a few minutes no one talked after the pleasantries are exchanged. Each one got lost into reminiscent images of the beauty witnessed underwater.

My thoughts usually get more philosophical and these are the times I question the reason of my existence, the purpose of my life. The answer is usually very harsh as my inner voice tells me that in this big universe I am too small to take myself so seriously. I think my purpose now is to ‘just be’ and travel as much as I can to see the natural designs that are attributed to be of divine origin.

Kayaking into the glorious colourful sunset was an activity I have never done before. In Kadmat, the evening invited us to spend the time rowing towards the setting sun that only looked humble as it got ready to be engulfed by the water. It surprises me every time how the harsh beating sun can be humbled by the passage of the day, a quality many of us humans should learn. We had our snorkels with us, so we took a dip into the water to observe some superficial corals with their rich marine inhabitants. The bright pink colours of the live corals were, fortunately, better than the grayscale corals I had seen at Andamans. I was surprised to see so much beauty just a few feet under water. The fish must be finding us humans so colourless, with our shapes really funny and sounds that we make while breathing must be a pain to their ears. I saw some of the fish looking condescendingly at me, just the way I would look at an intruding stranger in my world.

So our days went by, from waking up before sunrise to see the hope of a new day unfold in front of our eyes, taking our morning dives and being impressed with all that we saw, to having some great simple local seafood for lunch (and during dinner we ate the fish we caught) with a relaxing afternoon nap and then as the universe gets energised to call it a day, we sat on the beach with some warm conversations and saw the beautiful sunset scenes orchestrated in front of our eyes. As the darkness of the night took over we laid there on the beach and looked at the stars in the busy sky, trying to make sense of the subtle messages we receive from them.

On our last morning, we went on a tour to see the Kadmat Island. The tour was over in 2 hours. We found the North end of the island rocky with the smallest lighthouse on the shore I have ever seen. It was almost as if the light house was in hiding, trying to prevent people in the sea from finding Kadmat. The highlight of the tour was the wonderful hospitality we received at the house of the tour operator with some local sweet dishes and a special item called coconut apple.

At the far end from where I was, I saw some of my friends talk to each other and a few minutes later as the sun bid us the last goodbye for the trip, I saw them get up to leave; as they did that, they left their soul there. I did the same and walked back to my room to pack up, the next morning will see us depart from Kadmat and arrive at the cacophony of the mundane, materialistic city life. I still feel great reaching home, I know I will rest and travel soon again.

 

 

 

Lolita~ An unsung hero from my travel diary

It was one hot summer afternoon this summer. Julia, my host at Innisfree HawalBagh (Uttarakhand), showed me the walkway to Kosi river. Though it was a sunny day still it was a comfortable walk because the winding roads to the river were pleasant under the canopy of deodar trees. As soon as I reached the river, I could not resist myself from a swim. I saw a few women from the nearby village, filling water. The water was cold and the day was sweaty, giving me immense pleasure to swim. I have always been a water baby. I did not notice the minutes passing by as I kept enjoying in my water world. 
 
After quite a while I noticed, the women had left, apart from one. She was smiling at me. I swam to the bank and rested myself on a rock. What started as a general conversation, ended up or rather started a new friendship that I wouldn’t  imagine. The lady introduced herself as “Lolita”. Lolita, the soda-pop drinking, the gum-snapping image of a teenager, from the book “Lolita” was flashing in my mind. Over the years, I have met very few women named “Lolita” however strangely, all women named “Lolita”, I admire and respect for the grace they carry themselves with, from 18 to 80. This lady with sharp Kumaoni (an ethnic group of Uttarakhand, northern India) features struck a chord in my mind. What I later discovered, was a story of struggle and pain that will linger in my heart for this lifetime. 
 
We started talking on a general note. I asked her if she was from the village and about her family and kids. She was curious to know where I belonged from. Though I was pleasantly surprised however it was a pleasure to know that she was aware of the Indian geography and was familiar with many places. From our conversations, I came to know, it’s part of their daily activities to fill water from the rivers for their daily use. The river never runs dry and that’s a blessing for the villagers. It was late afternoon, she invited me for lunch at her place which was a hike away. I was hungry but did not want to trouble her. She insisted. I followed her and on our way, we spoke about the village. In her home, I was warmly welcomed by her husband and three children, two daughters and a son. The children had a striking resemblance to their mother. Lunch was ready. I sat and enjoyed the meal over conversations. I relished rice, dal, potato fries and bhang (edible preparation of cannabis) chutney. I am being chutney,  previous night at Julia’s Homestay, it’s a local delicacy, but does not make you trippy. After the meal, I thanked them for the food and pleasant time and was on my way back home. Lolita gave me company for a while and inquired if I would be back the next day. I couldn’t promise her, but I wanted to come back with some gifts for the family and for a swim in the river.
 
Hawalbagh is a Block in Almora district in Uttarakhand. It’s situated a little far from the urban area, and I had sent my cab away. I wasn’t sure how to travel to the nearby market, moreover, I wasn’t sure if I would get something of my choice in the nearby market. I returned to the homestay and searched my luggage, I found a new scarf, cosmetics, and a new shirt, which I packed to carry for Lolita’s family the next day. The next day, around the same time, I walked back to the Kosi river and I found Lolita there. I learned from her, her family was away in the next village for a wedding. I gave the gifts to her and asked her to convey my love to her family. She humbly accepted them. I went for a swim. When I finished swimming, she asked me if I would like smoke cannabis. I was surprised. Though I don’t smoke these days however I thought of giving her company. We went to her place and she gave me one and started taking a drag. I have done cannabis before, but it’s been a long time that I quit. It was like smoking it for the first time. I never thought I would sit with a village woman and smoke with her. I was in wonder and even pleasantly surprised. I never knew I would be led to stories that would give me a different high in life that no drugs can give.
 
Conversations led to stories. Lolita is 53 years old. She says she has wrinkles too early for her age. She is not worried about them. She calls them the lines of her victories, and each symbolizes her battles. We started another smoke. And then she asked me if I would like a locally made wine. I did not mind trying a home fermented wine. I know my control over myself and did not mind trying it. I was smiling because I was seeing a village woman in a new light. What we thought was cool to urban people is a way of lifestyle for them. She said drinking and smoking for women when alone is a ritual in their village. We got back to her stories. She lost her parents at an early age and been brought up by her uncle and aunt. In many parts of Kumaon, it’s a tradition that most labor work is done by the women of the family and they are the bread earners. Men are lazy and indulge in drinking and playing cards and other merry-making activities. This is their tradition. Her aunt was suffering from illness and could not work regularly. She too had two daughters. One fine day, when Lolita was 16, her uncle sold her off to a 60-year-old man for a good lump sum money. The man explored Lolita. While hearing her stories I could sense her pain behind her smile. There was not a drop of tear from her eye, I knew they dried off with pain. The man had explored her nights after nights, giving her pain and making her work as a help for his wife. They never cared about her pain or her blood-stained clothes. Food provided to her did not meet her hunger. After seven months, she managed to run away, but she realized she was pregnant. She wasn’t sure how long she conceived and she did not have any money to visit the doctor. “Forget to visit the doctor, I could not even eat a meal, ” she sighed in pain. We poured our third glass of wine. The fruity flavor did not soothe the bitter experiences of her tales. A lady found her under a tree, groping in pain. She took her home, gave her food. The lady was a midwife and understood she was pregnant and what Lolita mistook as a sense of relief was another storm in her life. The lady had a son and a daughter-in-law who were not able to make babies. The lady aborted Lolita. Lolita had cried in pain but before her tears could dry, she was married off to her son. He never received any love from the man apart from times he thought it was necessary to love her body. She was pregnant again, but very weak.  She delivered a girl. She got kicked out of the house that night with the girl. With a little bundle of joy in her arms, but no joy in her life, she was lost in life, in pain by the cruelty that she faced over and over.
 
By this time, I had stopped drinking. I was shivering in pain, thinking of the cruel world and her struggles. It was not the cannabis or the wine, it was a woman I was with, who wanted to share her pain. I was feeling grateful that she thought of me to be comforting enough to let her guards down. She met her husband, Llama, when she walked from places to places in her undernourished body, with her daughter in arms looking for food, shelter, and work. Llama was fetching water from a river. He looked worried seeing her and wanted to give care. Lolita thought of him like other men who she had met earlier in life. She thought she would sell her body for her kid. She removed her clothes in front of Llama. Llama stood stunned, after two minutes he covered her back in clothes and took her to his home. He was alone. Lolita still did not believe him. Llama kept her in his place and nourished and nurtured her with love and food. After a few months, Lolita realized, Llama is an unselfish man, one found rarely in this world who did not see her body, but her soul, one who did not take from her but provided her. After a few days, they got married and now they live with their children. “Llama has given me all the love and respect that I was deprived of, he has given me a new life. With him, I started enjoying making love, before that it was only pain.” I saw her first tear drop in the last four hours. I couldn’t control myself.
 
Lolita, you will never see her without a heartwarming smile. She doesn’t talk about her pain to her children and neither does Llama bring it up ever. My respect for Llama grew, whom I assumed to be a lazy man after the knowledge of Kumaoni traditions. And Lolita! She will always be one woman whom I will admire. We have not seen superheroes, but I celebrate people like Lolita every day, who fights her battles like a true queen. Today, she is the Panchayat of her village, she does her daily chores and works for women empowerment of her village. She and Llama are providing education to her son and daughters equally. Lolita is striving for 100 percent literacy rate in her village. She is my superhero. 
 
During my stay for the next few days in Hawalbagh, I visited her every day and spent time with her. I keep in contact with her through calls and hoping to meet her sometime sooner.

What travellers don’t tell you about coming back home

“There’s nothing half so pleasant as coming back home again.”

In my childhood, I loved Calcutta, today better known as Kolkata, the city I have grown up in. The city had grown with me too. I grew up nurtured by its old world charm. In my teenage years, I wanted to escape from this place. And so I did. In my 20’s, I didn’t appreciate the pace at which the city was moving, neither its work culture nor its efforts to westernise, the pattern did not match its rhythm of its history. Looking for a city that I can call home, I have been a nomad, travelled far and wide, and lived out of a suitcase. In my 30s, I am re-discovering Kolkata and falling in love with every part and even cracks of it, finding it back like a lost lover, catching up with the years lost by, and falling for the way it’s evolving, still maintaining its old world charm, that I have seen while growing up. I have found my old love in a completely new song.

I went to study in Chennai, I worked in Bangalore. And when I quit my job, I travelled across India and other far-flung places. I never thought I would come back to Kolkata. Yes, I would have come back, to see my parents, who are settled here, to meet my family, to meet my old friends from school. But in the wildest of my dreams, I  did not imagine to come back to the city, falling in love with it again and travelling within it, lanes after lanes. Everyday, waking up to a new sun under the same sky, it is like resting my head on the old familiar pillow. I found the lap of Kolkata. I realised it’s a funny thing. It seemed Kolkata was waiting for me. Actually no. It wasn’t waiting for me. Everything is same, looks same, feels same, and smells same. What has changed is me. Every time I travel, I come back home to appreciate it more.

I returned to Kolkata, struggling with everything and even my Bengali to communicate.  It wasn’t comfortable. It even did hurt. But, now, every time I travel, I take something of Kolkata with me. And I leave something behind, hopefully good.

There is an informality about the way people interact with each other and there is a casual acceptance and friendliness that you don’t see outside this place. You can walk into a shop and people will laugh and joke with you as if they know you. I feel a real sense of connection with the place. I can go back to my ancestral village near Kolkata and walk the same dusty path that my great-grandfather probably walked on and that gives me a sense of being rooted. The mornings are early and the evenings are late. And in the day, the auntie next door smells what’s cooked in our kitchen, and knows for sure we have a guest today. When clothes have not been hung for drying in my neighbour’s balcony my mom’s intuition never goes wrong that their maid is absent. She sends a box full of a dish that’s been cooked for our lunch. Where do you get such love that’s so unconditional, though a little barging affair at times. In the bus, the passenger next to you will almost take your shoulder granted to be as his pillow. In the train, the old uncle would ask for your newspaper and forget to return to you, as if it was his. Initially, all these bothered me and bothered me a lot. I realised, now I have found innocence and warmth in these behaviour patterns and accept this pattern as much as I accept the iconic heritages of the city.

I wake up at 5o’ clock in the morning to travel to the other end of the city in a bus, something I would not do ten years back. I detested taking a bus ride. I like to see the lung power of men, in the wake of the dawn, travelling from one end to the other, to fetch their daily needs. I sit at the Mullick Bazaar Ghats,(one of the famous flower markets near the river Ganga and Howrah Bridge) most of the times turning my face away when people answer nature’s call. But nowhere on earth sunrise is as beautiful as it is here, blooming out like a hidden gem from the lap of the river and rising softly kissing the bridge and leaving it to glitter. I hate city rains; I hate how the puddles leave marks on my trousers and skirts till my hips when I walk. Yet, it’s a weekend regime for me to go to Maidan (the largest urban park in Kolkata) to sit under the open sky, rest my ears on the green grass and hear them beat. If people complain about the polluted metropolitan cities they need some detoxification, they need some dosage of this place after the rains splash the city and leave it drenched in all shades of green. I take the leisurely tram journeys and get down at the old vintage houses in North Kolkata. I cannot stop mesmerising at the colonial houses from the British times, look at their architecture like an awestruck traveller, the verandas, the pillars, the red-cemented floors, the shuttered windows. I start a friendly conversation with the elderly person in the house and welcome myself to their abode over a cup of tea and lots of stories and legends. Like a kid, I often vanish to Nahoum’s, the legendary Jewish bakery in town. The best part about Kolkata is its food. From chicken cutlets to fish fries, to the traditional luchi, alurdom (deep fried flatbread with potato curry), to the lip-smacking phuckas (round, hollow puri, fried crisp and filled with a mixture of flavoured water), the array of street food stalls never stops luring me. I find a cheat day, every other day to treat myself to these gastronomical wonders.

The hand pulled rickshaws in Kolkata are British heritage in India’s colonial treasure. Irrespective of the stories of the inhumanity of city’s unbarred use of man-powered rickshaws, tourists regard it as a cultural icon along with the famous Howrah Bridge and Victoria Memorial. Yes, they are my favourite too. But the more I fall in love with the city, the more I feel like contributing for my love towards the city. With collaborative efforts of few talented and thriving souls, I am stepping into an initiative and drive ‘Aamar Sohor‘ (My City). This initiative includes photo series, capturing the growth and decay of the city, appreciating imperfect, impermanent and incomplete, a journey of transience and imperfection, finding beauty in everything that is Kolkata. I do not want the millennial generation to grow up without knowing and enjoying the parts of Kolkata that I loved while growing up. I feel sad when I see most of their lives revolve around gadgets and malls. I want to show them the Kolkata through the eyes of the one who calls Kolkata home, even after travelling the world. And with all these we will be promoting responsible travelling in Kolkata, spreading awareness about keeping the city in a zero-waste condition, doing our bit in beautification and taking care of city’s icons like the tram, the vintage buildings, its monuments and its local artists. You can find that being updated through my works over time. I will be happy sharing those stories.

Coming back to my city, if you ask me my favourite place in the city, it’s the Ghats in the city, the Outram Ghat, the Prinsep Ghat, that witness the flowing of river Ganga through time and tide. This place creates the same wonders for me what 3D movies do to the kids of this generation. I grew up visiting these places every Sunday, like a ritual in my childhood. I practise the ritual even today. Travellers tell you, they return home either finding it awkward to adjust to the life there or they return home valuing it more. I say, we, travellers evolve. Seeing the beauty and the ugly in our journeys, make us more tolerant and grateful. At least, it has happened to me. Do you like smelling a new book?? For me, falling in love with Kolkata, after every journey, is like smelling a new book, falling in love with a long-distant lover. Do you love your hometown? I am curious if you have rediscovered yourself and your place over time.

The North-East India changed my patriotism

Before March 2016, I haven’t been to any part of North-East India. I was with a premonition that it’s more or less like a poorer China, where people use imported products, eat noodles and momos, has an unhygienic lifestyle. I was completely judgemental. Now, when I think, I am embarrassed by myself and my hypocrisy. If I wouldn’t have taken this trip, I would not have experienced, what I now call, the best part of India. This was completely a life-changing experience for me. Though I always travelled, you can say, this is what literally pushed me to explore travelling.

In March 2016, I was supposed to take a family vacation to Arunachal Pradesh. I was reluctant in the beginning, given my narrow judgment about the place. But my family insisted and I agreed. I was in a pathetic state of mind, due to personal setbacks. I wasn’t much interested in the planning of the trip. The only contribution of mine was going to Arunachal Bhawan and getting the Inner Line Permit and permit to visit Bum La Pass.  As Arunachal Pradesh falls under restricted area, official permission is required to enter the state. There are two kinds of official permits prescribed by Government for entering into any area within Arunachal Pradesh. They are:

  • Inner Line Permit (ILP) and
  • Protected Area Permit (PAP)

The Inner Line Permits are required by Indians other than natives of Arunachal Pradesh for entering into any place in Arunachal Pradesh. All the foreigners are required have the Protection Area Permit or PAP for entering into Arunachal Pradesh.

Later, due to unavoidable circumstances, my family could not make it, but now, I wanted to escape from my situation and I wanted to take the holiday. Everyone warned me of the road conditions, the weather conditions and health hazards I might face at a high altitude. I could not have listened to anything because all I knew was, I wanted to breathe under a new sky, I needed some fresh air. I insisted and took a leap of faith.

Though I had a minimum expectation of some wonder, I took the flight to Guwahati and then hopped into the pre-booked cab from there to head to Bomdila. Bomdila is located in the northwestern part of the state of Arunachal Pradesh. It is set amongst the mighty Himalayas at an altitude of 2,530 m above sea level. When I reached Bomdila it was six in the evening and it was very cold. Nothing could be seen around and I wasn’t even curious. I got into my room at the circuit house and wanted to sleep after a tiring road journey. It was chill, piercing my bones. Blankets and heater weren’t enough to keep me warm. Moreover, the dogs were barking the whole night. I didn’t manage a good sleep. I already decided that the journey ahead was going to be pathetic like the state of my mind.

Next morning when I woke up to some nice fog laced with sweet sunshine, my mood changed. I was pleasantly surprised to see the small town adorned with colourful flowers at every household. The smiling faces of the people touched my heart. It was like the magic hour, where everything transformed for the better and I was then looking forward to the journey.

Feeling the fresh air, whirling up around my face and hair, we headed towards Tawang, the mountain town in Asia and the smallest of the 16 administrative districts in Arunachal Pradesh. As our car, criss-crossed through winding hills, I kept humming my old favourite song,

“Almost heaven,…

Blue Ridge Mountains

Shenandoah River,

Life is old there

Older than the trees

Younger than the mountains

Blowing like the breeze

Take me home, country roads”

And I knew, I was struck by pixie dust.

There were hardly another car or people on the road because there was no civilization on the way and the season for the tourists was yet to start. When I reached Tawang, it was already dark. The caretaker at the circuit house informed that it had snowed last night. The weather was better and colder than normal. The best part was it was not raining.

Next morning was lit by gorgeous sunshine, could see the mountains clad in fog and the peaks shining with glitters of sun rays. I had never experienced a better weather. ‘You are fortunate. It’s a cold day but a bright one.’ Exclaimed the care taker. He insisted to pack my lunch for the day and when I refused he said ‘You won’t find anything up there.’ I keep myself stocked with dry food so I did not worry. We headed toward Bum La Pass. Roads were free, the only place we had to stop was to show the permit. The best part was, Kalikacharan, the person who was driving me around is a shy person, did not speak much unless asked. It allowed me to soak in the beauty of nature and my thoughts. As the rugged hills changed into snow covered mountains, I was enthralled like a child seeing a black forest cake in front of me. All I could see was frozen lakes and snow clad mountains. My mind was cart-wheeling with joy. I was missing my family and was disheartened for the experience they were missing. There was nothing on the way apart from army camps. I have been to other mountain towns, but this place is unbelievably beautiful. Untouched, pristine and paradise on earth it is. Bumla Pass is one of the four official border meeting posts between India and China and about 40 km from Tawang. It’s at 15,200 ft above sea level. It boasts of an army regiment at the highest altitude in the world. I was filled with pride. When I reached there, the army officers welcomed me with a lot of care. They briefed us about the history, the stories of the place, the wars, and the memorials that make it memorable. They even treated me to some hot paranthas and tea. I used their washroom. I mention this here because I was surprised that the water in the commode was frozen. At such critical conditions, our army officers fight not only with enemies but basic needs, to ensure that we Indians are safe. Respect was the only thing that I was filled with. I could not thank them enough for giving me company. I was heading back to Tawang filled with pride and humbleness. On the way, road construction work was taking place. We had to wait two hours, to move the car, but to my astonishment, I wasn’t restless and anxious. I felt evolved as a human and I could spend hours by the lakes and sitting on the rocks, looking at the bare mountains. I wanted to stock my eyes and memories with as much of nature’s bounty, as much I could.

I reached Tawang by four in the afternoon. I went around the town. I was seeing North-East India in a new light.  The town is kept so clean, no litter and waste, that I was embarrassed about my mindset. Next day, while heading back to Bomdila, the rugged hills transformed into a wonderland. It was Christmas in March. It was snowing. On my way back, we stopped at Sela Pass. At an elevation of 4170 m, windy, enjoying the landscape there is once in a lifetime experience.Blue water lakes surrounded by snow mountains and echoing tales of legends and patriotism, this place romances you with a charm unseen. It’s truly said, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I wanted things in my life to change and it changed me and my perceptions for better. This trip showed me a new world, an India that made me proud, it has made me tolerant as a person and it has pushed me more into travelling, travelling more of India.

After Tawang, I visited Meghalaya, which amazed me, but you have to wait for another day to hear about the wonders there.

It’s 7 o’clock somewhere…….

I have an insane calling to be at places I’m not. When it’s 2300 hours on my watch and I am tucked in my bed, I think it is 7 o’clock in the morning somewhere. How would the sunrise be there!! How would be the clouds floating across from one mountain to the other!!

When I see travel images, read about them, like the other day I was reading about Lorvy’s visit to Cameron Highlands, Roni’s Batanes trip, Michelle’s story of the village of JB sea gypsies, Ana travelling to a non-english speaking country, I was imagining myself there. I slip into the place through the frame of words and images.

Imagine stepping through the frame into a phosphene-tinted haze, where you could sit at the cafe, by the road and watch the locals passing by; who lives there, grazing eye with few of them perhaps locking a smile and nodding your head as a gesture, looking up at the same moon, the same air. I think I often go through such an obscure feeling. It’s like getting nostalgic, but with a much more stronger feeling, because you know you have never lived the life and that life you do not know if is going to come to you ever. Now research suggests that this is the case for music, too, but with a twist. And I am musically challenged. So for me, it’s not music but everything else.

I miss teas I haven’t tasted,
I miss hands I haven’t had the chance to hold,
And tears I never cried.
I miss dreams I don’t remember,
And things that flickered out of sight.
I miss the hours of sleep I’ve lost,
And flowers that I have not smelt.
I miss pictures I never took,
And dreams that I let die.
I miss places I haven’t been to yet,
And the things that I didn’t try.
I miss many things,

That I wish could be mine.
I miss many, many things,
That I have never tried.
I miss everything I don’t know,

When I will ever have.

This is kind of an obscure sorrow, I feel as a traveller. Some suggest this is called “anemoia”. But “anemoia” is a stronger sorrow for things you know you will never ever experience. Do any of you relate to my sorrow??

Well, this kind of sorrows don’t make me melancholic, it makes me long, something that you call far-sickness. As a traveller we often experience what is best described a far-sickness. Our whole being craves the mountains, the sea, the sunshine between the trees in the forests of the Earth, even if we don’t know what to expect from the landscapes and the cultures themselves. We long for moments and experiences and are filled with the need to discover all that all the molecules in our body can soak up.

I suffer from far-sickness of two types, for places I have not been and for places I have already travelled.

When we experience different places and cultures and have them touch us in indescribable ways, that feeling stays with us. We can be sitting in a coffee shop a thousand miles away from Lyon, but its smells can still linger, its energy can still ignite. We could be in a completely different place, city, state, country, but the sights of Munich will still swirl within our blood like a vitality that will never cease to move us. What does dill-dally in every traveller’s heart is the distance, the love for those places that we have allowed to burrow within us like old friends.

There are different words for each of them in different languages, and they are beautiful without being translated into English. We can talk about those terms some other day for sure.

It’s not always during long distance relationships that you experience the craziness of time zone difference. As a traveller, I experience it even sitting at my home, thinking about, as I said “it’s 7 o’clock somewhere.” So, when I talk about love, I always do not refer it to a person, it’s the place, the travel or stories that I meet there, that I talk of. I start soaking up in the smell of the filter coffee brewed in Thailand and I wish, I woke up to a morning there. I start imagining myself sitting beside a wrecked boat on a lonely shore feeling the saltiness of the waves when I curl my toes. I get anxious to know the shade of orange of the sunrise in Iceland, I could smell the wine wafting through the air in French Riviera. When I was reading about Jan’s “A Love Affair with Vietnam’s Pho”, I was there, anxious about trying out an unfamiliar dish but enjoying as my taste buds were embracing each spoonful of the dish. On the day of the conference with Trisha Velarmino, and other fellow bloggers, it was 7 o’clock, in the evening IST. I was excited and fully devoted my concentration to the conference, but in the back of my mind, I was wondering what time would it be in Tel Aviv, Israel ?? Does that sound idiotic?? You can be thinking, we can always check that on google. But, yes, that’s how a traveller’s heart beats. How would 7 o’clock be at Noel’s place??

I am poor in Mathematics, but a traveller always knows to calculate the time of the other places at the back of the mind, and can smell the monsoon and see the autumn leaves changing its colour.

And how do I treat it?? I treat it by taking off to the place where the story started. I treat it by travelling. Soon, I will be away to treat my obscure feelings and will get in touch to tell you stories from there. For now, I would like to know, if any of you have an obscure sorrow??

 

 

 

 

 

9 to 5 Job versus Travelling

 

“How can you pitch Travelling against a 9 to 5 job?”

“When will you get a full-time job?”

“You do not have a fixed income.”

“When will you get settled?”

I believe all of You, who do not have a day job and are into travelling, travel photography and travel blogging are the jobs for you. Like me, you must have come across these questions and statements a million times, especially when you are in a social gathering. A gathering where your dad’s friends ask you what you do, and your dad is entrapped in confusion and bit of embarrassment, a gathering where most of your friends are married with kids, a gathering where your mom’s socialite friends are more eager in showing off the new necklace that their son-in-law gifted their daughter, but your mom though proud of you is bit saddened, because you always prefer to be in track pants and tees. So in such gatherings, you always come across such remarks and do not know whether to be polite or blunt.

Even I  go through such experiences often. Well, no I do not have a 9 to 5 job. But that does not make my work less any worth. To those, who think anything to do with creative arts is only for those who did not excel in their studies, I can’t stop laughing. I have worked as a business consultant, a full-time 9-5 job it was, actually 9-9 job but this is the way of life I have chosen. It takes a lot of courage to pursue your dreams and not try to fit in. It takes a lot of inspiration to stand apart even if that means to stand alone. Just because we are not confined in a cubicle in offices with glass panes  doesn’t mean we do not make our brains work. We put in equal efforts to write a story, edit an image and publish it.  I really hate it when people think I am just sitting down with my gadgets every day thinking I am posting on social media and chatting with my friends but to tell you honestly, it takes me hours, even days to come up with just one post: writing, editing images, post formatting! Okay, to be fair, travel photography is but travel blogging is not recognised as a career yet but really, this is the job! This is what I (we) do. Period.

Travelling is not necessarily about scrumptious breakfast, luxurious bed, scenic locales. It’s also about responsible travelling, being aware of the culture of the place, learning about places and people, contributing to their way of life, seeing the discomfort, yet finding beauty in everything and evolving. 

Travelling is not only about writing tales and clicking images, it’s also about getting to know the skin of the place you visit, collecting information of their history and legends and leaving a part of you and all that you gathered, in your work. And just because I am a nomad does not mean I am detached. We not only share meals, we share stories. We do not just catch up for coffee, we catch up for sunsets, we catch up for memories. Money, yes definitely the mobile does not light up with a six digit salary message at the beginning of the month. But whenever it comes, it’s precious and we know to save for a rainy day.

And about getting settled, probably that day when I will find the one who will love the soul of an adventurer, the one who will motivate me to fly unbridled, not tame but run with me, the one who will trust, no matter where I go, I will come back to him, the one who will appreciate my love for far-flung places as much as he will admire my love for him, I will. I believe you all have your plans and idea of getting settled.

Whenever someone asks me how do they escape from the cube they are in, I find it weird that they have to ask me what to do. When I say “the environment” that urged me to do what I didn’t like, I am not pointing people or place. It was life in general. I was claustrophobic. Leaving was the hardest part but as soon as I did, everything fell into place. We are more committed our out comfort zone. Once we are committed to our dreams more than our comfort zone, everything will change, for the better.

Home is not where we return to. To quote, Elizabeth Gilbert. “Your home is whatever in this world you love more than yourself.” I found my home in travelling, writing and clicking photos.

I did not have any formal education in photography and journalism. But my love for it surpassed all fears of failures. Writing and photography came to me as an opportunity. I never thought people would read and see my stuff but then they did. I just wanted to write and capture and be treated like a writer and a photographer. I wrote, wrote and wrote, I captured, captured and captured with no expectations. Like I always say, travelling is a way of life for me.

 

The War of Travelling Bags

It’s been an age old debate– suitcase or backpack? Suitcases are spacious but you can fall into the nightmare of extra luggage; backpacks are easy to carry but are a total pain if you ever want to find something in a hurry. So which one wins? The gloves are off as we compare the two arch rivals of the travel world.

I have always used a suitcase while travelling, but since last year, I moved to a backpack.

 

SUITCASE PROS

  • You can fit more things in
  • It keeps valuables safer
  • It makes your gear more accessible and easy to find in a hurry

SUITCASE CONS

  • Heavier and hard to carry up stairs and hills
  • Tempts you to over pack and carry things you don’t need

 

BACKPACK PROS

  • Good for walking long distances, especially if you are staying somewhere remote
  • Easier to carry uphill
  • Often comes with its own detachable daypack.

BACKPACK CONS

  • Heavy to lift and often difficult to get on your back (especially if travelling alone)
  • Hard to organise your gear
  • Difficult to find things in a hurry

 

It’s all in the experience. If you’re planning a three-month adventure through Lahaul, Spiti or even a two week holiday where you know you’ll be walking long distances to get to your accommodation, a back pack is definitely the best option. Easy to carry (if you pack light) and super handy if you’re planning on taking long bus and train journeys during your travels, your backpack will become your whole world during this time and yes, though it may drive you crazy at how impossible it is to keep things folded, you will learn to love it.

For all other purposes, I believe suitcase is the one. With more space and the ability to keep things organised a suitcase is the perfect travel companion to keep your belongings safe and organised.

Backpacking is travelling where you travel on a budget, usually for few days or months or longer, with a very flexible itinerary. I like to travel with a flexible itinerary and preferably alone. But I have never been a backpacker. I like my accommodations booked and organised, long before I am travelling. I do not need luxurious accommodations, but one that will give me a good night sleep. I am OCD complacent, so I need to be assured at the back of my mind, everything is arranged.

But I have a little secret I’d like to share today.

I HATE backpacks. I always have. I always will. Even when I am backpacking, I hate my backpack. Each morning I pack it up to move on to my next destination. I hate it. I hate everything about it and at that moment, I am so jealous when I see my fellow travellers breezing around with wheeled suitcases.

In theory, backpacks are awesome. You put in all your things inside, swing it on your back and you’re good to move. You have freedom and mobility. But they’re only that easy when it’s light.

If you’re only travelling for a couple of days or you’ve 100% mastered the tricky art of packing light then backpacks are perfect. But if you’re going to be travelling with a fair bit of stuff, backpacks are actually a bit of a nightmare.

For me, why backpacks are a big no-no:

  • You have to carry them.
  • They’re awkward to carry and they hurt.
  • I’m sure SuperMan would not have any problem swinging his backpack onto his back but I do. I really do.
  • You barely ever need to carry your luggage. There are times when you need to carry your luggage but these times are few and far between. Everyone likes to think they’re going on an adventure and getting off the beaten track but 9 times out of 10 you’ll be able to wheel a suitcase everywhere.
  • Creased clothes. I have not yet mastered the art of packing a backpack and not getting totally crumpled clothes. I always roll my clothes. Everything is fine for 2-3 days but anything longer than this and I have a chaotic pile of crumpled clothes. I hate being photographed in creased clothes.
  • Day packs. I am a fan of the day pack, not backpacks. Basically, just a mini backpack you use for days out.They’re not difficult to organise.
  • Backpacks mostly come with one main compartment, and most of them come with a top loading which makes it difficult to organise anything and your belongings get muddled and lost.
  • Things get broken. The soft fabric of a backpack won’t protect your belongings against the bag being thrown around.
  • They’re not waterproof or easy to clean. On the other hand, suitcases are both waterproof and easy to clean. Some people like having a dirty backpack because it makes them look like ‘a real traveller’. I don’t.

It varies from traveller to traveller, some prefer the suitcase on wheels, some prefer the backpack and some prefer to have a boyfriend who carries your bag for you. However, for any potential backpacker, choosing the right backpack or bag for you is important and for anyone who is still figuring it out here are some tips to consider.

Quality – I am speaking from experience when I say there is nothing worse than your bag breaking halfway through a trip. Sometimes you are unaware where the journey will take you and you, and your bag, need to be prepared. Ensuring that you have a bag which will withstand all sorts of activities and terrain is vital.

Size does matter – Definitely think about the size you need before buying a backpack. Are you looking for a backpack that is going to carry all your luggage for 3 months or just for a few weeks. My advice would be to have a big bag and also a smaller one for day to day use. After all, you don’t want to be taking all your luggage with you on day trips around the area. Think about your need before choosing the size.

Weight – Replace your heavier items with lighter items. I see a lot of backpackers carrying the strangest equipment around with them. Do you really need to travel with a hairdryer, hair straightener, 6 pairs of shoes? Think about the things that you really need during your travels and get rid of the unnecessary items.

Plan your clothes around season and weather – Where are you going and what will the weather be like? As long as you know where you’re going to be then it’s easy to do this.

Share your stuff – If you are travelling with a person you are comfortable with, you can share your stuff. This also gives you an opportunity to wear something different for a change! I am not at all comfortable sharing clothes.

Look for items that have multiple uses – Look for clothes or equipment that have a few different uses. The classic example of a multiple use item is a sarong. Last but not least, take a bag that suits you. It should be one you love looking at and want to take with you everywhere and feels comfortable.

Last but not least, take a bag that suits you. It should be one you love looking at and want to take with you everywhere and feels comfortable.

Having a good backpack/bag/suitcase is important, you’re not called a backpacker for anything! It is the one thing you take with you all the time, so make sure it’s the right one.

So next time you’re packing for that trip stop and think do I really need a backpack or would a suitcase work better for me?

I am using a 60 L Forclaz Trekking BackPack. It’s a simple, lightweight and functional bag with pockets and easy access. Practical for both occasional hiking and travelling.

In case you are looking for your perfect backpack, I believe it varies from traveller to traveller and to suit their choice and needs. Personally, I prefer a 60L backpack, which neither gets too heavy to trek and has enough space for a travel of 15 days. Plus, this one has a special pocket, for carrying a hydration pack and also comes with a pole loop. While buying a backpack, most important things you should look at is abrasion resistance of the fabric, compression straps, chest straps, load adjuster straps and thumb loops. Most backpacks aren’t actually built in with travel in mind. In fact, they’re built with the outdoors, camping and intense multi-day treks in mind. It’s part of the reason why travellers often think they need a bigger-capacity backpack when they actually don’t.

The point is this: backpacks were built to be optimal for adventure. You can’t go wrong choosing a backpack to hike the Himalayas around in.

 

5183 miles away – A love story without baggage

Long distance relationships aren’t easy. It wasn’t anything different for me. I was seeing a doctor for a year. The doctor fellow moved to Madrid for higher studies and I was in Bangalore. The craziness of time zone difference, not being able to see each other hit us. And it’s only then all around you see couples walking together, holding hands and you wish you could throw a pillow at mellifluous music. I am an in person’s person. I need to see the person, hold his hands, feel the silence. Phone conversations are not my thing. In 2009, there wasn’t Whatsapp, video calls weren’t common. So I hope you can imagine the hardships of missing someone you love. 

Two months after he left, I decided to visit him for Christmas. Till that date, I had travelled only with family. It was supposed to be the first time, I would be using my passport, travelling alone. Firstly, I had difficulties in getting a Schengen visa. I was a novice, I didn’t realise, the ECR stamped on my passport was the reason. It was completely out of my mind that I was a minor when I got my first passport. (As per the Emigration Act, 1983, Emigration Check Required (ECR) categories of Indian passport holders, require to obtain “Emigration Clearance” from the office of Protector of Emigrants (POE), Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs for going to following 18 countries). I was doing the paper works all by myself, from scratch, so there was no travel consultant to guide me. Through hook and crook, I got my visa, though it was days after New Year. Never mind, I was all excited to fly solo, fly international and finally meet the doctor. 

Before travelling, I went for a haircut, a good day at the salon, stocked up my shopping bags. So much so that I carried overweight luggage at the check-in counter and even paid for the extra kilos and can you believe, I checked in all my luggage!! The mathematical calculator in my head wasn’t working, because I was wearing glasses tinted with love. I had a transit in Paris. Luckily, it snowed in Madrid after 20 years, airport authorities weren’t prepared for the same, so the airport was shut down. We had a halt in Paris. But ask me! How unlucky I was! Air France authorities informed that I would receive the luggage in Madrid. We were in Paris, it was cold, I had nothing apart from what I was wearing and my handbag and to top it couldn’t go around, not even see the Eiffel Tower. I did not let all these give me agony, I was all anxious and excited to see the doctor next day. Next day, the flight finally landed us in Madrid.

Here, I couldn’t wait anymore to see him, and the flight authorities had lost my luggage. I waited in the never ending queue to register a complaint. It seemed everyone at the airport lost their luggage.

I spent one week of fifteen days without my luggage, managing with my doctor’s clothes and shopping some more again. I had to buy lingerie of course. 

Madrid, in cold was fun, from its streets to its shops, its museums and food. I met some lovely people out there. I was overwhelmed, that whoever I met in the elevators greeted “Hola”. Such a wonderful gesture, than to stand in an enclosed compartment with sombre faces, like the world is gonna end the next moment. A different world unfurled in front of me. You learn so many things, you gain insights. Truly it’s said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” 

I used to cook Indian for us, and I remember, the German, who used to share an apartment with him, would sneeze all time. The Mexican girl, living in the same apartment, introduced me to “Pikante”, chillies in Mexico and a sauce named after it. It was completely a new experience for me, sharing an apartment with new people but enjoyed every moment of it.

Museums, zoological parks, we had hit all the touristy places. Tried out eateries, hopped into night pubs, even though my stilettoes did hurt my feet. When your arm is in your man’s arm, do you care!

I was high on love. Two places that still managed to sketch a mark in my mind, in-spite of high dosage of love. Debod, an Egyptian temple on the land of “Loca people’. And the other one that I will always remember is Botin, world’s oldest restaurant. Well, that does not say that I did not love Madrid. Of course! I did.

What made me enjoy my travel, apart from a dosage of love, in-spite of all the negative experiences?? I wanted to travel, I wanted it wholeheartedly. So, I didn’t panic. I let things happen, stayed composed and enjoyed each moment.

Yes, we are no more together. If you ask me, then travelling half the world was it worth it? Absolutely, without any qualms. One that prepared me for my next journeys. 

Few lessons of travelling that I learnt:

  1. Air France is a pathetic carrier (it’s solely my opinion). I don’t fly with them anymore.
  2. Travel light.
  3. Don’t check in all your luggage. Carry a light hand luggage with essentials.

This was an experience of a lifetime, one with varied experiences, but only the sweet ones linger in my mind. Experiences shape you and so did this baggage-less holiday has done to me.

Responsible Travelling

We all love to travel, but how many of us (Indians) are responsible travellers?? Many of us, litter at places, mess up the stays where we put up at, expect the host to be at our service round the clock. Everything is not the duty of the Government. As citizens, we are equally responsible for the development of our country. Every little thing contributes to a beautiful and developed nation. Wherever you go, please be a responsible traveller. And by being a responsible traveller, I mean:


• Pack your bags with environmentally friendly things. Carry as little plastic as possible.


• Do not leave behind any non-biodegradable waste.


• What you wear has an impact – environmentally and culturally – dress ethically and appropriately.


• Respect the local culture and refrain from physical intimacy in public places.


• Carry a good water bottle. Purified drinking water is available at homestays and hotels for filling your bottles. Refrain from buying numerous plastic mineral water bottles.

• Local food is great. Try it as much as possible and avoid packaged food. Ask for modifications in the food according to your taste, instead of wasting it.


• Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol and refrain from drugs, especially in public places.


• Seek permission before photographing people, so their privacy is respected.


• Do not pluck any medicinal plants & flowers, and do not disturb the wildlife.

I have been drinking water from waterfalls and rivers, and no I do not fall sick. It’s the most natural source of water that can be found.