Posted in Life Travel, travel

At Twenty Seven

Going back to my diary, to pen down down my gratitude for this time.

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Few days ago, facebook displayed the reel of year 2017 on my timeline. It was my whole of 2017 in the light of innumerous updates and uploads that I had done in this year. This memory reel however took me to an old piece, saved in my diary that I wrote at the beginning of 2017. At twenty six, as it is called, it took me back to time which doesn’t feel very far and yet feels like a lot has evolved since then. I now look back at my twenty seven, only to see how far I have made it this year.

New Year resolutions and growing a year older almost comes hand in hand for me. I am one of those who pledges unreasonably on birthdays only to feel guilty about not keeping it by the next. Thankfully, 2017 was different; perhaps, because of the unique resolution that I found for myself. But, in other words, it was not only the resolution but also many other variables of triumph and failures that kept me going this year.

At twenty seven, I succumbed to the pressure of registering with instagram community, not realizing whether I will consume social media or will the social media consume me. At twenty seven, I pledged to travel more than what I had already been doing. I resolved to do at least one facebook check in every month from a different part of the earth. And I did it. I took journeys that were sometimes long and boring, sometimes they were ugly too but then there were also some which were extraordinarily rewarding. There was none which was not an experience.

At twenty seven, I was determined & confused at the same time. Determined to take life as it comes & confused about where my life was heading. There were slow realizations about how money completes the circle of life. There was a constant search for stability in thoughts. Movement was making me realize it even more and gradually it was also the movement that was becoming a deterrent to it. Duality always kept haunting me but it also made me bold. Bold enough to take decisions. At twenty seven, I decided to go back to my corporate career, go back to doing what I was good at and still be doing what I enjoyed doing the most – yoga!

At twenty seven, I realized that if I don’t have enough money, my travel plans will suffocate and lead to a slow death. I wasn’t ready for that. But I wasn’t ready for materialism either. And so, at twenty seven, I was experiencing life first hand. Joblessness taught me the value of my work; traveling taught me the outreach of my desires and yoga taught me the state of my thoughts.

My practice of yoga tried its best to keep me sane & sober. At twenty seven, my fitness schedule was my only constant in life. I religiously built up my strength to chase my next Himalayan goal, climb to the next altitude. At twenty seven, I touched 15,380 ft at the Rupin Pass. I was traversing bridges that led from one state to another, passed three different districts and interacted with three unique cultures within these mountain ranges. I was meditating on this long journey in my Himalayan abode. I was breaking old friendships and making new friendships; discovering that these friendships are journeys too. They come & go, make us strong, agile & receptive beyond our capacity. At twenty seven, I was reassuring myself, while the old ones might not need me anymore; the new ones have so much to share and yet there were some bonds that were growing stronger than before.

Travel bloomed all those wonderful stories into conversations & let my energy flow like a river. At twenty seven, I was unfurling new playlists, reconnecting with the magic of stars in this universe, trying to understand some fantasy fiction writers and also revisiting the Osho philosophy. There were new stories being created with great momentum.

While my facebook timeline was brimming with marriage updates of my peers, I was still limiting it to my travel updates. At twenty seven, I wasn’t getting married. In fact, I was moving cities. I moved to Bangalore as new opportunities knocked and I found my way to rediscover the South. This new kind of freedom movement gave a huge kick to my OCD of planning trips. The one that took up a lot of my mind space, it was growing stronger than ever, more so like an addiction giving me a natural high, extracting so much of my mental energy and yet giving me pleasure. It reached its tipping point towards the end of the year, when I was planning multiple trips simultaneously, only in the hope that at least one will be executed. And guess what, it always did. With my thoughts about my resolution going stronger, I was ticking some serious ‘before 30’ goals off my bucket list. At twenty seven, my passion passport looked glorious.

While there were a lot of good energies, there were also failures. I wasn’t writing or reading enough. I didn’t attend any live music concert. I attempted a content writing job with a fitness start-up & failed to enjoy it. I was rejecting boys and boys were rejecting me. The commitment & discipline that I hoped for was rather overridden by new age distractions and a lot of noisy thinking. At twenty seven, confusion still prevailed.

I looked back at twenty six and felt strong about myself. I wasn’t anxious, rather I felt empowered. At twenty seven, my independence became my first love. My heart was full of gratitude towards everything that I accomplished. I was thankful for all the kind words that I heard for myself this year. I was learning to prioritize the good, recede the bad and drop off the ugly. At twenty seven, I was balancing the dreamy me with the realistic me. I was decoding my own secrets, talking more to myself and learning to smile when it was expected the least. At twenty seven, I remember, I was a very happy girl.

 

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Posted in Life Travel, travel

At Twenty Six

Late post Alert. I wrote this piece towards the end of 2016, when I was about to turn twenty seven. I pulled it out of my diary a year later and reread it. 26 was a good year, I looked back, felt nostalgic and decided to share on my page. While some thoughts have evolved to a new stage, some of them remain fixed as it is.

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New Years are the most popular time for resolutions. In another way, introspections. Another year gone by and have I moved any further. How many items on my ‘to do’ list have I been able to tick mark this year, is the question we all answer silently to ourselves. During the retrospection, runs the reel of the past one year in our mind. For me, it is slightly more than just introspection. With each New Year I am gifted an epiphany of growing older. From an innocent teenager who had sleepless night before the birthday, I have turned into an analytical adult who is trying hard not to grow up so soon. But truth be told, we all are indeed growing old. Some of us are accepting it with grace, some of us are happily ignorant about it and there are a few who are managing to grow old with style.

While my twenty six had been very stylish, I wonder how my twenty seven would be. At twenty six, I did my first mountain biking expedition amidst the Nilgiris. I bumped into my doppelganger at a Literature Festival in the pink city of India. She is my most permanent humane love today, without a doubt. At twenty six, I happened to quit my well paying corporate job. At twenty six, I chopped off my hair. The major risks of life were already taken with these, and soon began the life of a hippie. I lived in an ashram for a month to become a certified Yoga Instructor. And with that I found yet another purpose, my thing; that I know I will stick to, for the rest of my life. Is that my calling? I still haven’t figured out, but that is my happy space, and it feels good to know that. Since then there have been long hours of sweating it out, breathing deeply and keeping calm. Oh! About the job and hair, people do ask me if I have any regrets and I answer with a smile, NO! At twenty six, I proved my hypothesis to be a theory — unless you do it, you don’t know it.

At twenty six, I ardently honed my travel planning skills by creating my very first Hop On Hop Off tour on the south western coast of India. In 20 days, I touched 10 new destinations. We call it the Epic South Trip of 2016. Its grandeur is etched within and will remain an inspiration forever. I brought back with me stories worth sharing. Stories of three friends who are now beyond the label of travel partners.

Half of 2016 had already passed by and I had still not visited my old folks in the Himalayas. My deodars and my pines. They were strong but I was craving for them. It is like cheating on myself not riding up north. After all it is a pact with self to spend at least 10 days every year with these old folks. At twenty six, I saved my pact. I walked over Guishaini and crossed the pass of Jalori, satiated my soul with the sight of serenity.

And then came along an unplanned twist; my first visit to Britain. I was flying over continents at twenty six. I love my life; grateful for every ounce of it. Old, undone dreams were fulfilled. I was exploring different cities and countries; not knowing what else would surprise me. Scotland happened. And then there was New Castle and Nottingham and London. I was all over the country, from North to South. I was biking in the country parks, meeting yogis and witnessing the Abbey Road studios. I was wondering and wandering. I was lost and found.

And at twenty six, I was also discovering how much I loved India. And how much I want to be here. The times when I saw Shankar Mahadevan perform live, or the humongous amount of street food that I consume to uplift my mood or the innumerous Indian Railways journeys that I took; happiness flows in my cells when I unfurl some Indian-ness within me. I was back to breathe in more of Indian air.

At twenty six, not everything was rosy and shiny. There were struggles of being jobless, challenges of a perfectly failed love story and the perpetual uncertainty of my vital position in the cosmos. Losing the mind was an easy bet, of course I did lose it many a times. Losing myself has been a constant fear. It would be unfair to call myself depressed but there I was, all anxious about everything. I wanted to write more, read more and discover more. But instead, my travel blog was not sizzling and my reading challenge was definitely not on the track. In short, I wasn’t soaring anywhere.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that I was bereft, bedazzled and perennially confused. In fact, I still am. “Don’t know” is my most used expression. As I pen down all my thoughts here, I am trying to figure out what all this means. What is the real context of this tale! And this is where I say to myself; everything might not seem logical, but everything is an experience.

At twenty six, I haven’t discovered the whole bunch. There are people I don’t understand, there are goals I am unable to reach, and there are mistakes that I have committed. Many a times, I think a lot, it becomes very noisy inside my head and leaves me with no answer. Sometimes, I know it would be better to keep calm but I don’t because yelling is an instant help. Yet I shouldn’t. Learning to be patient and learning from my experiences have been the biggest lessons at twenty six.

The year has now come to an end, I have turned twenty seven. For one more time, I look back at my twenty six and I see there are unforgettable moments and lessons learnt that I must carry forward. Twenty Six has been my age of casting confusions and meaningful insights, my confidence building and shattering, that sense of achievement and yet that feeling of helplessness taking over from time to time, to be able to live my dreams and yet immerse in doubt.

There isn’t a consistent graph to life and thank goodness there isn’t because at twenty six, I am unraveling the secrets of my physical being, deep diving into my mental space and demystifying the truths of my spiritual presence and I guess I am doing just fine.

 

Posted in Life Travel, Rajasthan, shiva, travel

Is Pushkar the new Hampi ?

I have been to Pushkar a long time ago and I vaguely remember the colorful bazaars and the saffronized Ghats of the Pushkar Lake. However, I distinctly remember the Brahma temple, the only Brahma temple in the world, making Pushkar a uniquely important spot for the followers of Hinduism. The atmosphere here is very spiritual, there are stories about the cursed creator, which almost everyone lives by and there is a lake in the desert that amazes everyone. Despite its relevance in the religious circles of India, it has managed to remain a tiny town with no real projection of its own. This perhaps, brings Pushkar on the world tourist map, especially for the ones who wish to disconnect. And this is precisely what I wanted for myself. I have been following the social media posts for Pushkar lately and I wonder what attracts the young to this undeveloped and undisturbed town that sees almost no action all day long.

The town of Pushkar is spread within a few kilometers only. The road from Ajmer that leads to Pushkar is a hilly terrain with some simple curves. The hills that you would be turning around are dusty, rugged and uprooted; they are rather rocky than tall making themselves very distinct from the skyline, they look vulnerable, dry and dead. They are not yet parched by the sun for the summer heat will snatch away any of the life left in them. They are spread far and wide, commonly also known as the Pushkar Tirathgarh Forest. There is an enticing route leading in that you would come across on the way. If only I was not sitting in the bus and had a bike to ride inside, it would have been an adventurous day.

Nevertheless more adventures were waiting for me up ahead. In no time, I reached the Pushkar bus stand. I had already made my bookings with Zostel, one of the most upcoming hostel chains in India. A GenZ concept, this one had all the cues of a cool and free spirited stay. A bunk bed cleanly prepared, just next to a rooftop restaurant, sharing the dormitory with travelers across the globe, bean bags and floor beddings everywhere, creative graffiti and posters, the ambience was just right to spend the day.

As I spent the breezy afternoon, lazing on a yellow bean bag, listening to some psychedelic music, I suspended myself to this carefree atmosphere of Pushkar. With no one around and no thoughts on mind either; I was smiling for being there. Sometimes, these simplest of experiences become the most precious of all. Being alone and yet not lonely counts as one of the richest moments of life.

The evening was spent exploring the town of Pushkar which spreads in only a few kilometers. As I walked out of my hostel towards the main bazaar, I kept revisiting my time in Hampi.

Is Pushkar the new Hampi? I wondered.

Amidst all its innocence and ignorance, Pushkar boasts of significant global attractions, a culture of peace, a carefree attitude towards life and no signs of fast paced urban development making it a hotspot for the hippie tourists. I could see another Hampi in its streets. Randomly spread rocks, unfinished houses, cows everywhere, open drains, selfless people, command over various languages, a sun that bakes the place during summer but keeps the sky bright, the hindu trails, a long treasured history, all those small yet noticeable things were coming to my mind. These places refuse to accept the urban phenomenon but happily embrace the humans of the world.

While Hampi has more historic signs, Pushkar is witness to the spiritual signs of life. There is a sincere sense of devotion towards the Hindu Gods, there are sadhus who withdraw from the conventional life and accept the beggars’ lifestyle and there are tourists, both Indian and foreign who want to be a part of it.

These long bearded Sadhus are found at every nook and corner of the town. Many immersed in high spirits most of the time, they keep a possession of their own delusions, it never seems like they have any kind of connection left with the rest of the world and yet they are pretty much a part of the Hindu clan. They are the true wanderers of our planet; they are the ones without motives and plans.

The Chota Bazaar of Pushkar that also leads to the Pushkar Lake and further to the Brahma Temple is the major attraction of Pushkar. I entered the colorful Bazaar and reminisced the last time I came to this vibrant corner of the world. It is only the name that calls this place small, actually the market stretches a long way and makes way for 52 possible ways to reach to the lake. Varaha Ghat, one of the most sacred spots, appears suddenly on the way inside the market and gives a wide angle view of the Pushkar Lake set in the valley. From the steps that lead down to the waters, one can see the far end of the lake, and the sun that seems to set in the forest beyond.

The Chota Bazaar of Pushkar that also leads to the Pushkar Lake and further to the Brahma Temple is the major attraction of Pushkar. I entered the colorful Bazaar and reminisced the last time I came to this vibrant corner of the world. It is only the name that calls this place small, actually the market stretches a long way and makes way for 52 possible ways to reach to the lake. Varaha Ghat, one of the most sacred spots, appears suddenly on the way inside the market and gives a wide angle view of the Pushkar Lake set in the valley. From the steps that lead down to the waters, one can see the far end of the lake, and the sun that seems to set in the forest beyond.

Mythological tales of this lake suddenly appearing in this deserted region makes it all the more significant. Endless stories of Lord Brahma and his encounters with his angry wife, the falling of the two lotus flowers and the lake that appeared overnight, every being here has grown up knowing these facts and the belief is stern. It is the strong faith that people live by, keeps the spiritual fire alive.

The Brahma Temple in Pushkar is the only Brahma Temple in this world. The God of creation is praised, adored and shown reverence in this otherwise insignificant town of Pushkar. Not only is there a Brahma temple to be visited here, as I checked the map of this place I also happened to come across a mosque and a sikh dham (Gurudwara) in the vicinity.

The beauty of Pushkar, and even Ajmer for that matter is the coexistence of and the attitude of sharing the space with other religions, despite the stronghold of one of them.  This was a trip dedicated to witnessing the spiritual symbolism, only differentiated from one another by means of culture and old established religions. Starting my trip by visiting the dargah, followed by the visit to Brahma temple and ending the journey in the warmth of Gurudwara, it became a kaleidoscopic journey into the rituals of peace.

I concluded this solo voyage at the bazaar of Pushkar, brimming with colorful vibes that is so in tune with Rajasthan. The picture postcards, the loosely hung bags with glass and thread works on them, the usual handprints on the modern designs of clothes, all of them make this bazaar a concoction of new and the old. There are newly opened cafes serving world cuisines that typically reminded of Hampi and how the remotest of places in India are accepting the farthest of cultures.

Italian food was on my mind since morning and I was affirmative to get it. I looked at the pale blue evening sky as I relished olives, jalapenos, mushrooms all wrapped in the molten cheese over a thin crust. I walked back happy, though a bit confused about the way back as there are too many forky ways that dissect and are hard to identify after dusk.

If unwinding is a part of your plan, then let Pushkar be on your list. You can be with the wind and your own thoughts at just the pace that you want to be in. If you are a solo female traveler, you can leave behind the safety related worries and have the peace in your mind.

Posted in European Trips, Life Travel, road trips, travel, UK Dairies

10 things that crossed my mind, in Nottingham

See more in UK Diaries

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Nottingham happened long after my Scottish holiday. I was mostly sauntering at the Rising Sun Country Park in New Castle, because it was the most accessible and the most peaceful around my home stay there. I conversed with the strong, gusty winds if I should do the next leg of the trip. There was a lot more to see and experience in this town but the south of England was luring too. The winds convinced me that it was yet another chance to be on the road, meet a few people out there you haven’t seen in a long time and no one really knows when will be the next chance to do so. A large wave of thoughts swept my mind and this led to book my tickets. I was ready to see the next high street, Next River and most importantly the next deck of hills, but this time more residential than solitary.

It was a short stay at Nottingham; life here was a bit fast paced than New Castle. At first sight, it appeared to be a hub of the Asian community, a bit too crowded and a bit too untidy. There were lesser countrymen and more immigrants visible. Very soon it also started appearing to be a student city, not just because of the display advertisements of the colleges in the city but also because of the part time jobbers who fill up the supermarkets and food joints. Many a things that I was observing around were regular, daily bits of life for them and yet appeared to be so different and sometimes strange for an outsider.

Here are a few things that I took note of in Nottingham, however, I wouldn’t hesitate in saying that they pretty much define the life around this country.  Though they are common in the West, I wish the East, especially India picked them up.

  • World Radio Frequency – Radio never fails to surprise me. It is a forever young idea to listen to a song that pops up on the radio out of nowhere. What was even more surprising was to catch a bollywood number on an international frequency. It was probably the last thing that I would expect in a foreign land but made me the happiest of all. Radio, the communication stream that can never go out of fashion, and carries these little bundles of joy. I was happy to hear a Shahrukh Khan’s movie song playing here in Nottingham and what would be equally interesting will be to catch the latest Ed Sheeran’s song reaching out to me when I reach back home.

 

  • Skateboarding – The kids live by their boards, no matter where they go, they want to be on their own two wheels, even if it means an extra luggage to carry around. The feeling of being able to fly, of being on their own and the one of being unstoppable, all come in a package. The fun lies in being able to twist and swipe through the herds and yet not losing the speed. English kids have certainly mastered the skill.

 

  • Cycling – A city without a defined cycling path is a city that needs restructuring. A city with a cycling path is the one that never turns old. Cycling, in my opinion, is the most natural expression of freedom and independence. Whether you are competing with the wind or you are slyly moving the wheels and singing along, the joy of riding was visible around the city of Nottingham. Besides, there is never an age for it; it is something that everyone here loves to do. As I see the rising number of cyclists back home, I only wish there were safer paths.

 

  • Running – Runners need no set paths; they only need destinations and clean air for their lungs. It is a sport without props; all that I saw in people here was the motivation to run.

 

  • A central river – Though it is a natural historic phenomena that cities in their early days developed around the source of water, in modern days, many cities are losing the sheen and shine of their rivers. That however is not the case with Nottingham. Trent River flows through the center of the city, the embankment is well covered with the greener shades and the river is put to use for some really interesting activities. As I walked along the embankment, I saw some houseboats, which I was told were the permanent houses of the families living within them. They, apparently, loved the idea of being on water rather than being on earth. I even feel, it is a great idea to have a home which is just easily movable. Apart from these floating families, there were rowers, speedily rowing across the length of the river. They caught my attention for a really long time. They were fast, moving in an organized way, synergized in their actions. All their energies were put in just one act and whosoever did it the best was always ahead. It may be too much to demand for developing this sport back home but it would not be wrong to demand for the redevelopment of the central river of my city again.

 

  • Country Parks – Country Parks are the proof that we are able to maintain the natural habitat of our area and that we are still closely connected to nature. While we may not be able to go on adventure holidays all the time, we would not mind to get a glimpse of dense, forest-like, natural trails around the house. The green cover of Nottingham is worth the attention it gets from its people.

 

  • Pet-walking – Talk about dogs, cats and rabbits and there is none you will not find here in Nottingham. While some need hand holding, some others are sincerely obedient. There are not just dog lovers around the city but also bird lovers and animal lovers. From horses to rabbits, everyone is pettable. The love for animals is unavoidable here; there is a pie of cuteness in every living being here. My favorite was a rabbit named Jessica, who is fond of strawberries and can chew on them all day long.

 

  • Old Age Enthusiasm – It is not just the animals that are being cared for, everyone who needs attention are entertained here. I happened to witness some feeble, old souls with a very strong heart and a desire to live. Their spirit of life, their will to keep going, their bodily incapability being supported mechanically and the ever shining bright smile that they never forget to carry is evidence that the city never ceases on hope and happiness.

 

 

  • Intended Politeness – This is the one I wish I could pack in my bag and take along with me. What they taught us in our childhood, is practiced all their lives. The mannerism, the amiability, the expressions that kills the ego, they have it all in abundance. It is totally harmless here to be polite; in fact it is a bit negative to be mean and arrogant. It is very easily assumed here that you too will maintain the politeness, but what wrong does it do! It is one of those things that they say speaks aloud of your character.

 

  • Public Display of Affection – And this one is my most favorite. This is the one that brings a wide smile to me. If only love was more acceptable in everybody’s eyes, would there be lesser hatred around. I see it as a sign of hope, as a sign that we all need a little bit of expression in our lives. And an expression of love is also an expression of freedom. The more we can feel it around, the better we are.

Nottingham is the quiet kind of place where I sat and observed. The home stay where I was staying was situated on the hill top, the one that descended downwards and with each descend spread out far and wide, with little houses built in this expanse where the people who carried these small acts each and every day lived. The window of this room opened to the whole city, the city that was vibrant yet simple. No matter how much I was enjoying the simple acts of life here, many of them making the mundane life interesting, I had already started missing my kaleidoscope; my plethora of cultures, food and people. But hey! Not so soon! The Kaleidoscope of England; the city of London was still undone. And that is where I was going to bunk for the next few nights.

Posted in Himalayan Getaways, Life Travel, mountains, travel

Mussorie Library

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Sometimes the most conventional places manage to surprise us, Mussorie was one such spot for me. They call it the cliche hill station now, but I saw the most iconic structure there… The Mussorie Library!

Those who have been reading this page since some time now would have figured it out that mountains are my first love! Every time the four-wheeled vehicle takes the uphill road, my eyes sparkle and the smile widens, leading to at least one dimple visible on my face. If it is an undone route, I wonder what magic awaits me, and if it is an explored one, I am surprised with what was missed earlier.

Believe it or not, but the road to Mussorie was still an undone route for me, until the last weekend of February. Call it a shame or just ironic, but I, in my twenty six years of living in India had not yet witnessed the charisma of the queen of the hills. While the Brits must have whiled away their summers peacefully on this hill top, the town now hustles and bustles with all sorts of eateries and other shops, bringing it off the list of offbeat destinations around Delhi. Yet if someone was to come up with a list of summer vacation destinations around Delhi, Mussorie will top it without an iota of doubt.

So, as my car took rounds of the mountain and started gaining altitude, I wondered what would greet me. Would there be monkeys hopping on the handful of Deodars, would there be too many similar faces on the Mall, would the Mall still have those ancient buildings reminding of the magnificence of the Great British Raj, I could not stop wondering. And as the last curve on the road was conquered, the gears were relaxed for a bit, the Magic of Mussorie cast its spell on me.

It came to me in the most literary form and shape and was extremely pulling from the very first sight. The Mussorie Library, situated right on the cross roads of the Library Chowk left me bedazzled. A public library on a hilltop is like nothing less than cherry on the cake. Though I have always dreamt of books in the woods, this time it appeared in front of me for real.  I had no clue about any such structure in this hill station. In fact the building had an air of mystery to itself.

Once again I started to ponder to myself; is it still functional, is it even a public library, does Ruskin Bond ever find his way here, would they let the visitors sit inside. The answers to all these unbridled questions were there inside the mysterious building which I decided to explore.

Mussorie Library stands tall at one of the ends of the Mall which makes it appear like an extension of a shopping arcade. The complex on the ground floor has a lot of showrooms making it difficult to figure out the way to the first floor. Facing towards the arcade, on the right hand side corner you would spot the stairway to heaven.

As I got butterflies in my stomach while climbing up, I also got a bit saddened by looking at the notice on the entrance door which read “For Members Only”. Anyhow determination took me up the wooden stairs. The sound of silence was at its peak. The only sound I heard was that of someone walking towards the entrance. She came out and told me the same once again, ‘the library is for the use of members only.’ I wanted to question her but I dared not. Since my days in Mussorie were numbered, I decided to let it go. As I told her that I am just a visitor in the town and only wish to take a look, she nodded approvingly but at the same time cautioned me not to click any pictures. I assured her of that and because I did not even carry any camera along, she trusted me better.

As I stepped inside the huge entrance door, I saw the wooden cupboards evenly spread across the length and breadth of the room. Some of them were embedded into the wall like the one that used to be in almost every Indian household till some about two decades ago. All of these loosely locked cupboards had books, books that represented an era. The cover pages of many of these books were fading, like a memory being lost. They were not covered with dust, giving it the vibe of an uncared national museum. The titles were unheard. May be my grandfather would have heard some of them. Or they were perhaps older pieces of literature representing the times when Indians were not well versed with the English language.

I moved forward with a focused glance, reading the name of almost every book. The subjects seemed to be interlinked. I wondered if all this literature has become obsolete in today’s age and time. I am not sure; it is still a good reference point for comparison between the generations; the comparison of now and then. The cataloguing was also manual. In fact it felt good to not see any of the modern materials around this place. The belonging to books seems deeper when men use their own sense of arranging and rearranging.

On my right hand side, I could see tiny rooms full of almirahs and yet space for one to sit. The solitude in these spaces was soothing. It was rustic as well as attractive. For some, it would be addictive; an addiction to the aroma of the pages, that have not met a reader since long. Everything here has a vintage look, whether it is the hard wood table, the cloth of the floral print around the seating, the photographs of the royal men and women, everything looks antique. Through the window of these reading rooms, the view is restricted and offers the sight of only a tall mountain, home to many of the chirpy sounds. Once in a while, they would visit, say hello and break the silence.

Even with so much cold and shrill, the Mussorie library is a warm place. I started a word with the only other soul in the building. I asked her about the procedure for procuring membership to which she replied with pride, ‘it is available only for the locals of Mussorie’. At present there are only seventy members, Ruskin Bond is one of them, though he does not visit Mussorie often.

While most books are preserved from the pre independence era, some new material does arrive once every year. The membership fee is nominal and allows users to borrow the books; however, rarely anyone pays a visit. Neither a tourist attraction, nor a regular spot for members, my heart ached at the thought of losing touch with this paradise. I longed to stay there and possess the treasure but all I had an informal permission to look at it from a safe distance. I extended my hand forward towards them in a friendly way but it was futile and my connection with them was only to gape at them with all the awe.  Thirty minutes of staring at books would not quench any readers’ thirst but will only reassure that books have always been man’s best friend. They are a reassurance well created by the man and for the man.

Posted in Beaches, HoHo, Kerala, Life Travel, road trips, south india, travel

HoHo Stop Three – Ernakulam

Ernakulam, also known as Kochi, is one of the most happening cities in the tiny state of Kerala. Brimming with art and history it is a paradise for those who are explorers of the city culture. You may find your style, your connection, your purpose and your relation with this city in any of the settings of this place, be it the sun drop sunset, or the coffee shop chronicles with a newbie, be it your love for descriptive or the performing art or be it simply the fishing point, the air here is enriching.

For more HoHo stops, visit HoHo Trip

 

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It was the 5th day and the 3rd destination on our list. We started the day early and hit the road before breakfast. In Deepu’s car we drifted on the National Highway 66, leading us to the port city of Cochin. It is a single lane highway and takes about two hours from Alleppey. On our way, we pulled over for the classic South Indian breakfast at the Indian Coffee House. The specialty of this age old chain of south Indian restaurant is the beetroot Masala Dosa, which is not at all easy to find in other parts of the country. It also has a particular style of making coffee distinctive from the western, whipped style coffee.

One of the many perks of traveling far and wide is greeting and spending the time with friends that you had not seen in a long time. I happened to meet one such friend in Cochin. Alyce, my close friend from the UK, also spent the day with us traversing through the streets of once famed Jew Town in India. We came across the remnants of the Dutch and Portuguese exploitations reminding us of the era when the Dutch and Portuguese had entered India through the sea centuries ago in search of spices.

Fort Kochi still beholds some of the stories from the colonial rules that existed in this part of India. From the Portuguese setting up the base, to the Dutch defeating Portuguese and the British conquering over the Dutch, the colonial history of Kochi is an interesting narration through its monuments that have stood against the test of time and in fact are a testimony to the strength of the human skills of those eras.

All of us on the hot Friday afternoon decided to dedicate the day to the significant history of Fort Kochi and the art culture that continues to add more colors to its cultural palette.  Here are listed a few “must visits” and “must dos” in the Fort Kochi area that we took upon ourselves before the sun set for that day.

  1. The St Francis Church, built in the colonial era of the Portuguese, it is also known as the Vasco De Gama Square for Vasco De Gama was once buried in this church. At present, it is undergoing a major restoration process but visitors are allowed during the weekdays.

 

  1. The Kashi Art Gallery in Fort Kochi – visit for grabbing a bite with the backdrop of contemporary artwork. The café is a cozy hangout and the gallery too boasts of a new and fresh collection every day.

 

 

  1. The Mattancherry Palace, is actually a Portuguese palace but popularly known as the Dutch Palace, located near the Jewish Synagogue. A monument protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, this palace showcases some of the archaic Mural art in the form of paintings of the Hindu folklore. A peek into the history, this palace would easily hold interest of those who are aware of the Rajahs of Kerala. The art flourished in there reign and fortunately preserved till now.

 

  1. The Jewish Synagogue is perhaps one of the major attractions in this area for one simple reason. A handful of the descendants of the Jew Community reside here. There are no more than 2 or 3 Jew families living in India now. It is astounding how they have been able to maintain their true identity amidst many other large communities that have equally contributed in shaping up the history of Kerala. In that sense, the heterogeneity of Kerala is worth admiring. Unfortunately, we could not make it to the synagogue because of the Passover Festival, due to which the monument was not open to the public. This 10 days festival usually takes place in the month of April.

 

  1. The Jew Town Street, right behind the synagogue, is a street buzzing with people selling artifacts and souvenirs to take back home. All the walls here are painted with bold colors that are brightened even more under the sun. A vivid collection of art pieces, metallic as well as beaded jewelry, coffee table books, picture postcards, and a lot of muffins to munch on, make you stay a little longer than you would anticipate. An ideal spot for street photography, Nikita quenched her thirst for photography here.

 

  1. The Tourist Police Museum is also situated on the Jew Town Street. We had no awareness about it, until we actually decided to go inside and check it. Turns out, it was actually one of the funniest museums I have come across till now. Of course, it had a superb collection displayed of the weapons used by the police and its evolution with time. What were disturbingly funny were the effigies of humans that displayed injuries while on duty. Also the fact that there was no one to elaborate on the museum did not leave an everlasting impression on us. Nevertheless, all of us had our five minutes of entertainment inside the museum.

 

  1. Onyx Art Gallery, also located on the same street, very close to the Police Museum, is actually an art studio that belongs to a local artist Sara Hussein. She is ‘Oil on Canvas’ painter who strongly believes in the power of her imagination before she strokes her brush on the canvas. A streak of confidence runs all through her work, there is also awareness and an ounce of her surroundings in her work. It was only by chance that we happened to visit this gallery and sensing our interest in her art, she unveiled her actual art gallery for us. It was a reservoir of her work which exclusively opens up for buyers. She also owns an art corridor in Le Meridian in Bangalore where she regularly exhibits her work. It was by far the most awe-inspiring place that I had visited in Kochi. I guess, some of the best things in life always knock as a surprise. And here stood we, not only surprised but also inspired and stunned.

 

  1. We retired for a while in Café Qissa, on Jacob Road, to have some coolers and contemplated on the overwhelming day. It is a great place to experiment with food, the music and the setup is classy and sophisticated. But they are a bit slow in their service which naturally leaves a lot of room for storytelling. I believe the inherent unhurriedness just grows into everybody and everything here.

 

  1. There wouldn’t have been a better way to bring a closure to our stupendous time in Kochi than catching one last glimpse of the Vembanad backwaters from the Fort Kochi Beach. They submissively merge into the Arabian Sea like the child fondly hugging her mother. The sun sent for us its last rays of warmth, making us slightly sad about our departure from the city. The Chinese Fishing Nets leaned onto the water flirting with the fishes once in a while. The breeze and the waves seemed to be in perfect harmony with each other which the crows seemed to enjoy the most with their little playful acts. All we wanted to do there was to observe the world around us and be immersed in its happiness.

 

It was hard to bid the final Goodbye to Alyce, one last hug is difficult yet mandatory. In reality, we were bidding farewell not only to her but also to Kerala. Kochi was our last stint in God’s own Country, until next time. Kerala has never failed to grow on me and my connection with it only becomes stronger each time. No matter how many times you are here, there are always more reasons to return. With great hope in my heart I promised myself to return soon and moved on to my next destination in Karnataka.

Posted in Forests, HoHo, Kerala, Life Travel, road trips, south india, travel

HoHo Stop Two – Alappuzha

After exploring the tea estates of Munnar and deep forests of Wayanad, in my third visit to Kerala, I decided to spend my time in the backwaters of Alleppey. While tea gardens and forests can be found in many parts of India, it is the backwaters that add a flavor of uniqueness to Kerala.

For more HoHo stops, visit HoHo Trip

 

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From Trivandrum, Nikita and I boarded the Hapa Express, a superfast express train that runs on the Konkan railway route. Though the sight of backwaters was visible from the train window itself, we were absolutely in awe of the canals and streams of water that were spread across the city. A main canal flows through the center of the city, not only dividing the city into two but also serving as one of the major means of transport in the city. There are government run ferries that stop over at the jetties carrying the people from the remote hidden villages along the banks of the Vembanad backwaters to the central part of the city.

Vembanad Lake, the largest lake in India, through its main water body seeps out numerous streams and rivulets, stretching into the hinterlands. Holding onto the banks of these streams are the coconut and mango trees, which bear plentiful of fruits throughout the year. Within a measurable distance, the villagers have also utilized the part of their lands for growing paddy that extend till the highway roads. Many different shades of green would catch your attention but it is the tint of cloudy blue sky amidst the green that will make your heart wonder and wander at the same time.

As Alleppey is quite popular on the global tourist map, Nikita and I decided to explore the city in the touristy way. In the three days that we spent there, we flitted between some of the well known tourist spots and some untouched routes into the wild. Our close friend Deepu, a localite from the Kottayam district of Kerala joined us and subtly enriched our interaction with the minute cultural nuances of this place.

Here are a few experiences that we enrolled ourselves in and elated our travel-itched souls.

Visit the Punnamuda Lake:

This lake happened to be the first spot visited by us due to the location of our resort. Ramada Resort is situated on the edge of this lake, sharing boundaries with the Nehru Trophy boat race finishing point. For those of us who might not know this, Nehru Trophy is for one of the largest boat race events in India, which happens annually in these backwaters. We spent our first evening admiring the widely spread water body and wondered how it was only the baby of the Vembanad lake. Though many options regarding the houseboats and shikaras were available in this lake, we decided to take a bigger shot by witnessing what is known to be the largest lake in India.

Canoeing in the Vembanad Backwaters:

One of the major attractions in Alleppey that tourists enjoy is taking a boat tour in the backwaters and tasting a slice of aquatic life on their plates. Shikaras and house boats are easily available and can be pre-booked for any given amount of time.  If you are traveling in big groups like a family holiday or a friends’ get together, then house boats can set a perfect tone for a floating private party. However, we tweaked our plan to experience something more traditional. Instead of a huge houseboat, we hopped into a four seater canoe. Nikita contacted Tony, a local tour guide who arranges day trips into the backwaters, inclusive of authentic Kerala meals along with the rowing. Canoe is a traditional wooden boat that can even be rowed through the narrow channels of backwaters, thus reaching into the interiors, where there is found a life of imagination coming to reality – peace, peace and only peace. There is stillness in the water and slowness in the air in these areas which can only be touched for a while. We rowed in a canoe that belonged to Satchidanand, a resident of Kainakari village who was also our host of the day. While his wife prepared sumptuous south Indian meals for us, he took us into the by lanes of Vembanad. This way we were able to chit chat with a lot of people around us, getting to know the whereabouts of a tropical lifestyle.

Must Know:  Try and book the canoe one day in advance. Off Season rates vary somewhere between INR 800 – 1000 per head for an 8 hour journey, and is inclusive of food and ferry charges. Tony can be contacted @ +91 9387812427

Good to Know:  Kainakari village offers some extremely scenic views of the lesser visited streams of the backwaters, gives an extra edge to your mission of exploration.

Visit the Alleppey Beach:

We returned to the main part of the city from the ferry and deboarded at the fishing point jetty. It is a 15 minutes ride in the auto rickshaw till the Alleppey beach. An evening hangout spot for the locals, what first caught my eye was an ancient and a rotten pier, unrestored and uncared for and yet complementing the view of the sunset. Though there are hardly any eateries on the beach and you may also find difficulty in finding a bottle of Coke, you would see that the locals are busy picnicking with their families. The water is clean but there are hardly any tourists on this beach. People were busy flying kites in the backdrop of dark grey clouds, on the other side of the sea the sun went down without much intimation, under the cover of these clouds. Getting a glimpse of the sunset is all a game of good luck, especially during this time of the year.

Good to Know: Do not expect a lot of eating joints in this place, but expect a lot of family crowd enjoying the evening breeze along with sea water. 

Visit the RKK Private Museum:

Located on the main road of the city, on the way to Alleppey beach, Ravi Karuna Karan Museum is one of the very few private museums in India. Dedicated to her husband, Betty put on display an enormous variety of collectibles that she received from some of the eminent personalities around the globe. The couple comes from a family pretty well known and well established in the coir making business in this area. Ravi during his glorious days expanded the trails of his business outside India and was one of the major exporters of coir. During his travels to many other countries he was able to collect the souvenirs gifted to him by the presidents and other important personnel. Betty, who now lives with her daughter in Alleppey, is the mastermind behind this enormous collection of art. From the wooden carvings to paintings, sharp cut crystal pieces to scintillating Swarovski work, shining silver to metallic stone work, there are craftworks collected from many different art forms. There is also a magnificent collection of ivory, ebony and tusk in the form of single piece designs. If you are an art lover then you could easily spend at least a few hours admiring not only the collectibles but also the far and wide travel that the couple must have done.

Must Know:  Photography inside the house is prohibited. It is closed on Mondays.  The entry ticket is INR 150, but totally worth it.

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Take a Drive on AC Road:

If you are one of those who love taking a shot at driving at new places, then Alleppey – Changanaserry road is your kind of thing. Bordered with backwaters on the both sides, this road is ideal for a scenic long drive especially during the monsoons. The locals here are skilled in growing paddy fields a little below the sea level which may receive irrigation from the backwaters before the onset of monsoons. So if the paddy has gained enough length and it is not the busy hour of the day and the rain drops are falling on the windshield, you can imagine what it would be like. If you wish to continue the journey, the road further leads to Thekkady, the spice town of Kerala. For us, even though the monsoons had not hit and the paddy was still very nascent, our drive was a fantabulous one, thanks to our dear friend Deepu, his car and his music that made it just the right thing to do that afternoon. What was even more exciting was the detour into one of the pocket roads that led to Thiruvalla city. An insignificant looking lane took us to a village where there were white churches, white eagrets binging on the paddy, a huge lotus pond and backwaters in the hindsight to complete the background for our selfie sessions.

Good to Know:  You can try the local Kerala meals at Avees. They serve some authentic fish preparations like Karimeen (a sea water fish prepared by spicing it up and steaming it while wrapped in a banana leaf).  Average spends – INR 1000 for 3 for a heavily loaded Kerala Meal.

Visit the Mararikulam Beach:

Mararikulam town is located on the Alleppey- Ernakulam highway 11 kilometres away from the Alapuzzha main city. We decided to spend an evening on the Marari beach, quite popular for its Hammocks. We took an internal road to this town instead of the main highway, thanks to the Google maps; it was indeed the right choice made. On the way we saw quite a few home stay options to pick from. The town seems to be popular with the foreign tourists as many were biking and enjoying getting tanned. As we found our way to the Marari beach, we were amazed to see the green cover just before the beach. Tall coconut trees and the stout grasslands holding them looked even more glorious when the divine sun shone behind them turning the green into gold. The beach is a pulling and compelling one. The waves are sluggish which would calm down an ever sprinting mind. The sand was smooth near the water; it looked like a dark brown smoothie; compelled us to take a long stroll while letting our feet dip into the waves time and again. Some real good laughter echoed in the air and we absorbed all the goodness of nature into us that evening getting extremely high on the happy hormones. Though we could not see many hammocks on the beach we were delighted to see the sun making its way through the clouds into the sea.

Good to Know: Much less crowded than the Alleppey Beach, very few eateries. Still holds the feeling of a non commercial, not so touched beach on the western coastline of India. Water is clear and safe to be in.

Visit the Pathiramanal Island:

Pathiramanal in its literal sense means “Sands of the Midnight”. I wonder how it would be like to be on this uninhabited island during the midnight. Belongs to the magnificent Vembanad Kol, this island is a paradise for bird watchers. We were welcomed by the chirping sounds in an otherwise bereft piece of land.  At first, we felt we were about to enter the Forests of Fangorns (Lord of The Rings) which may be guarded by the evil spirits against the holy spirits or vice versa. From the very beginning, the island embraces you and introduces you to a thick forest cover, with trees hugging each other at many different heights. The entangled green makes it dense and yet the sun forces to beam its rays through the natural net. Though a stone trail takes us into the intense wilderness, very soon we find ourselves walking on the dry leaves. The sound of crushing them made us believe in the rawness of this island.  Leaving the concrete behind we were experiencing the vibe of a natural habitat and what life would have been when development was not a daily affair. In these routes, we tried searching for our roots and it so appeared that men with great adventurous spirit have always walked and conquered the unknown. With our minds sunk into deep thoughts, we decided to spend our afternoon under the shades of these spectacular trees. In my illusions, I felt these trees were the close cousins of Onodrims from the ‘Lord of the Ring’ series. How I wished they carried us onto them and had some real historic stories to tell us. Nevertheless we had our own little history there with “We Were Here” selfies. Nikita and Deepu experimented a lot with their cameras as it is a photographers’ paradise too. Only because we were hungry, we decided to take the walk back; else this island would also make for a great camping spot. Though not sure, if they let you stay there for the night.

Must Know:  The place is more enjoyable in small groups. Carry your water bottles along as the place is absolutely uninhabited, you may find a few more tourists though. There are various ways to reach the island; we decided to take the speed boat from Kayyipuram Jetty Road.

Speedboat charges: INR 600 for a to and fro service.  Can take a max of 4 people in one round.

Good to Know: Visit www.pathiramanal.com for a detailed history about the place.

Visit the Thanneermukkam Bund:

To know and enjoy your time in a place like this, it either has to be extremely popular or you need a local guidance to bring enough light on it. For us the latter worked out, and the three of us whiled away our last evening in Alleppey relishing a local mango ice cream sitting on an embankment and discussing some very interesting differences between the three Indian cultures that each of us represented. We never lost the sight of our beloved Pathiramanal Island from here, keeping the smile up on our faces for the rest of the evening.

Good to Know: A tiny hut restaurant called Tharivadu in the Kumarakom city is worth betting your taste buds on.  You may try the mucles, clams, kappa and the meen curry. A great company to this sumptuous meal is the local Toddy, available in this hut.

This pretty much sums up our 3 days in Alleppey. Alleppey also has a popular spice bazaar and a few temples which we could not visit due to paucity of time. Who knows these may become our reasons to return to this alluring city. However, what may really bring me back would be the season of the snake boat races and the enduring monsoons.