A home away from home, ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal

While I was looking for homestays during my last summer’s travels to Uttarakhand, I had stumbled upon ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal. They were sold out, but I was already in love with the place. I am a daydreamer and often last year I kept visualizing myself at the quaint colonial homestay. This year, when I started working on my project of waste management, (where I am working with the village women to remove waste from the world ecosystem and convert it into something useful and beautiful; adding livelihood and pride to lives of village women), the first place that I had written on my list was Bhimtal. Though, I am still at the primary stage of the project, I wanted to visit Bhimtal, to look at the villages around.

I had quite a few e-mail communications and telephonic conversations with Padmini Smetacek, the host at ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal, about my accomodation and I got some good vibes. There are times, when you do not need to see something to believe in it, the energies that you receive are convincing enough. This is so true to this place. My general OCD-self was completely relaxed before reaching this place. From the moment I reached, and all over my stay, I promise, this has been the best experience of a homestay.

Away from the constructions surrounding the Bhimtal lake and nestled in the foothills of the Kumaon’s Lake District, amidst a forest estate, ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal is a home away from home. It takes a lot of things for me to call something ‘home’, and this place has everything to call it a ‘home’. It is an old British bungalow, maintained well, keeping the historical feel alive. If you love to unwind, wake up to the chirps of birds, get excited at the sight of colourful blooms, soak in the sun, smell the rain,  feel the pebbles under your feet, read and daydream, gaze at the starry night and paint stories in your mind, this place is for you. So, if this summer, you are looking for some digital detoxification, pack your bags and head to ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal. For queries and bookings, contact  http://www.theretreatbhimtal.in/

I have travelled to Kumaon, Uttarakhand quite a few times, but every time I fall in love with the place like an old wine in a new bottle. I believe it is not only the place, but it’s the people who make the place. And this time, I give all the credit to the host and her family at ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal. I think my descriptions would fall short to describe how enchanting the place is and you should make time for a visit to experience it all by yourself; and you would not regret it.

This place looks exactly like my childhood sketches, an old bungalow amidst pine, cedar and oak, filled with flowers and all plants I could name. It is the place I would think of, if I ever write a fairy tale. There is a ridge behind the homestay where you could go for leisurely walks, I enjoyed most of the mornings and evenings, watching the sunrise and the sunset while walking on the ridge. Breakfast used to be lavish affairs in the verandah, getting childlike excitement at the sight of colourful birds of varied species. If you are a bird or butterfly spotter, this is the perfect place. You have your complete privacy to sit and drown in your thoughts or choose to unfurl the artist in you. Or you may join for long conversations in the evenings with the host about her family’s splendid history. The best part for foodies like me is you are spoilt by exotic homemade food from locally sourced vegetables and meat. The taste will always linger in my soul. The family makes the best food and will give any Michelin star restaurant run for their money. From shakshuka, to kadi chawal, from pot chicken roast to focaccia bread, from lemon cheesecake to pumpkin soup, they make food that you will crave once you leave this place. The best part, surviving all odds, the host and her family is always smiling, warm and eager to help you out. They will guide you for walks to the Sattal lake, arrange a cab to nearby villages, make you rhododendron juice when you are back from a hike. They will even spill the beans about some secret spots nearby, which you can explore.

The home and the people breathe an atmosphere of comfort and peace. This is a  perfect get-away for nature lovers, botanists and entomologists, bird watchers, yoga and meditation enthusiasts, trekkers, walkers, campers, couch potatoes, dreamers, artists, and writers. If you are looking for a laid-back atmosphere, with the world class hospitality, this place is a must visit. I appreciate innocence, I appreciate an organic growth. And this is something you will find in abundance here. The kids of the family are so well-behaved and so full of love that it moved me. I feel sad, that in cities these days we are losing that innocent, unadulterated charm in the younger generation. I definitely love to travel to explore a new place, but it’s more because of the people like of ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal; there is always so much to learn from them.

The family strives consistently to conserve the forest and wildlife in the area. If you are planning to visit this place, please travel responsibly and respect the privacy of the host as well.

The parts of Bhimtal I explored during this trip, we will talk about it in my next post, because I have already started daydreaming of ‘The Retreat’ again. I celebrated my  birthday here. When Padmini, got to know about it, she baked me a cake and I had the most heartfelt celebrations in years. More than work, I relaxed here and on the day of departure, I didn’t feel like getting back, but with the hopes of going back sometime soon for a family vacation, I think of this place and the people fondly.

Every place stays with us, but some are special. Which is the best place that you have been to which you can call home?

 

I travel solo in India, and I feel safe

In the current scenario of India, it is very strange on my part to come up with this article. I feel ashamed, helpless and angered by the increasing number of rape cases in the country. It has given me sleepless nights and at times I have wondered if I should reschedule my travel plans. But holding on to my urge to travel, I didn’t allow my fear to overpower me. I travelled solo this month and I have been doing this since I was eighteen. I travel solo in India and I feel safe. I wish no one goes through the horrendous situation and everyone feels safe, be at home or in a distant land. As a traveller, I would tell you how and why I feel safe for solo travels in India.

1Carry a self-defence equipment

To be on the safer side, I always carry a self defence equipment, even when I am travelling within the cities. I still carry a pepper spray and have even upgraded to a taser gun. I make sure to place them in the most conveniently reachable part of my bag. And if you know any self-defence art, it’s cherry on the cake.

2. Dress according to the culture

I have always been a rebel about wearing clothes and have never stuck to the conventions of Indian society about my dressing. But while you are travelling, it is always wise to dress according to the culture of the place and not hurt the sentiments of the locals. That does no way mean that a dress invites a crime. I am totally against the notion. But I like to dress comfortably and according to the local culture. That doesn’t even mean wearing a kurta or a saree while you are hiking in the jungle. I prefer wearing t-shirts and tracks. I would suggest to wear anything that doesn’t grab attention. While travelling in a rainforest, I would not like to be in my LBD or stilettos, I would rather be in something that is comfortable for a hike and not seeking attention.

3. You will meet people who will worry for your safety

When we have a perception about something or someplace, we tend to think of the place like the way we have read. It’s better to ignore the perception, let go of your jitters and be on the road and experience. You will know how to avoid the nasty ones. And don’t you think we will meet jerks if we are living in the comfort of our city lives? You meet them at nightclubs, schools, colleges. Avoid them. This time, when I was staying at Ginger Hotel in Delhi, because I had to catch the early morning train, I was a bit worried to walk or to take a cab to the station alone before sunrise, though the New Delhi Railway Station is a 3 mins walk from the hotel. So, I asked the person at the reception to help me with a security guard who could give me company to walk to the station in the early hours of the morning. I am grateful to the employees at Ginger for being sensitive about the issue. On my return journey, my train was to reach the Old Delhi railway station at 4 o clock in the morning. The lady of the homestay, where I was staying, informed me that there is a McDonald’s outlet at Platform No 1 and asked me to wait there till there is daylight. This information was helpful and I did accordingly. People are nice to solo travellers, especially female travellers all over the world and in India people really worry about you and want you to be safe.

4. You will find ‘women-only’ everything

From the queues at bus depots, to seats at metro rails, you will find ‘women-only’ everything. You will find cabs driven by women to homestay run by women. When I booked the first class train compartment  and got up in the train from Kathgodam, I was worried to find the entire compartment empty. I panicked for a moment. I sat on my berth hoping that the cabin shouldn’t be filled with men. And thankfully, the cabin was reserved for three other women, solo travellers. Later, we discussed we all had shared the same worries. Happily, we made our night journey discussing everything and even reached safely.

5. People in India are friendly

Of travelling over the years, I have always found people in India to be friendly and caring. They would take you to your home and feed you with the humblest meal, but would not allow you to stay hungry. What we consider as over-peering neighbours at times, turns out to be the most life-saving people in the country. They will constantly remind you to be safe, not to be vulnerable to strangers and will always permit you to contact them for emergencies.

Leave your jitters at home, tie your shoe laces. Sitting at home, worrying over the perceived notion of the world would not lead to any experience. Work towards a better and safe place and walk fearlessly.

 

Itachuna Rajbari: A Weekend Getaway

Itachuna Rajbari, literally meaning brick and lime palace, was built in 1766 by the Kundu family who supposedly descended from the Bargis, the dreaded Maratha clan who invaded and looted Bengal time and again annually for a decade (1740s to 1750s). They were originally, “Kundaan” clan but since the time they settled, they embraced local culture and through word of mouth, it has become “Kundu”. In the present day, you can experience living in a heritage house.

A few steps from Kalyani across the river Ganges you will wade into the heritage Hooghly district. People from different places came and settled here. You will  find the elegeant monuments of the Portugese colonies in Bandel. Apart from that, you will find heritage of Dutch, French and Greeks. There are confluence of regional races & cultures too. Jains adored the place and even Pathans admired and left their traces here.

This heritage mansion is in thee village Itachuna, originally known as Bargi Danga. After the downfall of Mughal era, after the death of Aurangageb, Marathas became powerful. Many a times they used to attack Bengal,Bihar & Orissa. The erect watch-towers  from Singur to  Arra, Purulia witnessed the threat of Maratha warriors locally called Bargis centuries back.  Bargis used to come, loot and collect taxes. However, many of them never left Bengal and began to settle here embracing local culture. A sect entitled “Kundaan” settled in the remote village of Hooghly now known as Itachuna. They amassed  huge wealth and property by their wit and strength. Subsequently they became powerful zamidars/rajas of the locality. Over times they lost their original identity of Kundans, it turned to Bengali title Kundu.. They cultivated Bengali culture, Bengali cuisines, Bengali language and local deities. They became friend, guide and protector of local people here. They were pious and liberal. Their behaviour towards local people became a folklore even heard at the nook and corners of Itachuna. Still, people in the village put them on a pedestal.

The palace was made by ita (bricks) and lime (chun) and hence it was called Itachuna Rajbari. The majestic, splendid architecture and structure is intact  although it is about 250 years old. Currently, a part of it is being used as heritage-stay.
The Vishnu temple within the palace is  another attraction of the palace. Still now the deity is worshipped.
The caretaker of this place was guiding me to the artefacts kept for visitors. When I was exploring the huge property, its nooks and crannies and the rustic stairways at times I thought I was lost and couldn’t remember the pathways, but I was lost for a better reason, I was blissfully disconnected from the urban jungle and digital connectivity. The palace is a self-contained entity. There are rooms for royal families. There are space for amusement and dances. The visiting room has a magnificent outlook .
A night stay here will  certainly refresh your mind. If you spend seeing the village from the roof, you will stumble upon delightful oddities, when the afternoon gives way to dusk.

This place is just the perfect getaway if you are looking for a quiet, peaceful and scenic weekend. Away from everyday chaos this is the place to just be. The areas around the Rajbari is green and there are quite a few water bodies around it and one within it. It is a perfect place to rest, recuperate, and spend time enjoying nature, good food, and music! Yes, music of the flute variety! There is a person who comes in every morning and evening and he plays the flute. It was a lovely experience and somehow added to the ambience!

In the evening I was provided a tour of the Rajbari and the areas around it.
To sum up, it was a great experience to spend a weekend indulging in history and gorging on delicious Bengali food.

The rooms are pretty good. The experience of staying in a house over 300 years old with so much of  history was quite something! At present, mud huts have been built near the waterbody and people can experience night stay even there. The mud hut are each named after different flowers.

The food was excellent. They served Bengali food and the menu is fixed. You can choose between veg and non-veg food. The spread was very good. If you want to taste authentic Bengali cuisine this could be the perfect place and setting to experience it. You get to experience eating on old traditional dinnerwares and feel royal.

If you live in Kolkata and don’t know where to go next weekend, try to visit Itachuna. For more details you can visit the website of the Itachuna Rajbari: http://www.itachunarajbari.com/

Do not visit Itachuna Rajbari if you are looking for hotel-like amenities and modern comforts.
Come visit if you want to meet characters lost in a time gone by in a sleepy little town that houses a mansion full of charm for those that seek it.

Have you ever stayed in an old mansion?

Best Markets in India

We live in a world, high on digitalization. Everything that is a necessary or a luxury, is a click or two away. Being offline is the new luxury. The idea to go to the market, to procure the essentials, seems from the historic age. I have noticed, these days, when after months, I go out to the market, I am grappled with some kind of discomfort. Still, the flea markets have an unadulterated charm and attract dozens of crowds. Watching people, to purchasing handmade trinkets, relishing the aroma of spices wafting into the air or the unruly racket of experienced hagglers, a flea market is an experience that will leave you with history and culture of the place.

I have travelled quite a bit within India and while travelling, I make sure to visit the flea markets, get into the skin of the place. From my observations, I have rounded up the best flea markets in India, for you.

Colaba Causeway, Mumbai

The one-stop-shop for everything, this is a shopper’s paradise.You will find clothing, second hand jewellery, handicrafts, books, souvenirs, bags, name it and you will find it. Tourists are attracted to this colourful bustling market and even the locals flock this place.

Chor Bazaar, Mumbai

You might think Chor Bazaar’s name to be derived from the fact that it’s a thieves’ market, that is absolutely not very different from the truth. Originally, the market was actually called Shor Bazaar, but that quickly got corrupted because the British pronounced it as ‘Chor.’ The name stuck, and India inherited the mispronunciation. The shopkeepers at the bazaar have been true to the reputation, though, and if your haggling skills are good you can find some of the best second hand antiquities and trinkets in abundance.

Laad Bazaar, Hyderabad

It is situated in an alley. Visually vivid, this place is famous for beautiful and colourful bangles, semi-precious stones, pearls and other jewellery.

Arpora Saturday Night Market, Goa

This is more of a carnival than a flea market. It is open only on Saturday nights and you will find clothes, handmade accessories, shoes, bags, home decor and a lot more. To add to it there is street food and live music. This is an experience that I highly recommend.

Sarojini Nagar, Delhi

You must experience shopping at this place once. With the best of available fashion in a bargainable price, this place will enchant you. I have bought the best of international brands clothes in less than half the price fro here.

Parry’s Corner, Chennai

A world of colours, this place is packed with people.  You can pick anything from books to clothes to everyday household items.  You need to daunt your way through the crowd.

Johari Bazaar, Jaipur

Johari Bazaar is a place where five hundred stores call it a home and it caters to every mood and every need. From jewels, gems, precious stones, to just traditional Rajasthani gold jewelry, the market is full of skilled artisans with generations of experience in the field, which helps them find the best match for you. To add to that, the other markets like Bapu Bazaar and Nehru Bazaar, are in the surrounding where you can find gorgeous garbs as well. You need to sip into the  lassi at and everything is a perfect equation.

Anjuna Flea Market, Goa

Every flea market has its own story and Anjuna’s is rather fascinating. There’s a story that the Anjuna Flea Market was started decades ago by a bunch of hippies who created handcrafted merchandise that helped them fund their stay in Goa. Today, the market only operates on Wednesdays and has the best merchandise from all around the country available at multifarious stalls that are set up by locals in the area. This flea market is complete with delicious street food and amazing live performances to go with the shopping.

Ima Market, Manipur

It  is one of the oldest markets in India, and even the spectacular one too. Ima Market, is run solely by thousands of women, making it Asia’s largest (and in all probability, one of a kind) all-women’s market. The self-dependent women sell everything from handicrafts to fish in a remarkable setting that is simply unheard of and hard to find elsewhere. In fact, its origins are said to date back to the 16th century, making it one of oldest women empowerment movements in the country.

Dilli Haat, Delhi

The word ‘haat‘ is used to describe a market in many parts of rural India. Dilli Haat, essentially, is a traditional rural market. Situated in the south of the chaotic capital, the ‘haat’ has been operational since 1994 and has various exclusive and exotic handicrafts on offer that showcase the talent of the many skilled artisans and the terrific detailing and intricacies with which they work. You can experience many cultural and musical performances while shopping in the market.

Chandni Chowk, Delhi

Built in the 17th century by Shah Jahan and designed by his daughter Jahan Ara, it remains one of India’s largest and busiest markets. You will find the most  freshly made Indian sweets, the taste of which will linger in your mouth, the Chowk is also famous for home decor items, various fabrics, junk jewelry, as well as electronics.

Sardar Market, Jodhpur

Situated a stone’s throw away from the famous Mehrangarh Fort, the panoply of the market will quickly have you under its spell. You will find mojris, handicrafts, textiles, bangles, and even unadulterated spices by and you can get them for a good deal, if you are good at bargaining.

Janpath Market, Delhi

Janpath is one of the most impressive flea markets. The name literally translates to the people’s path, and the kilometer-and-a-half stretch runs perpendicular to the Rajpath (the rulers’ path). The market is famous for its Kashmiri Pashmina Shawls, Kurtis, Himalayan and Tibetan products, as well as the many ebullient hawkers who sell a bunch of baubles and gimmicks.

New Market, Kolkata

The New Market in Kolkata was constructed in 1874 simply because the British colonists refused to rub shoulders with the Indian populace at markets. The New Market has endured two major fires, regular flooding, and an exotic pet-trading business that was only uncovered and stopped in the mid-70s. It’s 2000 stalls sell everything from marble counters, saris, and crockery to Nahoum & Sons’ cakes that patrons have enjoyed for well over a century.

Jew Town, Cochin

India was home to many Jewish people who lived peacefully in the country for over two centuries. Post 1948, many chose to move to Israel, but the few who chose to stay in Cochin own a majority of the shops in this market called Jew Town. The last known surviving Jews in the area make a living by selling spices, perfumes, shawls, handcrafted products, jewelry, and other similar products from around the country.

 

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.

How I started My Travelling everafter ??

It was August 2012. I got back to Kolkata, from Bangalore. My whole world was turned upside down. It was my life, that I couldn’t recognize. Blood was gushing to my head and I was gasping for breath. I moved out of a choking, broken relationship. I was the one, who seemed to be at fault! I was financially bankrupt. My father underwent an open heart surgery. I was blamed, for him to have gone through procedures under the knife! I had changed the city, for my family’s emotional well being, without any qualm, but I could not adjust to the work culture in Kolkata. I was breathing, functioning, but not living. Not by any means. I was there, existing.

I am not trying to sell you a story here. I am trying to sell you optimism, with which you can climb mountains. And I am telling you this, because there was no-one to tell me, but if you dream, if you want to change your situation, “Start where you are, Use what you have, Do what you can”.

The only connection between me and my life was sketching and daydreaming. Like a child, in school days, I would draw, mountains, a river flowing through the middle of the mountains, the sun rising and birds flying, with clouds floating around. Though this was my favourite image since I can remember. At night, I would stay wide awake, looking at the midnight blue sky full of stars and dream to sleep under millions of them.

Even before this situation, I have been claustrophobic. I always cherished the vacations we used to take, in school days. Writing an essay on it has been my all time favourite activity. I always looked for the getaway opportunity, in my growing up days. I used to sit in glass-paned office and look at the sky, mindlessly for hours. In my leisure time, I cultivated life’s pleasures from putting emotions into words and shapes, from capturing moments under the rain, by soaking in the sun, smelling the air, and plating memories on dinner plates. That is why I call myself a quaintrelle.

Finally, by mid-2013, I decided to quit my job, quit the life I was breathing and start living, start creating, start living. I had no savings to follow my dreams (instead of working in an MNC. That riches to rags story I can touch down upon some other day). But, I have something many doesn’t, an incurable optimism and palpable lung power, to get out of the situation.

Probably, I would have started rigorous travelling only by my 60s, if my bones would have permitted, like most of the vacation deprived Indians, when my children would have been married and settled. But, I could not wait that long, I could not have waited for a star to fall into my hand. I had to rise, take the star in my hand, and make it shine. I took a leap of faith. I followed my heart. Success is very subjective. To me, a part of it is taking my own decisions, making a choice.

I quit my job; I abandoned my history’s shame, kept my head when all were doubting me. I walked lanes, I walked cities, crossed countries and continents. I followed my forever dream, I travelled through my adulthood crisis and walked the road for me. I started travelling, connecting the dots and seeing my sketches as a living entity, in front of my eyes. And this allowed me to indulge in all my leisurely pleasures. Nobody else could have walked that for me. Yes, people did question me and condemn my idea, but they were not funding my dreams, so I wasn’t answerable to anyone. People will discourage you no matter what you do, but if you keep listening to them, you will never face your life head-on.

I have walked, taken public transport, eaten with locals, slept in tents, and I still prefer doing the same, getting under the skin of the place. I am not a backpacker, neither do I avoid the touristy places. I travel. I have taught kids while travelling, I have written contents for travel brands, magazines, engaged in freelance photography, I have sold my pictures as postcards and prints, I have upcycled products and exhibited them, to fund my travel dreams.

Having no qualms about what I have left behind, I followed my intuition, not to escape; to face my battles. To turn the sunny side up, I started travelling, which has given me enough reasons to rejoice and evolve; since then, there has been no looking back, The road hasn’t been rosy like an Instagram feed but so isn’t real life. I made a choice, a choice from which I never have to escape. I keep travelling ever after.

I started travelling, for living, living my life.