Pink bangles and mirrored skirts

After many shameful days when the wifi in my hostel decided to selectively error my blog into nonexistence, today jumped at me with some time to spare.

This post comes after a year and that clearly tells me I’m a traveler who travels far and wide, but whose boundaries reside within the mind. That’s perhaps a cooler sounding way to say I’m merely a wannabe traveler. I plan to travel more in the real world through this year though. I intend to exploit my time in Delhi and take all it can give me. The weekend at Jaipur was one such exploit. 

We were thirteen of us. which is a lot of people to travel together; it becomes a logistical nightmare to consolidate interests and plans and keep everyone happy. We struggled the first day, but managed it well the two days that followed. We stayed at the Zostel – a new traveler hostel chain. The Zostel, after the test it puts you to by hiding itself in quiet, unassuming streets that reveal nothing, does surprise you when you find it. You walk in and it feels like a hug. The young paintings on the wall turned me into a five year old with a new themed room. This little house gave me back all the energy the slow bus ride had sucked out of me. The idea and possibility of meeting new people from far away gave me a kick. The place gives you a comfortable corner to feel safe in after a long day outside.

Jaipur is a pretty city. It has rows of tiny little shops overflowing with happy colors, bright beads and glimmering mirrors – perhaps its way to let you drape yourself in the city’s vibrancy and be a part of it. I like how the lines of stores were unfailingly punctuated with golgappa vendors and lassiwalas. You don’t often see cities that understand the wants of a determined shopper’s tummy.

Our first evening was mostly a stroll along one of the markets which was almost asleep; its owners, I imagined, were at home with their families, consciously inhaling the forgotten air of independence. And we, meanwhile, were letting the street’s scents decide where we walked. Despite being in Jaipur, I decided I needed therapeutic rasam to refurbish my spirits and when Jaipur did manage to succeed, it made me wanna cry and fall in love, a little bit. 

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We started the next day in a way that soothed my superstitious insides: we visited the Birla temple. I had, thanks to my treacherous memory, forgotten I had been there before. I often remember feelings better than I remember facts or events; for you can forget that which is beautiful, but how do you forget the way it weighed you down and caused something on the inside of your body to tingle? Beauty here, for me, wasn’t the white serene outside, it was something about the inside that calmed me down, gave me peace – something I could not dismiss as unfamiliar. The last time I had visited this temple was in 2006 when I was on a school trip. I remember that day very distinctly, I had had what I now see as a trivial skirmish with a girl friend and I remember sorting it out as we walked out the temple. I even remember how the two of us were dressed that day, she in an ankle length white skirt and I in a bright floral shirt and hideously loose pants. I have a way of tucking away little memories from long ago days, to revisit a later day and smile by myself, secretly.

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I value this more because I clicked it stealthily

We visited the City Palace after this. The City Palace is the royal residence of the Raja of Jaipur. A huge part of the complex is now a museum and the residential area continues to be inhabited by the royal family. For me, it was the section of the museum that displayed apparel that captured my attention the most. The outfits were so definitely those that only a King would wear. They were so intricately detailed and evidently regal, they would put everything we wear to shame. I even managed to click a picture of the Raja’s darbar when the guard wasn’t looking. We then walked across the road to the Jantar Mantar, which owing to my stubborn ignorance of science, did not enthrall me too much. As the day slowly tucked itself into bed, it left us in a house full of stories and beautiful people. We had the perfect evening at Dhruv’s house with his lovely family and his majestic but restless peacocks. As darkness set in, we cosied under the night’s sky with soft music, warm conversations and delicious food. Is there anything in this world that’s more precious than nice people?

That night, Zostel eased me into a long, comfortable nap, before I even asked for one. The next morning arrived too early.

The wind that wouldn’t stop hitting me caused me to want to sing; Bhushan, Chaarvi, the auto-driver and I sang and hummed all the way to Jaigarh fort. I loved how I could see the Jal Mahal from a little window on top of the fort. The fort housed one of the biggest cannons of the world. I dismissed its coolness and stared into the surrounding vastness from the points of altitude.  

 

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Welcome is always grand in Jaipur

 

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I like how the windows kill your hope, open to a murderous jump and the road springs out of elsewhere; it tells me I got to figure it all out by myself
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Just then when I clicked, everything turned still, posed for me.

Amber fort was like a pretty world in itself. One cannot pass it without stopping to look another time. Every bit of it was art standing proud and tall, causing me to wonder if such fineness can be recreated today. 

  

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The Majestic Amber Fort

 

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The hall of mirrors. My favorite!

 

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The hall of mirrors. When you look at pieces of mirrors arranged in patterns, little bits of you look back at you.

 

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There were so many birds, they refused to let my frame capture them.
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This picture does no justice to the pastel shades.
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I like pretty windows even more than scenic expanses
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There was magic in the sky that day!

We spent the rest of the day heaping up bags of happy things from the stores in Johri bazaar and other markets teeming with eager people. I, after a point, just strolled on the lit up streets, dancing with the lights that stood out in the evening’s dim and watching people hurry home after the long day. 

I went back to Zostel and let my blanket hug me into a whole night’s sleep. Jaipur was truly beautiful.

 

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All of us.
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A drive to Hyderabad’s Himayat Sagar Lake

The best trips happen as a consequence of the strongest of impulses. Best drives too, I suppose.

There was Punjabi music. Enjoying it, were more than just the group of Indians around. The TV reverberated to the music it was playing. The air was enthused. It was one of those tunes that hooks on to your mind and refuses to let go of you. To me, unsurprisingly, the song was just a combination incomprehensible sounds in a combo that made me wanna jump up and disco. I couldn’t make sense of a single word, except for the repetitive ‘Long drive pe chal chal’ which I kept singing aloud proudly; it was pride that sprang from my having deciphered the words from the encompassing sounds. The song set the mood. We set off.

It started with Maggi and Chai at DLF. And went on to Himayat Sagar Lake. Just about 20kms from Hyderabad, the lake is known to be one of the must-sees in the city. It didn’t happen all those days when I decided to go out and see all that’s in the list for Hyderabad, it happened this day when Maggi was the first thing on my mind. Never plan, they always say!

The roads were deserted. I sat with my legs on the seat and my backside on the open window and the rest of me outside the window, singing aloud and jarringly all that the car played and swaying to my own singing. The clouds chose not to rain. The winds embraced us, amiably. The drive was impeccable.

We got to the lake. I gazed at the waters, like I always do. Water, I’ve always believed is the most powerful of things. I stared in awe.  It was huge, the lake. It bobbed up and down; every bit of it did, almost in unison. It looked to me like it could not contain itself in its colossal receptacle; like it threatened to break out of it and foist its powerful self on us- weaklings. Or perhaps it was all in my head and the lake was just frolicking all by itself.

Across the road, stubs made of cement had been erected, one every foot along the road. It was fun trying to not lose balance atop a stub. As I gained stability on the stub, I stood there and looked around; all around. You could see nature subsisting in its elemental self. Lights from the far away road, added to the charm. There was nothing exotic about the place; it merely gave us a reason to stop and stare.

I’m glad the TV chose this one of all songs to play, earlier that day.

All of us
All of us

Trip to Maharashtra Part4: Lonavala

You can find Part1 here and Part3 here.

Lonavala, located between Pune and Bombay, is a hill station known for its verdant setting and scenic landscapes.

Only,  the green wasn’t too easy to spot. The lakes were dry; the ground looked desiccated. The weather had no semblance of that of a hill station. I have to admit, we were disappointed. It wasn’t a good time to visit the place, as the driver of the cab we rented, told us. The monsoon would do the place good, I thought to myself.

The view from one of the points, of the valleys nestled between Lonavala and other hills and mountains was in a way, infinite. There are some inherent things that do not easily go unnoticed. Magnificence for instance.

Credits : Suddu
Credits : Suddu

There were a couple of camels around, adorned in rajais (quilts) of bright colors. There was a seating area made atop them, around the hump. We did not take the ride though.

Suddu
Suddu
View of sunset from Tiger point. Credits: Suddu
View of sunset from Tiger point. Credits: Suddu

At Tiger point, the most popular of all the view points, we walked around a park like area, as we waited for the sunset. There were tons of monkeys hoping to find some foodstuff. At 6:35 PM, the sky looked like it had been painted in hues of purple and orange. In the middle, the sun looked ferocious, just a tad bit above the horizon. And as it began to disappear gradually behind the hills, it looked just like all the sceneries I had painted as a little girl. And soon, just the tinted sky remained; the crowd of tourists dispersed. 

Trip to Maharashtra Part3 – Drive around Mumbai

You can find Part1 here and Part2 here

We reached Mumbai the next day. Finally.

Before we got home, we drove to a close-by elevated point with a good view of Hiranandani. Pranav showed me a building which was once the widest in Asia. I sat on the pavement and looked around. After five mins, Nair stamped the butt of his cigarette, putting it out and we left for home. I didn’t feel too alright, it was the traveling perhaps. But there were so many places I wanted to see. For the first time, I had done some research before traveling. Ignoring my feverish feeling, I freshened up and told myself that this was going to be good.

At Costa Cafe
At Costa Cafe

We relaxed at Costa coffee a while. The hot chocolate was soothing; it did my throat some good. We walked across the road to Galleria to grab some food. A couple of hours later, we left for a long drive. Dhivya, one of their friends, joined us.

We went to Bandra first. Bandra West to be more specific. Known all over India for its “urban coolness” and “glitzy shopping”, the suburb was colorful, lively and swarming with riveted girls. We got down at either Linking road or Hill road, I’m unable to recollect. As Chandna had told me earlier, it was a charming place for a stroll in the evening while making occasional entries into random piquant shops. We were evidently late, most of the shops were closing for the day. We managed to find a stretch of shops still open; we began there. We went into shoe shops with promising discounts, lingerie shops and clothes shops. An hour later, we got back to the car and got in, ignoring the unhappy expressions we got from the men.

We then drove via the Sea Link. Pranav explained to me how easy the bridge had made life for anyone wanting to commute between Bandra and Worli. What would have taken one – two hours at the least now took a minute. My fascination for the sea made me sit up and listen intently as I stared outside and upwards fascinated. It was a beauty, the bridge. The city, from the bridge, looked like it was more alive than it was through the day; typical of all that Mumbai is known for. With Nair at the driver’s seat, the drive on the Sea Link lasted less than a minute.

A while later, Pranav showed me Haji Ali Dargah far away in the sea. It shone bright standing out from the dark waters surrounding it. It looked elegant, just like in the pictures, just like I had pictured it. This was the one place I wanted to see more than all others. I wanted to walk on the pathway with the sea ‘s mildly  surging waters hitting the edges. I wanted to walk to the middle and experience all that I had read from pages on the internet. Sadly, we didn’t have adequate time that day. Haji Ali was out of sight in no time. I was shown Mukesh Ambani’s residence, the name of which I later found out, is Antilia. Most of what I could see was made of glass; I’d have never realized it was a residential building, had I not been told so. It was grand, it stood very very high in a funnily disproportional way though. 27 floors I was told. I was amused. After a turn somewhere, Nair pointed to me the stretch of sea along the road. It was Marine Drive.

We parked the car and found a peaceful place to sit. The wall was lined with dykes to assuage the waves. I looked at the waves, like I have always looked at them: amazed. There is something about seas and me, I do not know to explain. I can sit and stare for hours. I could smell the saltiness. My hair could certainly feel the humidity of the sea.

View from our spot at the Marine Drive
View from our spot at the Marine Drive

I was shown the circular building rotating ceaselessly about its vertical axis – the Ambassador hotel. Nair pointed out to a faraway point where the numerous spots of light seemed to end. He said it was the Nariman Point. I remembered that name clearly from the 2008 Mumbai attacks. I let my eyes wander around. Next to me, a girl aged about 12 was trying to get hold of a toddler running around. She looked like the little one’s nanny. Soon, it was time to get going.

We dropped Ajay at Dadar. He got on his bus to Pune. We headed to Hiranandani where I met Pratham, a friend from college, next to one of the fountains. It was nice to see him after a year. We chatted a while and hugged good bye.

As I got home with Chandna, I realized it was a trip for me and just another day for the others – all Mumbaikars.

Trip to Maharashtra Part2 – Road trip to Panchgani

You can find Part1 here

We left the apartment and hurried to the close-by shopping complex named Galleria, to grab some food. I sat on the pillion seat and marveled at the buildings of Hiranandani that stood high and slightly alike with their classy facades. Designed completely in neo classical architectural style, the township flaunted a stark difference from the rest of Mumbai. Hiranandani is known to be the most elegant of the residential townships in Mumbai.

In half an hour, we were in Aaditya Nair’s new car, heading out of Mumbai.

Mumbai apparently wasn’t going to be a respite from Hyderabad’s scorching heat. With its humidity as an added pain, it irked everybody. With shades on and sun screen lotion dabbed all over my face, I was prepared. Chandna and I, we sat at the back and caught up on happenings, friends and gossip. Soon the sun began to retire for the day, thereby lessening the heat. The woofers reverberated continuously as we played some good music and it occasionally sent out fervent vibrations. I jerked suddenly as the back of my seat vibrated. The rear view mirror vibrated, amusing all of us a little. With music and travel put together, I had no reason to frown. It felt like the ideal crazy road trip. In about three hours, we halted at Coffee Day, Pune where Ajay and his friend, Satish would join us.

They arrived. We had a long way to go and light was getting scarcer by the minute. The road to Panchgani wasn’t one to be driven on at the later hours of the day. Most of the stretches were devoid of any form of lighting. Some of them were roads with a good amount of incline, sharp turns and U bends. We went on, relying fully on the head lights. It felt dangerous; even more so to see Pranav and Ajay on the bike. I had my head half out of my elbows rested on the edge of the window; I held my hair band tight as it threatened to fly away. My hair hit my neck unceasingly and made it prickle; it was annoying. Far way, down below lights glistened in the blackness. The horizon was undecipherable. The black with golden dots of fire united smoothly with the beyond sprinkled with stars. It reminded me of Diamonds by Rihanna. How spectacular the world becomes at night, I thought, as I put my head back in to avoid a bad hair next-day.

The "cottage"
The “cottage”

We settled down comfortably at a local eatery as we waited for out parathas to arrive. They were delicious and heavy. The hotel we had in mind was already full that night. We called a couple of other hotels; all went in vain. There was one place though. They had a cottage for 3.5k. After some negotiating, we paid the man 3k and followed him a couple of kilometres to get to some deserted area. After going down a fleet of stairs, we were there; in front of us was the “cottage”. “Is this the rest room?” Nair asked aloud and everyone burst into a cackle. The cottage had one room and a balcony. The room had two beds, one fan at the corner of the room, no water and plenty of insects and flies. The next hour, we spent laughing at our circumstances and at Nair’s cottage-jokes.

I shut the door behind me and sat in the balcony. The quiet was peaceful. I thought about how far away I was from all that I wanted to do in life; something about the silence was powerful and promising. Ajay joined me after a while, we gazed at the valley in silence not realizing an hour go by.

It was time to sleep, I had had a long day.

I woke up in the morning to see that sun was back, glowing in all its radiance. The mist caused the far away hills to evanesce into the sky. The lake in between the valley looked elegant, yet sober; it was blue-grey. The smell of smokes filled the air as one of the others lit up a cig. I sipped in steaming hot tea; it was perfect.

Morning view from our balcony
Morning view from our balcony

We checked out and headed to Mapro Foods. Contrary to the remaining of Panchgani, this place was thronged with people of all ages. The verdant place with   its ponds, huge tents, benches and other accoutrements looked like a mini carnival. The sandwiches were kinda tasty. So were the fresh strawberry and mango ice cream scoops. We bought a box of strawberries and blackberries and left. We decided to halt at a table land like area that shot off the road on the side. Nair went ahead in full speed and as I sat up animated, he swerved the car into a full 360 degree spin, letting a gust of sand fly all around. We parked the car at the edge of the open, unprotected area. Two middle-aged women were relentlessly trying to synchronize high-jumps with the camera click to get a pic of them high up. We stood there a while, watched and giggled.

Restaurant at Mapro foods
The crowded restaurant at Mapro foods

It was a long drive to Pune and it was hot, again. Ajay’s house was certainly welcoming. Painted in soft colours and furnished with low set bamboo couches convertible to beds, bamboo stools and a hammock, the apartment was lovely and it felt like home instantly. We spent the day lazing on his couch and listening to good music. There was so much of Radioactive by Imagine Dragons; it became the song of the trip, pretty much.

That next day was Chandna’s birthday. We went to a nice place with a lot of furniture almost huddled together in the small expanse, quite symbolic of the crowds that thronged the place. Funny paintings occupied most of the walls. I got hyper when I recognized the tune as one of Avial’s songs. It felt like college again; we sang aloud merrily. I met some more of their friends; we had a fun time. Hotel California was played, dedicated to the girl turning 23 that night. It was past twelve, it was time to leave. I came back with Ajay on his bike, giving in to my fondness for bike rides at night. It was a spirited night with pictures, cake and loads of happiness.

All of us!
All of us!

Trip to Maharashtra Part1 – To Mumbai

I walked out of my house, feeling tense. Pre-travel anxiety was an emotion not new to me; I dreaded the prospect of missing the train. I dragged a huge trolley bag behind me clumsily as I still tried to hold my beige and teal straw bag in one hand with some grace. This time I had chosen to move out of my haven of cabs; I was going to take the local bus to Secundrabad where I would board my train to Bombay. I had been on a bus in Hyderabad just once before. What a shame, I thought to myself. Shruti was coming to the bus stand to put me on the right bus. Prima facie, it might cause one to assume that I must be a spoilt brat; au contraire, I was the kid dad used to rebuke for traveling while sitting at the door step in the general coach of the trains in Tamil Nadu. Strangely, I still feel new in Hyderabad; being naturally quite uncool and weird before traveling, the unfamiliarity certainly did not help. I must’ve ticked Shruti off quite a bit with my many calls to her that day in spite of her assurances that there was sufficient time left. After a lot of pointless worrying I got on the bus and reached Secundrabad with 45 minutes to go. I yanked my bag up the stairs as I made my way through throngs of people to platform 9 where Duronto Express was to arrive.

Just as I saw a train approaching far away, I realized I had no clue which seat or coach I was to board. But it wasn’t going to be a big deal finding my seat out of three 3AC coaches; I waited. The train arrived sporting a radiant shade of yellow-green and other garish colors painted in erratic designs. I watched the train trot past, as I looked for the 3AC coaches. Oddly, they were all AC coaches. I freaked; a couple of calls I made to friends got me nowhere as IRCTC had decided to show its nasty self that evening. I scampered from coach to coach with my big bag, looking for my name on the lists. Half an hour later, I found my name on the last coach, just five minutes before the train was to depart. I heaved a huge sigh of relief as I got on. I made a mental note to find out the SMS way to obtain one’s PNR status.

I clambered on to my side upper berth – where I’d get my privacy and space. I laid back and drowned myself into a book I had been reading. The train attendants arrived repeatedly to hand me a blanket, a pillow, a TetraPak of Frooti and a bottle of mineral water. The service was impressive and welcoming especially a persom traveling by train after ages. I dozed off after a couple of hours that I spent sipping Frooti while engrossed in my book.

I chose to sleep a little longer ignoring the typical sounds of “chai” and “breadomlette”. As I curled under the blanket and dug my head into the pillow, my breakfast arrived. I sat up, drew out the curtains and sat cross-legged facing a little boy and his sister quarreling over a gameboy. It was fun to watch them, it reminded me of my brother and the days when we fought to play some tetris type game. I hoped the kids didn’t think of me as a creepy staring lady. In an hour, I got off the train, on to the most packed platform I’ve ever seen. I was at the Lokmanya Tilak Station of Mumbai.

Auto drivers surrounded me as I exited the station, each quoting a different fare – most of them at least twice the fare Chandhana (the friend I was visiting; I call her Chandna) had estimated. I must have looked lost and ignorant. After a bit of bargaining, I gave up and got on one of the autos. My phone died; how typical I thought. I had to call Chandna from the auto driver’s phone for directions. I reached; there was Pranav waiting, fuming after Chandna told him about the auto fare. An aggressive argument followed; I watched meekly and paid the meter fare. It was done; I apologized profusely and Chandna gestured telling me it was alright, as we went up the elevator. I walked into a neatly furnished, lovely little apartment.

8 things to do next time you travel

My trip was not so much of a trip. I spent half of it under my blanket, waking up at regular intervals to force idlis down my throat. Yet, I learnt loads from it.

1.   How smart I must have been to have planned a four day trip to Lonavala at this time of the year! How smart I must have been to have conveniently assumed the place to be a pretty hill station type place simply because it had Sterling Resorts. How shocked I must have been to have alit the bus to realize the place is no hill station, not pretty, the place is brown, barren, hot and dry! How stupid I must have felt to have realized that I have at least 10 Pune and Mumbai inhabiting friends whose opinions I never bothered to ask.

It is foolish to spend too much or too less time at a place. Research a place well before making plans. Know what to expect at a place and when the time comes, let yourself free.

2.   Planning the itinerary can prove to be more important than one can imagine. It is stupid to travel to point A, travel all the way to point B and travel back to point C which is less than a kilometer from point A. Do some research in advance, make a list of places you do not wanna miss. Make an itinerary though you don’t have to adhere to it strictly. It certainly helps to have a rough agenda.

3.    The people you travel with, can play a critical role in how much you enjoy your trip. There are the people who like to stay in the room and chill. There are the adventurous ones that might wake up at three in the morning for a trek. There are the ones that want to shop and do nothing else. There are the others that want to dress appropriately, click five pictures with pretty smiles and get back to the resort. There are the junkies that like the high and then some more high. And then there is you. Plan your trip with the right people.

4.    Do not put together a business trip with an adventurous one if you’re expecting to hike all day. Do not try to make a visiting-someone trip something else, unless the person you’re visiting wants to join you on your plans. Do not plan any trip that depends on someone who may not exactly be interested in your plans. Or if you do any of this, keep an open mind.

5.  If you’re too excited about staying at the best hotel in town, book it. The room won’t wait for you.

6.  If you carry around a phone camera, if you really want to click pictures of your travel, do not listen to music on the same phone till it dies.

7.   Every place you visit, take time to breathe in it and breathe it in. There is no hurry. Visit a place and stay. Walk around. Talk to people. Click pictures. Just sit and gaze. Gaze at people. Stare into the horizon. Feel it. Then walk away.

8.   Eat well before the trip. Take in your vitamins regularly. Drink loads of water. Take care of yourself. Falling sick during a trip does not feel good. It is very very disappointing. It is a pain for people around. It does not feel good to have to stay back under the sheets. It is not fun to eat idlis while everyone else is at the best restaurant in town. It does not feel nice to have to throw away the dhal rice cause it has too much of spice and masala for an unwell person. It certainly does not feel good to have to drink hot water when it’s 40 degrees outside, simply because you’re ill.

Travel can never be fulfilling while one is not in the best of health. Nothing is more important than health. Period.

I hope I do better the next time. For now, a plate of wholesome food’s waiting to be eaten.