Monday, December 30, 2013

Journey is as important as the destination

This trip is full of adventures and thankfully good surprises. Last night’s journey was no different. I got a seat in a half-sleeper-half-seating bus. More than one-third of the bus-seats were converted into sleepers. I, fortunately, had the good sense to book a seating seat. In the sleeper seats two people lay down with each other. Now this business of sharing seats was fine till the time you knew the other person but sharing the sleeper seat with a stranger, now that would have been an adventure of a kind I was not very keen to pursue. But I am sure Loofah would have been very happy if I would have indulged in such an adventure!

The bus journey we were told would last 12 hours. However, the driver seemed to be in a hurry and he managed to complete the stretch in 10 hours flat. So instead of reaching Magaon at the decent hour of 7 am, I was on the road at 5 am, way earlier than the sun had risen. I hired an autorickshaw who charged an exorbitant amount. He was not sure where the guesthouse I was supposed to anchor myself in for the next two days was, so in the early hours of the day, he and I went asking anyone who would lend us his ears for the directions.

Finally we reached the Railway Holiday Home. This holiday home is just behind the hilltop that provides a scenic backdrop to the Vasco da gama railway station. The holiday home is next to a tower, giving me a feeling of the towers where princesses were trapped in the numerous fairytales we read as children. The formalities done, I paid the grand sum of Rs. 150 to the caretaker for renting the suite for 2 days (yes! It is very cheap thanks to mum). After settling into the room I went of to sleep. I slept a good 3 hours. After getting a message from SKT that their flight had landed, I sprang into action and had a bath and got ready before SKT and Frooti arrived.

I was looking forward to meeting them and re-connecting with a part of the world I had left behind a week ago. But I was also anxious. The idea of the re-union scared me a little. I felt I had cut-off from the world and frankly, the isolation seemed like a haven, a bubble I did not want to burst so early. Thankfully, I did not have too much time on my hand to brood over these thoughts and soon both of them were here. The re-union was fun and it seemed like I had never left my world.

SKT and Frooti’s opening declaration was that they were hungry. So we decided that it would be best if we all left immediately and attacked Britto’s at the earliest. It took us close to an hour to leave the holiday home and then another hour and a half and a very expensive taxi ride to reach the Baga Beach. The three of us reserved three sunbeds and ordered food with enthusiasm. SKT got her hair braided, I got a foot massage (another one checked from the list Sangy gave me) and Frooti clicked out photos and kept us entertained by her observations/remarks on the other people enjoying the sun on the beach.  

 Water makes me happy, anytime. But being in water with friends is even more wonderful. We sang songs. I never miss a chance to sing Gulzar sa’ab’s Chhai chhapa chhai when walking on a beach. It was a great way to spend the evening.

For our return to our fort, we needed to hire a taxi. The first taxi driver we spoke to asked us for Rs. 1500. The three of us were so angry at his exorbitant demand that we just walked off and did not even think of haggling with him. The more we walked and spoke to more taxi drivers, the higher the demand for fare became. Finally we ended up paying Rs. 2000 to the taxi driver. Lesson learnt! We will hire a car tomorrow and make use of our driving licenses.  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

And on Sunday, she rested

The last five days of running around in the sun and having fun have taken a toll on me. As is a holiday ritual with me, I was badly sunburnt. So today, I decided to celebrate Sunday in a haze of Avil induced sleep. Since you have vicariously enjoyed my holiday, I think it is only fair that you get a dose of details of my sunburnt, itchy skin! I am kind and generous like that.

So my arms are burnt. They are red and itchy. Fortunately, the burn on the face is limited to my lips (which are scaling a little). Thanks to a tablet of Avil, lots and lots of lotion, and a blast from the air conditioner I have managed to keep it in control. Since I had covered all the spots of Hampi in the last two days, I decided to stay in the hotel the whole day. I had a heavy breakfast. Came back to my room and went to sleep. SKT called and it was a pleasure talking to her. I love the excitement I hear in her voice when she talks about my travelling alone. I went back to sleep with a big smile on my face.

After a good four-hour nap (yes, I’ll call it a nap), I got up and did a mental revision of the days gone by. For those who know me, I do these revisions often. Since I don’t plan to cry on 31 December this year as I’ll be with friends, I decided to do the recap of the year a couple of days early.

The year has been good. Mom’s chemo cycles of the year weren’t too bad. She once again fought like a hero and came out of it with a big smile and a fresh mop of hair. She became more active on Twitter. Made new friends and planted loads of pots. Thinking about both of these achievements of hers make me happy.

I look back and think about friends. Friends who stood behind me like rocks (it’s only fair that I call them rocks since I am blogging from Hampi) ensured that this year was enjoyable. Parle, Sangy, SKT, Anky, Titu, Loofah, Jaspinder, and Sweater, ensured that I smiled and laughed even when things were on the edge of going terribly wrong. Now that look back on the year, I travelled a lot. I went to Pachmarhi with friends, to Dalhousie and Khajjiar on an office trip, to Udaipur with mom, to Bhopal with mom to meet family, and now to Goa and Hampi. From where I stand, it is very difficult for me to remember what went wrong this year. Thank god! I think this year was awesome.

If all the travelling was not enough, I also pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone and learn a new language. I plan to continue learning Spanish in the months to come.

I paid all the E.M.Is for my car. I also spent a lot of money on gadgets. I bought myself an iPod, a MacBook Air and a phone. And as Loofah will remind me again with a well-deserved smirk, I was supposed to be on an austerity drive this year. Well that is one resolution I don’t mind postponing to the next year.

The biggest achievement for this year is that I have not cried even once in the last 7 days. I think that is a record of sorts. Hopefully, I will cry even lesser in 2014.

This evening, I will be taking an overnight bus to Goa. Will return to blogging about the travels and adventures tomorrow.

Have a great time!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Celebrating, celebrity style!

The day began early, very early. I went to see the sunrise at, wait for it, sunrise point. Santosh had told me to be ready by 5:15 am. I, being me, was up at 4:30 am and ready by 5 am. It was pitch black and windy and cold when we left the warmth of the hotel. The 2 kilometer drive to the sunrise point was one of the longest drives of this trip. Thoughts of all the things that could go wrong came to my mind and I had to fight the negativity and force myself to enjoy the adventure.

And boy, was it an adventure! We reached the base of the point, a Lord Ram Temple, in 15 minutes. It was still dark, so dark that the moon was shining bright and if one thought of doing it, one could count all the stars. Santosh led me to the temple where two pujaris were doing a path of Ramayana. I was informed that in that temple Ramayana was read without a break. Two pujaris each, read in three shifts, through the day and night. The experience would have been truly divine if they sang/read in tune. Unfortunately, they read like others accuse me of singing. It was almost a torture to wait for other enthusiastic travellers to reach the base point and the light to break. After listening to the Ramayana for a little more than half an hour, another auto arrived at the temple gate. Santosh and the other driver exchanged notes and it was decided that we could begin the climb with the help of the torchlights installed in their mobile phones.

The climb was a mini-adventure in itself. We had to climb a way, which was made of huge boulders with smooth surfaces. Finding a foothold on those boulders would have been a task even during broad daylight but doing it before dawn was a nightmare for me. I somehow managed the climb without hurting myself and found the perfect spot to see the sun rise from behind the hills. We still had another 20 minutes of wait before light started to creep in. The experience of watching a sunrise is always special. My thoughts continuously went to back to the month of March when I was in another part of the country watching the sunrise with my friends—Anky, SKT, Sangy and Titu. The joy that the first ray of lights bring were no different today. I saw life spring into action before my eyes.

By this time, the number of tourists on the hilltop had increased manifold. The birds had woken up and were giving their morning calls, and in the distance I could see farmers beginning their morning rituals. Surprisingly, only foreigners had made the effort to wake up early and climb the top. There were no other Indian tourists apart from me. I noticed that most of them were carrying bunches of bananas. I thought to myself, ‘They might want to eat the bananas before breakfast. What an idea! I should have bought some for myself as well.’ But to my horror, the bananas were for monkeys.

While light had filled the entire sky, the sun was nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, a troop of monkeys ascended on the hilltop. To begin with the tourists were giving a single banana to one monkey at a time. Then a big one came and decided one was not enough for him. He snatched the entire bag and went down the slope. And then I saw the most foolish woman ever. Like really, EVER! She ran behind the monkey and tried to snatch the plastic bag with the bananas. Almost an hour of waiting for the sun had passed by then. I had lost patience and decided to go back to the hotel.

Santosh complied. As we were driving down the hill, I spotted an orange sun. I squealed, I kid you not, and asked him to stop the autorickshaw. I was out of the vehicle with my camera around my neck and bag negligently left behind in the autorickshaw. I saw the best sunrise from that point. It was a big orange ball of fire. I was alone on a big boulder with my camera and no one to disturb me. Santosh parked his autorickshaw and came carrying my bag. He insisted to click a couple of my photos with the orange sun in the background, 'Memories hona maangta naa madam!' I had to oblige.

Then we went back to the hotel for breakfast. The second leg of the day began with Santosh taking me around to see more monuments and ruins. Since it was a Saturday there were a lot of students, from the nearby areas, who were also out exploring the Hampi ruins with their teachers. Most of these kids made me feel like a celebrity. They would start with a shy smile and a wave. Then they would proceed to say, ‘Hi!’ When I responded with a smile and equal enthusiasm, they practiced their English with me. One asked, ‘What is your name?’; one more asked ‘what is your father name?’; another wanted to know, ‘Where you come from?’  When I gave them answers, they enthusiastically shook my hand. One asked to pull my cheek. I saw so much love in the eyes of those children. It was a wonderful experience and worth travelling alone. I figured that had I been with friends, the kids would not have approached me. Since I was alone, they found it easier to talk to me, request me to click their photographs and share their joy of being able to speak in English.

I think celebrating five days on the road like a celebrity was the best way to celebrate.

There was also a cherry on top! I saw a Kannada film shoot in progress at a temple today. I was told that the film being shot was titled Charlie. And the hero was a Kannada superstar. So now I am looking forward to watching the film when it releases.

In other news, my solo vacation is about to end. Tomorrow is my last day in Hampi and then I’ll take a bus to Goa. My friends will be joining soon enough. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

To unlikely friendships and spectacular experiences

Difficulty is a state of mind. Or so I would like to believe. So far on this trip things have fortunately been easy for me. Except for two things: 1. It seems I am not meant to open the seals of mineral water bottles. The task seems Herculean, even though I must have opened at least 10 bottles till now in the last five days. 2. Explaining to people what I do for a living. I tell them I am an editor. They look at me quizzically. I start to elaborate and tell them about textbooks, and what role I play in my office and they seem to lose interest.

Coming to things that are falling into place. I was welcomed in Hospet with the visual of colourful plastic pots. Now, you need to know that colourful plastic pots hold a very special place in my heart. I had seen such pots for the first time in Madurai in 2006 when I had gone on the adventure of my life—a documentary shoot. For me the sight of colourful plastic pots was a sign that things on this leg of the trip were going to be spectacular.

Fortunately, my faith in signs continues. I had a fantastic time in Hampi today. I visited the Vittal Temple, saw the stone chariot, and requested a stranger to play music from the pillars of the temple and heard music. This day had wonderful written all over it. The highlight was the boat ride on the Tungabhadra River. Seated in the middle of the round boat, chatting with the boatman, who knew little English, little Hindi, and a lot of Kannada. The only problem was I know no Kannada. But that did not stop either of us from talking. The best point of the boat ride was going under a rock. The kurta wet with all the water that had seeped into the boat, I got out of the boat smiling like I had won an Oscar.

Had a generous helping of sugar cane juice. The vendor told me that the sugar cane was from his farm. Somehow this information added to the taste of the juice. I also had the small sized bananas. I have never had such tasty bananas ever. Lunch at the Mango Tree lived up to all the praise I read about it online. For someone who generally thinks chewing is a waste of time, I am enjoying my meals in Hampi.

I saw several ruins, a whole city that once used to be. Most of these structures are still standing tall. Makes one wonder why don’t the architects of the present times study these old structures and incorporate some of their brilliance in what they design and build today. Even in regions where temperatures rise to as high as 40 degrees Celsius, the chambers where the kings and queens were to rest remain cool without any air conditioning. If only such techniques of building are incorporated in today’s times we would be successful in battling global warming.

And yes, I think about serious issues even when I am on a holiday.

Coming back to my trip and its awesomeness. I climbed steps, jumped from heights I would usually shy away from, and also hummed to myself. Spoke to strangers in Hindi, English, and Marathi. Shared a few laughs, some wisdom, and lots of smiles. Also, answered questions about travelling alone.

In the morning, I waited for Sharat for more than an hour and called him thrice. When he did not answer my calls, I got impatient and angry. So I hired another autowala. Santosh took to me around the city in his auto today. The name Gajendra is imprinted on the back of his auto. This was also a sign. This name reminded me of my friend ‘Titu, the Tiger’ (I am friends with a bunch of people with really interesting names). The song, ‘Look beautiful, Gajendra Rana is coming’ sprang to mind. I missed Titu and Sangy, and also felt comforted in the knowledge that they were with me as long as I was in the auto.

Santosh kept repeating, ‘Madam, aapko kush hua na mere saath ghoom ke.’ Since morning, he asked me several times and several times I smiled politely and said yes. But when he insisted that I go to the sunset point today itself and enthusiastically climbed with me all the way to the hilltop. Of course, he helped me a lot during the climb. He also clicked pictures of me when I requested. And then the big ball of red dipped into nothingness and I was glad to be sitting there. Alone, yet with an unlikely friend—Santosh. Santosh spoke to me about his family, places he had visited, and why he enjoys driving his auto in Hampi. He also asked me what I did. The fact that he thought I was a college student earned him brownie points.

He played the pillars for me at the sunset point. It was magical to say the least. And he has promised to take me to sunrise point early tomorrow morning. He says that will be even more spectacular. And I believe him.

And as per my friend Santosh’s instructions, I must go to bed early today.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Trust is the operative word

When you are travelling, you need to trust. You need to trust fellow passengers, who have seen you working on your laptop, take money out of your wallet, put the wallet and the laptop securely back in your bag before you go to the washroom. Then before leaving the compartment, you smile and request the strangers to keep your luggage safe. You trust. Blindly.

You hire an autorickshaw. Knowing very well that the autorickshaw driver is charging you almost double the fare. Then you trust him. Trust him to not only take you to your destination but also drive safely. You smile at him, ask him his name and the next thing you know he is telling you how not to get duped, where to go, and how to commute.

Trust is the operative word. Once you begin to trust, suddenly the world seems nicer. Sadly, for me at least, trusting people comes easy only when I am travelling. Maybe this is the ‘one thing’ I’ll take back home (apart from the presents I am to carry if I want to lead a happy life).

I left Goa this morning. Carrying my bags to the station from the resthouse early morning was taxing for my shoulders but a major ego boost for my soul. Being independent is a high. And though I have never tried any other forms of getting a high, I still can bet my last cent that nothing can beat the high of being independent.

I was very excited about the train ride today. I had read online and heard from Jaspinder that this leg of the journey was magical. Fortunately, it was everything I expected and then some more. My co-passengers today were a German couple. A few seconds before the train was going to reach the Dhoodhsagar Falls the Ticket Checker came rushing through the compartment telling all of us to look outside the window and be ready with our cameras. I explained to the German couple why the Indians on board and especially the Ticket Checker was so excited about the falls. Even though they told me that they had never seen a Bollywood film, I explained to then that these falls have gained a special importance in our lives since they were a location in a very important scene in SRK starrer Chennai Express. So crossing the same place where SRK had been during the shooting of the movie was a total fan-girl moment for me.

However, I must admit that travelling solo is not all fun. You see couples in love, families mostly shouting at each other but surely in love to travel together, and then you see something incredibly beautiful and have no one to turn to, to share the moment. In the last five days I have shared a lot of moments and conversations with strangers. And while the novelty of that experience is something that I cherish, there were several moments when I missed having someone next to me, someone I knew. But I knew what I was stepping into when I packed my bags and left the cold grey skies of Delhi.

Once in Hospet, all the autowalas went rushing to the foreign tourists. I felt neglected and decided I would go to Hampi with the first autowala who asks me, and that too without bargaining. And so Sharat earned not only my respect for ignoring the foreigners but also awesome business from me. He will be taking me around the ruins of Hampi tomorrow as well. But this time I will bargain.

I decided to take it a bit slow today and just vegetated in front of the TV throughout the evening. More about the hotel, the staff and of course Hampi tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Touristy tourist is me

As I was getting ready this morning I had an epiphany. I wanted to do a solo trip not because I find it difficult to keep pace with my friends. It is the other way round. I sense that my friends, god bless them, sometimes have to be on a schedule just so that I don’t raise hell. My idea of a vacation is exhaustion and doing all possible ‘touristy’ things. I loved the movie Don starring SRK because the Don was not caught in this one. He was the hero as the title suggested and he won the battle of wits, style, and well my heart :D

Similarly, when I am visiting a place, I am a tourist and like to behave like one. I love going on tourist buses, listening to guides, meeting fellow travellers, and buying the most obvious souvenirs. So making most of being alone without anybody telling me they want to do just the ‘off the beaten track’ stuff, I did everything touristy today. I got a seat on a tourist bus to see what South Goa had in store for me.

Our tourist guide for the day was Victor Rodricks. He was funny but also very strict. Thanks to the fear he instilled in us no one, among the 25 odd passengers, delayed the tour at any of the seven spots we covered today.

We began the day at the Big Foot museum at Loutolim village. Big foot reminded me of Castle and his obsession with Big Foot. That was enough to make me happy. It is an interestingly done place with audio guides in front of every installation. However, my being a solo traveller garnered more interest than the description of the lifestyle of the native people of Goa among the fellow travellers.

Lops or Loofah (remember I spoke about her yesterday) wanted me to find a guy and fall in love during this trip. However, so far I have just met uncles and aunties who become extremely protective of me and take me under their wings. Today, my foster parents were a cute senior citizen couple from Nagpur. They had taken part in a swimming competition in Malvan and had decided to visit Goa as well. While walking on the beach, aunty told me that she had won the 3-kilometer beach swim competition (veterans) the day before. Now, this is what I call cool grandparents.

They were very curious to know what prompted me to travel alone. And I was pleasantly surprised that they were not judgmental at all. In fact they were proud of me. Imagine, people I had not even met yesterday were proud of me today.

I got special treatment through out the day. The guides ensured that I was given extra information. Maybe because I had my DSLR around my neck and was actually looking at things rather than just cracking silly jokes. Even at the restaurant where we stopped for lunch, I was ushered into the AC room (with special charges of course) and asked several times what I would like. Recommendations flew from all sides, Victor gave his two cents, so did the waiter, the manager, and the cleaner. I felt like a celebrity and of course I loved every minute of it.

I spent most part of the bus ride listening to my music. I am sure I must have been humming along but no one dared to stop me. One more reason to go solo. Hehehehe!

Fun anecdote: A Marathi uncle trolled a pujari at the Shanta Durga temple. The pujari was busy performing the daily rituals and unfortunately none of the devotees could see the idol and only the pujari’s dhoti-clad butt was visible. Uncle waited, and I suspect that he counted upto 5 (Mississippily), for a few seconds and then started to shout at the top of his voice asking the pujari to move. You had to be there. It was extremely funny. I missed SKT and Sangy then. We would have laughed so hard.

The hour at Colva beach at the end of the tour was magical. Just standing at the beach waiting for the first wave to hit the soles of my feet was an experience I would love to relive again and again. At that moment, whatever little inhibition I had, left me. I laughed out loud. I would recommend this therapy to everyone.

I leave Goa tomorrow. Another journey awaits.

But I leave with a promise to be back. I’ll be back before the year ends with one of my best friends—SKT :D And Goa will be explored anew, in a non-tourist way maybe, with many more adventures added to the list.

Also, also, a poem popped into my head standing on the beach:

I picked three sea shells,
One for you,
One for me,
And one for the love I have for the sea