Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts

Are You a Hyper Tourist ?

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Travelling has the knack of bringing out the abnormal in us. It can either turn us into lazy bums or into the hyper tourist. Of late HT has acquired something of a badass reputation from the breed that prefers to distinguish itself from the hoi-polloi and calls itself a traveller. The traveller will try to immerse himself in the local culture. S/he shuns the comforts of hotels, bathes sparingly, takes a snooze in a cave and licks ant-chutney off the same plate with tribals s/he has just befriended. The HT on the other hand would rather stay in their comfort zone, on the beaten track and in areas where the amenities are similar to what they have at home if not better.

Unlike the traveller who takes off on a whim with just a backpack, the hyper-tourist plans their itinerary like a war strategy. The destination is selected after much deliberation, intense research on the World Wide Web and discussions with other specimens with ample experience of straying. This is followed by further research on familiarising oneself with the new habitation, usually by the female. Pretty soon the female has acquired a formidable collection of anything that starts with ‘top ten’. It can range from ‘must visits, must not visit, hotels – cheap and expensive, local food that give you stomach cramps, bargain haunts, hidden gems that’s public knowledge.’ The more adventurous the female is, the thicker the folder becomes.

Spotting this peculiar type is easy. They stand out like a sore thumb dressed in sneakers and anything that doesn’t go with it. The female carries a handbag large enough to fit a dead body. The male of the species lugs around a camera the size of a Mumbai apartment. They can be seen striking funny poses and clicking anything that looks remotely interesting. It’s only later they discover that the heritage looking building they captured was in fact a urinal.

The femme has the propensity to suddenly go missing and leave her mate in a state of panic. She can be invariably found inside a swish looking store, surveying dresses, shoes and handbags, surreptitiously checking their price-tags and rolling her eyes in horror. Soon she’s seen moonwalking out of the store.

Their favourite activity is walking with a map in hand, looking lost or standing in front of Louvre and asking passers-by where Louvre is. Despite the extensive research that included weather patterns for the next 5 years before packing, they are either sweating or shivering in weather inappropriate clothing. Whatever made you think, weather is like humans that reads its horoscope and behaves accordingly. Of course, it has a mind of its own!

The Vacation Ritual

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We all need a break from being busy. So, we take vacations. Where we get even busier and return exhausted. If I have travelled thousands of miles, braved airline food, wailing babies and co-passengers with smelly feet, I might as well squeeze in as many activities as I can till I am ready to drop dead. Your vacation is futile till you can’t tell Babli – your neighbour who bragged non-stop about her heavenly stay in a 5-star resort in Krabi – that you also did paragliding, swam with dolphins, fought off a shark and discovered a hidden island. That should see her turn green as fungus.

A vacation has four stages – when, where, I can’t believe I am here, and phew I’m so glad to be home.


Deciding when to take a break is governed by a lot of factors. If you have school and college going kids who are still not embarrassed to be seen with their parents, you plan your getaway to coincide with their holidays. But only after they have attended summer camps designed to turn them into moon-walking, karate-chopping Einsteins and coaching classes for entrance exams to courses they have no interest in.

But if you are foot-loose and fancy-free, you wait for the symptoms to show up. These include restlessness, driving your colleagues insane with ‘I could so do with a break’ whining and extreme envy as you browse through the 692 pics that your ‘just-returned-from-Leh’ friend has posted on Facebook.


This is usually dictated by ‘10 places you must visit before you die of boredom’ listicles that you love reading while pretending to work at office. Alongside vacation pictures shared on FB or Instagram by friends you’ve never met. And a long hard look at your bank balance and all the outstanding bills you have piled on your table. Gone are those days when people could throw darts on the world atlas to decide their next holiday. The passionately patriotic Indian these days keenly follows prime ministerial itineraries to draw inspiration for new destinations.

And nations oblige. Mongolia, flummoxed by the influx of eager Indian tourists, is all set to start a chain of Jain vegetarian restaurants in their country. A Swiss escape to Mount Titlis with pics of Sonali Bendre and Aishwarya Rai in their restaurants is so out of date.

The preparation phase of a vacation is exciting. It takes considerable creativity to imagine everything that might go wrong while travelling (snowfall in summer, loosies on board, sudden craving for theplas in Heidelberg) before deciding what to stuff in your suitcases. Many women spend days cleaning and polishing windowpanes and scrubbing their bathrooms clean before she heads out, so that she can come back to a considerably less dirty house after her sojourn in distant lands.

Romancing the Mountains

He is Snow Leopard to the blogging world. Prateek to his family and friends, and will always be cub to me. As an intern with a non-profit Organization in  Satoli(Uttarakhand),when he is not discovering the wonders of apricots,plums and peaches, he's busy taking in the majestic beauty of the Himalayas and the simplicity of a village life.

In this post he pours his heart out to the mystic one (which I suspect is the spider on his wall).

P.S He's still looking for a spoon and fork to have his daa-chawal with and has sent an SOS to Oprah
Dear Mystic Vixen,

I pen down this letter as I watch the sun go down behind the snow clad peaks of Trimurti. What wonders I have seen and experienced in this region, you would scarcely believe. The beauty of the mountains is hard to describe forsooth; but I shall try nonetheless. White mountains rising in the horizon bearing stark resemblance to Angelina Jolie before mastectomy. The Panchachuli near Munsiyari are five snow top peaks standing in unison. The symmetry is such that I am pretty sure God drew the landscape during crayon drawing lessons in Kindergarten. The barren slopes marked by landslides, the dry pine needles daring smokers to throw a lit butt, the roads or rather lack of it, the bus drivers and the sheer drop on one side of the road - all bearing testimony to Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

The mountains ruin you, dear Mystic. One begins to wake up at 5 in the morning and sleep at 10 at night. All the years of conditioning the body and mind to be awake till 6 AM and to sleep with eyes open during classes are rendered useless. But still the mountains seem to have a hypnotic hold on most populace. I have noticed an influx of tourists in the last one week. Come summers and especially the summer vacations and everyone heads north, like a migratory bird; paying heed to some ancient gene from the time when our ancestors were still swinging from branches and throwing poop at each other.

Living in the Mountains also makes you realize that you might be asthmatic. A few minute walk uphill sends your heat-beat into overdrive. In an act of uncalled bravado, I entered my name in a half Marathon that was held in Mukteshwar earlier last month. I now have a very good idea how a fish feels out of water. During olden days, people used to come and live here to attain spiritual enlightenment and be closer to God. I think it is true. You suddenly realize your faith in God when you are packed in an SUV with 30 other people, and I am not counting the driver (who is usually high on hash or as they call it “Dum”). The last time I visited Almora, while coming back there were 34 people in and on a Tata Sumo. The Driver himself was sitting on a passenger’s lap and we had 8 on the roof and 2 hanging behind. I must take this moment to tell you that I have a new-found respect for all the hens in India’s poultry farms. As the SUV sped from one deathly turn to another and as I looked at the 100 feet straight drop on the left hand side, I realized I may not be an Atheist after all.

Brisbane Chronicles

Just when you’d given up hope that I’d ever write about Brisbane…
Brisbane is not a city many have heard of. Say Australia and most will assume it’s either Sydney or Melbourne. And why not! Isn’t it where our chachera Chacha, Billoo ki mausi and Mrs Gupta’s only daughter live! If a few of you are familiar with the city, you’d probably know it for the iconic Gabba stadium.

Brisbane, the capital of Queensland has less to do with the Queen and more to do with sunshine. Thanks to the missing ozone layer the sun is so harsh that within the first few weeks you start resembling a well-roasted tomato. Skin cancer is a huge scare here and we all slather ourselves with sunblock because our lives depend on it. It does have a Queen Street though named after Queen Victoria. All streets in the central business district (CBD) that run parallel to this street are named after female members of the royal family – Margaret, Charlotte, Ann, Adelaide, Mary, Alice while George, Edward, Albert, William run perpendicular to them. Royalty gets to meet only at intersections.

Locals call the city Brissy. Aussies have this amazing habit of shortening words – after a brekky of coffee and toast, people kill time in office only to get back home to watch footy on TV. Got it? Most are fanatically religious about their fitness regime and it shows and how! If there are some fat Aussies, they have done a good job of hiding themselves from me. All I see is tattooed hunks and women with fantastic figures.

And no Aussie will be caught dead with a bottle of Fosters beer, as the ads will have us believe. Fosters made in Australia is only popular in India.

Flanked by Sunshine coast and Gold coast on either side, Brisbane like most Australian cities is built around a river. In fact the city derives its name from the river around which it sits. My apartment is on the riverside and I can spend the entire day just staring at it. Never a dull moment – one can spot kayaking enthusiasts on a late night outing holding up lights, tanned Greek Gods speeding around in the water scooters, their ex-dads partying in their yacht, the city-cat catamarans busy ferrying commuters, the cafes and restaurants on its banks buzzing with activity. It’s the sounds of laughter and raucous singing by drunk boys and girls that fill up my otherwise quiet days.

The Iconic Story Bridge

Brisbane is quiet and too sane for comfort. Especially when you come from a city that honks, claws, barks its way through the crowds. And what’s worse it goes to bed by 9. But then one can’t help it, if there’s bright sunshine piercing through your curtains at 4.30 A.M!

Late night dining is as alien a concept as chivalry is in my motherland. I spent my first few weeks, raving and ranting about this uncivilized culture that closes shop at 5 and wears a deserted look by sundown. I mean what is one supposed to do in the evenings – watch TV? Thank God, there’s Friday when everyone dresses up in their skimpiest best and parties with a vengeance.

Everyone had warned me that I’d soon become one of them and slip into my pyjamas by nine. I haven’t, at least not yet.

Brisbane River

The Treasury House

Queen Street Mall - Image courtesy Google

There’s lot to do in this city during the day time. One can take a soak with a battalion of noisy kids in the manmade swimming beach pools of Southbank, treat oneself to Italian, Chinese, Greek, Tibetan, Japanese, Indian, Mexican, Vietnamese cuisine in one of the many restaurants dotting the city. Watch movies in the open air theatres, musicals in the Queensland Performing Arts centre, go museum hopping, immerse oneself in masterpieces at the GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art) or take a walk in the Botanical Gardens. James Street has some great watering holes for the undomesticated and the domesticated ones can press their nose against show-windows admiring the Italian pumps retailing for 900 AUD. (1 AUD = appx 58 INR) For antique shopping there’s the lovely Given Terrace in Paddington. For retail therapy there’s the Queen Street mall (where you can also watch some amazing street performances), Westfield Malls, Indooroopilly, Toowong and many more that I have yet to explore. If you are in mood for some adventure, you can always book a climb to Brisbane’s iconic Story Bridge, trek up the lit-up weathered walls of Kangaroo Point Cliffs or go Kayaking down the Brisbane River. And if you want to chill out, book a river cruise and dance to Lady Gaga. For the Vegas feel, you can gamble your accumulated riches at the Treasury Casino House, located in a heritage building.

To get a vantage view of the city, take a bus to the scenic Mt. Coot-tha, the highest peak in Brisbane, where you can sip coffee and take in the beautiful sights. If you want to cuddle up to the Koalas and pat the Kangaroos, head to the Lone Pine Sanctuary, a mere 12 km drive from the city. I promise you won’t regret it!

View from Mt Coot-tha

Weekends get even better – mountain side retreats (Mt Tamborine, Montville), sunny coastlines (Moreton Bay, Noosa, Gold Coast, Stradbroke Island, Manly), tropical rainforests (O’ Reilly, Springbrook, Kondalilla Falls) are all a mere hour’s drive away. If you are in the city, you can browse your way through Farmer's markets.
The city enjoys a warm sub-tropical climate, with warm to humid summer and moderately cold winters. Thunderstorms are pretty common here but enjoy uncommon coverage by news channels. The last time we had a hailstorm, news channels couldn’t stop gushing about it. The Indian in me can’t stop sniggering. Ha! We deal with scams, murders, arsons, rapes on a daily basis and when it rains we get stuck in jams for hours!

My face mostly wears a peaceful look now barring the odd muscle soreness I get for getting too adventurous in my fitness classes. I’m convinced that my instructor is trying to kill me and it certainly doesn’t help that his smile can launch a thousand ships. So, every morning I limp my way to the health club, ready to put myself through some more torture.

If you’re planning to visit Brisbane, make sure you pack a sturdy pair of walking shoes. It’s a great city to walk around, with all its attractions not too far away from each other. If you get tired, you can always catch a bus, take a river ferry, sit in of the cafes and soak the city’s warm vibe, as you sip your coffee. It’s possible someone walking by might pick a French fry off your plate and say hmm! This is quite good! Don’t be alarmed, just put on your best smile and say, wanna grab a beer, mate?

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A walk in the wilds

It was supposed to be a walk in the wilderness for the nature deprived, polluted air inhaling, city bred brats. Stressed by the sights and sounds of the city and tired of spewing angst at news that reads more like an obituary, we had travelled thousands of miles to frolic in the jungles of Kerala. Lush green forests where spotted deer roam around like stray cattle, where pigeons don’t shit in your balcony but on trees, where you wake up to the sound of birds and not the barking of dogs. Away from civilization and the blare of TV, even our mobile connectivity was as temperamental as Mamata Banerjee. It was indeed a pleasant change.

Snail Male
A pleasant change to be able to sit back and stare at the stars, to look for butterflies, watch the snail painfully cross the narrow lane, to dream about the delicacies the chef would be rustling up for us and play badminton in a court shaded by a mango tree, the fallen raw mangoes making a squelchy mess under our feet.
The Serene Pookot Lake
Come mealtimes and we’d stuff ourselves to the gills. It’s not every day, one gets to eat yummy Fish Malabar curry and squid Masala with spicy raw mango chutney on the side. And when we started feeling guilty of not doing enough touristy things, we promptly hired a car to see Pookoot Lake. The lake is one the most picturesque and well kept lakes I’ve ever seen - touristy yet serene with a shaded pathway on its periphery.

An Alpine Adventure

The Volvo was speeding towards Yash Chopra land. With my nose firmly stuck to the window of the bus, my eyes were busy soaking in the vast stretches of verdant greens. I was expecting Madhuri Dixit to surface any minute, running around in a flirty chiffon with Lata Mangeshkar’s lalaaaa lalalaaa reverberating in the background. All I saw was potty trained, fat cows and beautiful chalets dotting the landscape. Sitting next to me was my better half, snoring softly. The one, I had waited all my life to complete my sentences. To look deep into my eyes and whisper “you complete me’. This was before Jerry Maguire stole our line and bared his heart to his much ignored secretary.

We were on our second honeymoon, to what lesser mortals call Switzerland. Seven summers back we decided that we wanted to embark on a duniya dekho trip. Since it was our first trip to the Continent, we decided to play safe and chose a readymade package from a reputed leisure Travel Company. And why not, it promised the sun and the moon with a host of glitzy locales thrown in. It sounded like a pretty good deal.

So here we were, a motley crew from Kanpur to Kozhikode heading towards the land of chocolate and cheese. The word excitement falls short of describing what I was feeling. To be amidst straight- out- a- calendar splendour. So captivatingly beautiful that you almost forgot to breathe. The snow capped Alps, crystal clear lakes, glacier fed streams gurgling merrily, emerald green slopes dotted with pretty alpine villages, heritage buildings, cobbled streets, the sound of cowbells tinkling merrily – Switzerland seems like God’s own abode!

I knew I was in Zurich, when a portly gent from Ludhiana started hollering on his mobile. He urgently wanted to inform his beloved friends and family that he had reached Jurich and Yahan ka temperature minus jeero hai! Actually we had quite a few unique specimens in our bus. The newly- wed femme fatale screaming “Janooo... chaarries” at a supermarket in Germany only to be interrupted with a “but Aunty these are strawberries”. The solemn looking Doctor from West Bengal who would start jumping around like a pogo stick after downing a few glasses of wine...The penny wise Mumbaikar who survived on packets of Haldiram bhujiya but went mad shopping for handbags at Interlaken... And of course me, getting my kicks by observing the antics... Our co-passengers were thoroughly entertaining.

The Hunt is on......

The first thing you notice about New York is the queues.   When in the city you can’t escape one...for a taxi at the airport, to get seating in a cafe, for a cup of coffee, to get into museums, to get your photograph clicked with the bare torsoed model outside Abercombie and Fitch.  So enamoured was Tee with the Abercombie model that she asked whether it was possible get his abs sign an autograph for her. He won’t be interesting anyway so why bother, she snootily informed us.  The mother of all queues was for the ferry to the statue of Liberty.  One look at it and we fled for dear life.   The legendary long legged lasses (LLL) of New York  were nowhere in sight.  Perhaps they were held up too, waiting to get in to one of the famed sample sales?  

Our flight took us under six hours to reach New York from San Francisco and it took us three hours to make it to our hotel thanks to the long wait for luggage, taxi and getting stuck in the traffic.  For the sake of your sanity, please don’t drive in New York.

By the time we plonked our bags in our hotel room, we were dead tired.  But our enthusiasm was far from damp and like eager beavers we headed straight for NYC’s ultimate destination – the Times Square.   As we came out of the subway we felt dwarfed by the gigantic neon signs stretched across building facades.  No wonder they are called supersigns.  Anybody who is a somebody jostles for space here – New York Times, Reuters, the Conde Nast building, Ernst and Young headquarters.  The list is endless.  The Square, the epicentre of the city that never sleeps, throbs with an energy that tends to rub off on you.  It bedazzles you with its pomp and show and engulfs you with joie de vivre.  Even though it was well past midnight, the place was crammed with people, savouring the spirit of Big Apple. 

Notes from a Traveller’s Diary - I

Time is a pesky thing...when you wait for it to pass, it drags itself like a snail and when you want it to stop, it flies away.  

Our much awaited, meticulously planned trip to California has come to an end.  I am back home, jet lagged, with a woozy head and a heart that feels like lead.  It’s interesting to note how easily we get unused to routine.  A routine that you may consider mundane, yet guard so zealously as if is the bane of your existence.  A month of being continuously on the move, clutching maps as if your life depended on it, aching legs and experiencing the unknown – it was a rollercoaster.  I think I got addicted to the constant high.  

My memories of our trip along the West Coast and New York are still a scattered montage of images and emotions.  They have yet to settle down for me to sort them. 

Our vacation started with a bang.  Our flight to San Francisco didn’t take off at all, thanks to Delhi’s tempestuous weather.  Lufthansa did an Air India on us.   A day after spending the day holed up in a hotel in Delhi, watching over-enthused firang chicks dance furiously around the pool from my room on the 9th floor, we finally took off, albeit a day late.     

We arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and didn’t mind shivering in cold, rainy and foggy San Francisco.  Fog is listed as one of Frisco’s tourist attractions.  I wonder why we crib so much about corruption in India.  Imagine inviting tourists to incredible India with a come bribe a cop tagline!  Or an amusement park that features fasting babas or netas throwing chairs and chappals at each other. Which other country can boast of such a spectacle? And all that San Francisco can boast of is fog and a golden bridge that’s far from golden.  Bahh....

We had quite an ambitious itinerary chalked out for the next three weeks covering the West Coast and New York.  

California Highway 1 is considered one of the most scenic drives along the breathtakingly beautiful Pacific Ocean coastline.  My first sighting of the aquamarine ocean foaming at the foot of emerald green mountains will stay etched in my memory forever.  Northern California boasts of a stunningly beautiful topography.  The flora, a vivid hue of colours, the ocean sometimes a green, sometimes a moody blue, acres of orchards, interspersed with picturesque lakes – it is a treat for your senses.  Imagine walking down the beach and getting startled by the sight of a chipmunk on its hind legs, begging for a treat.  Or a rocky island with hundreds of sea lions noisily sunning themselves.  Hugging yourself for warmth on Pismo beach and watching young boys surf the icy cold water in their body suits. Our senses were constantly doing cartwheels and did we love it. 

It’s Time To Break Free

Courtesy -

It’s that time of the year again.  The air feels like a blow-dryer, the sun becomes your number 1 enemy and you look and feel blazing hot.   And like any mere mortal, you start making plans to flee the city.  You can’t help it, can you?  The newspapers seduce you with travel tales in far off lands.  You devour each line, caress the scenic captures with your eyes and end up wondering why you can’t be that correspondent who travels free, binges on roasted duck, sips Chianti Classico and gets paid to gush about it.  But you console yourself with the thought that at least your Geography is far better than it was in school.   Thanks to the many magazines, you know where Hersonissos is and can even spell Reykjavik.  Your friend on FB makes it worse by uploading photos of her recent trip to Istanbul.  You ooh and aah at the pics and cast meaningful glances at your husband, hoping that he is finally taking the hint. 

He finally does even though it takes weeks.  And then you look deep into each other’s eyes and ask - so where shall we go this time, your choice or mine?  You feel terrible that there are so many exotic locales and one measly life but still manage to make up your mind. 

Things are not that smooth sailing.  You realize one of the passports needs to be renewed. You don’t mind the long queues, the stuffy sarkari afsaar’s interrogation at the passport office.  Why, you are even willing to smile coyly at sub inspector Rathore.   The husband spends days coaching you for the visa interview (he expects you to crack jokes rather than answer the questions seriously).  You miraculously sail through the visa interview and collapse with joy when it is finally issued.  

Yessss, we are finally travelling to the East Coast. Err dahling is it the west or the east?  He gives you the “I am so disappointed in you look” while you mumble “Geography was never my strong point”!   The gargantuan Atlas that he had picked up from the last Word Book Fair is fished out and he patiently traces out the coast on the map for you.  

Now starts the real work.  Hotels are to be booked, the itinerary to be planned.  You might think, so what’s the big deal, you just have to decide and click!  Just sign in for a sightseeing tour and relax.  You see, for the Rays it’s never than simple.  And before I proceed, let me tell demystify the Legendary Mr Ray (LMR) for you.  For Mr Ray perfection is not a choice but a compulsion.  And whoever said “let good not be the enemy of perfect” was the biggest fool.   And since people always fall short of his expected standards, Mr Ray ends up doing all the work himself.  His quest for perfection doesn’t stop at his office; it extends even to his home. Yes he has fixed up the geyser with the plumber looking on helplessly.  I dare not ask him to buy veggies because he ends up spending hours looking for perfect specimens.  When we were younger he would refuse to sell junk to raddiwallas who didn’t meet his exact specifications.  Now where on Earth does one find a kabadiwalla who looks honest and has a smile that reaches up to his eyes!  I would spend hours in the balcony scanning the horizon for the elusive specimen.  Now do you get the picture? 

Cooling Off In Uttarakhand

The last time I was in Ranikhet, I was Phoolan Devi with her band of followers, plundering fruits from the not so amused caretaker’s garden. Not content with sour pomegranates and unripe guavas, we the bachha party devised a clever strategy (okay it was my brainwave) to pillage Amulspray -sweetened milk powder for adults but manna from heaven for us, from the kitchen. To hoodwink the parents, we would pretend to have a loud dancing session behind closed doors of course. The youngest was assigned the duty to sing loudly, while I would shovel spoonfuls of that sticky gooey stuff in waiting mouths. Oh, that was when Ranikhet was still part of Uttar Pradesh and not the newly formed Uttarakhand and I was barely 13.

I was revisiting Ranikhet after 29 years, with my husband and my 16 year old daughter. But this time, it was not going to be just Ranikhet but a road trip through Uttaranchal- an eight day tour that would take us through Ramgarh, Kausani and end at Ranikhet. We had almost cancelled our trip, with Uttaranchal being savaged by the heaviest rainfall in 40 years. Severe landslides had blocked off most of the roads and the floods in the plains had washed off chunks of the highway. But where there is will there’s a way, so what if we have to make constant detours and add couple of extra hours to our journey.

It took us ten long hours to reach Ramgarh, a picturesque hamlet near Mukteshwar. The parents have their cottage there and had reached a day earlier. This was supposed to a great family re-union on hilly terrains. It is great to reach a home and the comforting warmth of parental affection after a long gruelling drive. Curled up on the sofa sipping freshly brewed tea and listening to the pleasant banter, mostly centered on what we will be having for dinner, has a great unwinding effect. Standing on the balcony, one can hear the gurgling of a brook meandering through the forest below. The hilly slopes are a riot of colours with Chrysanthemums growing abundantly. In summers the trees are laden with apples, nakh and plums. I know because I’m forced to eat the sour, fresh off the trees specimens at our Delhi home. My heart soared with pride as we watched the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth games in far off Ramgarh, although I did feel a bit let down by the Rahman induced cacophony. The man needs to rejuvenate in the solitude of hills.

Heaven Is A Place On Earth

Picture yourself reclining on a deck chair in your balcony gazing at the “now it’s blue, now it’s green” sea gently lapping at the shore barely ten meters away from your chalet. A tapestry of dark clouds is playfully darting across the bright blue sky, hinting mischievously at a cool shower coming your way. Behind you, a lush tropical forest, the air filled with the merry chirping of crickets. As you leaf through the flora and fauna brochure with detailed instructions on what to do if you encounter a gecko/monitor lizard/snake, a mild shiver of excitement runs down your spine. It also happens to be your anniversary and you have come to know your daughter has done shockingly well in her exams (the mother was shocked, not the daughter). To celebrate, you have made reservations for dinner at a restaurant that stands on stilts somewhere out there in the sea. Heaven?

Heaven is somewhere in Malaysia, an archipelago of 99 islands nestled in the Andaman Sea. Better known as Langkawi, it is a curious mixture of low lying hills that dot the horizon, the calm aquamarine sea and the fascinating Kilim river with its unique mangroves.

We are but mere mortals and cannot tolerate tranquility for long. If our first day was bliss, the next day we had to atone for our sins. Distressed at our over indulgence of the gastronomic variety, we decided to trek up to Telega Tujuh (seven wells falls). Legend has it that the fairies used to come down to bathe in these pools. A rather long walk and 638 steps later (the husband insists there were more), the unbearable humidity compounding our misery, we felt like we had scaled the Everest. The seven wells give you a breathtaking view of the forests with the sea shimmering in the horizon. Even though the pictures in the brochures promised gushing waterfalls and deep pools, the wells were too tiny, the water scanty, the monkeys too many and all of them hungry. Perhaps the insufficient rainfall in the last few days was to blame (the monkeys I think got inspired by Kareena and changed their mind midway). We finished off our trek with chilled green coconut water. The water was sweet and we greedily scooped out the tender coconut flesh. Ah…nirvana.

Evening we decided to hit Kuah town famed for its Night Market. The market is a vibrant medley of vendors selling anything from garments to trinkets to even fresh fruits and vegetables. But it was the food vendors that grabbed our attention. Hey isn’t that an Octopus, God that fish looks really angry, wow these drinks look violently colourful, are you sure these are fruit drinks? And what did we end up having? Curly potatoes on sticks… I guess the sights and smells overwhelmed us.

Laid back in Brussels

Never arrive in Brussels on a Sunday, you will be disappointed. The city looks dead, deserted as if hit by a plague. Why Brussels, of all places, you would ask. Well, some years back when we took a whistle-stop tour of Europe courtesy SOTC we quite liked this quaint, vibrant, not so expensive (rare in Europe) city. So, we wanted to explore it a little more when we were Europe-bound again last summer.

Our flight to Brussels was longish - via Munich - but we don’t mind stopovers or scurrying around like lost rabbits looking for gate B57. We smiled at nasty immigration officers, glugged bitter coffee and even tried to read German newspapers on the way. We had planned meticulously for this trip. Planning, deliberating, weighing options is our favorite pastime. We downloaded endless lists “Top 10 things to do in Brussels”, “What must you to eat, what to avoid”, “What should you expect”. The husband brushed up his French. We surveyed dozens of hotels. When you book online and take virtual tours, the hotel looks snazzy, the rooms spiffy, the bathrooms alluring. When you check in, you realize photography is an art. Cozy, we murmured as we dumped our bags and freshened up for an evening out.

Jaisalmer Jottings II

The first thing you notice in Jaisalmer is the Golden Fort sitting proudly atop the Trikuta hill. A handsome structure, it is visible for miles around. Made from yellow sandstone it glows an ethereal glow in the morning rays of the sun. No wonder Satyajit Ray called it the Shonar Kella. And then you notice the cows… Dozens and dozens of them, dotting every street, infesting each square, pooping away without a care in the world. Every time we traversed the length and breadth of the town (which was quite often) we did a complicated hop-skotch to avoid cow dung .The sight of a busy posterior of these bovine creatures brought out the latent athlete in us. We almost broke Olympic records in long jump.

Located in the heart of the Thar desert, Jaisalmer boasts of one of the largest fortress in the world and beautifully sculpted Jain Temples. The town is divided into the fort area and the expanse around it. The fort built way back in 1156 A.D is now tragically listed as one of the most endangered sites. It is speculated that the leaks from the sewage system is eroding the fort’s foundations. The tourist boom has made it worse. The hundreds of mushrooming restaurants and shops drawing gallons of water are stressing the already overstressed open drains.

We mostly discovered the town on foot. The people are friendly, the shopkeepers aggressive. The displays in most shops looked like rags. How is it that the same skirts, shawls, kurtas with same prints and colors are available in all tourist destinations? Is there a “Great tourist con manufacturing industry” that retails all over the country with a statutory warning “To be sold to gullible tourists desperate for shopping”? Also spotted some innovative advertising. Stuck to an oversized kurta, “Makes your boyfriend look less ugly”. Excuse Me? I’d rather get a new boyfriend. On a bed sheet “Works better than Viagra” . Viagra makers eat crow, colourful ugly embroidery works better.

Jaisalmer Jottings I

How about Jaisalmer this winter? I asked excitedly after futile attempts to book in Coorg, Pondicherry, Singapore (exactly in that order). Thanks to online booking, other people start booking months in advance and by the time we mere mortals wake up to the need of a vacation, the best hotels and dates are already taken.

So…how are we going to Jaisalmer? asks my 15 year old daughter, a day prior to our trip. Hmm, we are taking the train, I murmured. Train!!! comes the horrified response. Does it mean we have to go to the STATION?? Stations stink… she announced grandly. What kind of a child are we raising!! I fumed to my husband later that evening.

On D-day we had yet to start packing. Husband was running helter-skelter in quest of a charger left behind in office, medicines to be bought, cash to be withdrawn….With barely an hour left we finally got down to packing and managed to reach the station just on time.


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