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.

Eager and Hopeful

To be able to travel is a blessing. What can be more fulfilling than seeing everything there is to see in this world we live in? Every bit of me yearns to see so much.

I have traveled a little- Except for a week in the UK and two months in the US with my family, not so much outside India. I was quite young then, when we traveled across the USA. It was the summer of 2008. I still remember New York so fondly. I remember how I was fascinated by the Times Square: the humongous screens, the neon colors, the illuminated signs, the huge structures, the advertisements. I remember how the place was so busy. There were the tourists looking up in awe, quite typical of the place and the others, walking on hastily in different directions, like they all had something important to finish right away. They must’ve been the locals. I remember how my brother and I were thrilled and ecstatic when we spotted Mark Henry (or a man who resembled him too much) outside the RAW stadium. But much beyond all of this was the Liberty island. The view from the island – the waters leading to the impeccably picturesque New York skyline was a sight to behold. That picture, I still have safe in my mind. The Liberty Island gave me some kind of peace. It felt different, different in a tranquilizing way. I was proud that in a city as urban, metropolitan, busy and noisy as New York, I had found my quiet soothing spot. New York will always be special.

I wish I had been a little older and much wiser then. I wish I had appreciated what I saw better. I wish I had traveled the way I would now. But there is no place for regret where there is hope and time. There’s a whole life left, to do this and more, my way.

A large part of my traveling (otherwise) has been quite vicarious. I spend hours of ardent reading on travel blogs. They have taught me one important thing – the most beautiful places are always the unknown ones one finds on exploring. Every post I read, every picture I see of all the travel sites I’ve subscribed to, every time I think of Paris, Greece, the Caribbean, Australia, Sikkim and so much more, my desire to travel intensifies. This has all inspired me to want to travel-write. I hope that someday, my travel diary narrates delightful stories about interesting people, adventurous trips and unbelievable scenes, just like the ones I follow. The start is not too far away.

Tomorrow is the day I leave. Three days in Bombay. Four in Lonavala. Half a day in Pune. And 24 hours of traveling by train – something I have been missing sorely. I hope it is an enriching week.

Eager and hopeful,
Ashwini

Do you have a Bucket-list?

Some events add words to your vocabulary for eternity, like no amount of rote learning can – words that you never knew existed the day before. In some cases, words that did not actually exist the day before. Our word here is “BucketList”: a word that Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson effortlessly added to everyone’s lexicon and to many many Facebook status messages. It’s probably the most clichéd, banal, overused word online, yet still the coolest. Scroll down to every pic that has a caption“Bucket List – item1 – CHECK” and it cannot possibly have less than a hundred likes. That’s the power of this word.

Go on Google and by the time you’re done typing the words, auto-suggest suggests “Bucket List ideas”. And that shows people are actually putting some effort into creating their lists. . That’s how necessary and indispensable the list has become. Everyone’s got to have a list. And in this cool list, there are some items that EVERYONE has. They are very stereotypical. But if everyone has them, there’s got to be something amazing about them.

1.   Bungee Jumping: Imagine this. A cliff in an abandoned expanse. No one around, except for the Bungee Jumping organizer guys, of course. There’s peace. I scream and it echoes back. There’s water down there, down down there. It looks quite far away. God knows how many meters. Or kilometers? There’s green everywhere. It’s mid-day, yet I can’t see the sun. It isn’t bright or dark. It’s just the mild ambiance that you’d want. I breathe in and it feels fresh. It feels like I’m inhaling pure oxygen, for the first time. The impending jump would raise my excitement/anxiety levels to an all-time high. Fear would make me want to step back. But the jump needs just a second, and after that there’s no backing out. My shrill shriek through it will slice through the silence characteristic of the place. I’d come back up, feeling awesome about myself. And the place would be back to being tranquil and soothing.

What an experience that would be. This definitely goes on my list.

2.  Travel to Paris: Who doesn’t want to visit Paris? I’m not sure if it’s the romantic aspect of the city or if it’s the hot French men or the idea of kissing under the Eiffel tower or the vineyards in France or the fact that it’s the fashion capital of the world or if it’s something else altogether. May be it’s all of this combined. But this is one place on everyone’s to-do list. Even in movies, it’s Paris that people go to when they need a break from the monotony. It’s always ‘But I’ve never been to Paris’ that one says when one knows that death is looming. Paris is seen as a fun, sexy, beautiful place, all over the world. Paris is undoubtedly intriguing.

j’irai à Paris un de ces jours. 🙂

3.  Sky-diving: That’s one experience I will give myself. It will probably kill me, but it’s going to be amazing. It’s going to be out of the world. Can you imagine that feeling before the actual jump? Damn. And the jump, I’m sure my stomach’s going to be in my mouth. But that’s one thing I will do, no matter what.

4.  Visit the exotic country called India (Indians choose to vacation in Hawaii instead):  Sometimes, all one wants to do is to try something completely different. Something completely different from ones country. That’s the time to visit India. The country overflowing with tradition can help you find your lost self. It’s a beautiful country with beautiful people. Taj Mahal and its history must be inspiring. Kerala, down south, I’m sure, is a beautiful place. I’d love to visit India and take in all of the perspective it provides. I want to visit the beautiful temples. I’d love to learn Yoga and meditation. I’d like to see the Himalayas. This visit will give me peace like nothing else can, I’m sure of that.

But if you’re an Indian, like I am: Hawaii looks like the world’s most fun place. I’ve never never surfed my whole life. And what can be more awesome than learning to from some hot surfer. Canoeing might be fun too. An evening by the beach, some friends, many newly made friends, everyone clad in Hawaiian attire, some music, a lot of Hula dancing – now that seems like a perfect evening I’ll remember all my life. The beaches, the parties, the flowers, the bathing suits, the sun baths, the coconut shells, the Hula dance, the food, the music.. This place reeks of fun. It’s got to be the perfect spot for a fun vacation.

5.  Scuba Diving: Be it the Red Sea in Egypt or Mexico’s Le Paz or the Andaman islands in India, scuba diving seems to me like something I should try. I don’t know if it will be different in different places, but every time I see a picture of someone Scuba diving, it brings back my desire to travel and explore the world. There’s something about this that incites curiosity. The blue is always crystal clear. The corals look so pretty. And the idea of taking some time off to cohabit with the fish and the sea animals seems wonderful. This is different than every other activity that seems adventurous. This isn’t about the fear or the excitement. This is calm and beautiful. There is no anxiety whatsoever. It’s going to be lovely, nothing else, but lovely.

I’m going scuba diving some day!

6.  Back-packing through Europe: When can I go back-packing if not sometime now? This would be a very very economical trip. No resorts. Nothing extravagant. It would be simply exploring. I want to go all around Europe. I want to see it all – the monuments, the mountains, the lakes, the beaches, the people, the parties, the villages, the houses, the food, the music, the languages, the traditions, the festivals – all of it. I want to go on a Gondola. I so want to inhale the beauty of the Scandinavian countries. I want to eat freshly made Swiss chocolates. I want to see ancient Rome and Vatican and Spain. I want to stay in tents, hostels and homestays. I want to eat food from the vendors on the road. I want to meet new people and make new friends. I want to feel the place the local way.

Oh gosh, I want to do this.

7 Climb some mountain: Nothing can feel more on top of the world than actually being quite on top of the world. It would be fun to actually mean the phrase, literally and metaphorically. This could be some hill/mountain on the Himalayas or the Alps or the Rockies or even a regionally known relatively smaller range of mountains. It doesn’t matter which. The view from up there would be spectacular. It would be an overwhelming feeling.

Some of these items, I wonder if we want to do them because it’s fun to do them or because we want to feel the after-having-done-them feeling. Whatever the reason maybe, each item is a new experience. And that’s surely worth it.

A bucket-list is a must-have. Clichéd to an indescribable extent, maybe. But who cares!! I have a list and mine has all of these and many more (including getting featured on ThoughtCatalog, which I’m working on