Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Journey of life

Being open minded helps us live a more enriched life. Being open to new experiences shapes our personality, and traveling spurs just that: We open-up. We approach new people, we listen to them and we embrace their thoughts. We move away from the well-known paths. We activate our curiosity. As open minded people, we cherish variety and diversity in our day-to-day life; the more we travel the more we crave novelty. If we have experienced openness once, we start wanting more. 

This is definitely something beautiful that I read today and would love to contribute my thoughts to this. The above statements stand true and I feel it is a great initiative taken by Lufthansa#SayYesToTheWorld to kindle this feeling in all those travellers for whom travel has always given a new perspective and has helped in looking at the world in a better way. 




Before I talk about what impact travel has has on me I would like to quote the following lines which happen to be my favourite :


“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” 

The very concept of travel was introduced only post 7 years in my life. Hailing from a small town like Jamshedpur, where we had a huge close knit family within a 5 kilometre vicinity, we never had the need to travel to any place beyond the city's limits. Life was quite fulfilling and content. The joy of going to my maternal grandparents' place during summer and winter vacations was what the travel was limited too. So, when I had the opportunity to take my first train journey, to a city called 'Madras'(Chennai) which was 1702 kilometres, my happiness knew no bounds. I was excited and as happy as any child could get. This journey was going to be more interesting because for the first time I would have a real story to tell - I would have a real essay to write post my vacations. All this while, I had written essays describing about my summer vacation based on what I read in Tinkle, Champak and any other regular story books which were a craze in the 90s. The time to travel in most iconic Tata-Alleppey express came sooner that I had expected. As any inquisitive, naive, innocent and playful child I was also deeply engrossed in absorbing the routine life that revolved around travelling by a train. It was as simple as waiting for long hours at the station because we always wanted to be an hour before the train would arrive. We spent time buying magazines, looking at the porters, interacting with the vendors, tasting the traditional snacks as the train made its course through different states, reading books, listening to stories, observing others, lying on the top berth and doing even the most boring tasks like counting the spokes on the ceiling fan, staring at the ceiling lights till our eyes got tired and we fell asleep, counting the number of stations that we had crossed, constantly nudging our parents and asking about the time left, forcing mom to open the tiffin( packed food) box for a two and half day long journey, getting to make new friends, answering queries from the elders, fighting for simple things like who would get to sit at the window seat, waving at locals randomly as the train chugged through various villages and cities and then repeating the same routine again and again till the destination arrived. These moments will be etched in every child's memories forever, just as mine. It was my first hand experience about the real life. It was just the stepping stone to looking at the world outside the map printed in our text books. Recently such precious memories of the nostalgic train journey experiences were shared by Paper Boat (Drinks and memories)with wonderful illustrations that pulled a string in everyone's heart.


As I grew up and started understanding about life a little more, developed my intellect a bit more, travel started becoming more interesting. Such was a visit to the Science City, Calcutta (Kolkata) with my cousins which made me attached more to the subject-'Science'. During this journey I realised that there was something in the old world charm of the city which made me feel so attached to it. The steamer boat ride on the Hoogly river, going around the city in a tram, taking the first metro built in the country, having tender coconut water at Babu Ghat, shopping in Behala, contemplating about the history of the Victoria Memorial or having chilli guava outside the Eden Gardens ; everything gave me a sense of pride that I was able to witness something which I had only read or heard about so far. At that age, I never knew how to judge people or to understand about the world but exploration in itself gave me a sense of connection with the real world. Seeing the lesser privileged I felt lucky being born in a family where we were able to afford good food, water, clothing and shelter.
I started becoming mature. Life moved on and so did I. When it came to travelling to Darjeeling and Gangtok for a school excursion I understood what it was like to travel without family. We were randomly put in different rooms with friends whom I hardly spoken to in school. It gave me a sense of handling small amount of money which parents had given with care, only for me to enjoy and experience life in a way which they hadn't seen when they were my age.  There were teachers with us to guide but the sense of responsibility came in automatically. That journey taught me how to bear extremely cold weather conditions, when it was freezing cold and snowing at Lake Tsomgo( Changu Lake). I realised then that, not always - do we get very friendly people around and our favourite delicious dishes served (exclusively made by mom), so we need to adjust to what life throws at us. It was the first lesson I learn after travelling. It was an age where I started understanding the meaning behind travel. It was not just about travelling by train, eating, sleeping and looking around but learning every bit from the exploration that I set my foot on. I started loving every part of the journey from then on. I started observing people around me, 'life' in itself, which was so full of opportunities and options.

That's when I took my step from home bidding adieu to my parents for a journey where I was all alone. It was my first journey alone when I went to college and got the first taste of hostel life. Innumerable journeys home sometimes alone and sometimes with friends gave me confidence to travel without fear. I learnt things the hard way too just like I mastered the skill of haggling with the porters and auto rickshaw drivers, learnt to be kind, patient and considerate, developed a sense of compassion, learnt to be responsible for my own well being, acquired the art of handling money with care, read a lot and gained knowledge not just about academics but also expanded my knowledge about the world.


Travel made me a better writer. It gave my imagination wings. I could sit for hours at the railway station or the bus stand and observe people around. It made me think in a better way. I started building stories on the life of the common. I could feel connected to many around me. I started studying people and their nature. It opened a new leash of life for me. Suddenly I had so many topics to write about and discuss. I found that writing about my thoughts could help me nurture my creativity.

During this phase I explored parts of Chennai, Vellore, Pondicherry, Manipal, Udupi, Mangalore, Gokarna, Mumbai, Kochi etc.

While I was moving away from college and was ready to face the world as a salaried employee, the transition in my life was very evident. I had to move to a new city, Bengaluru (Bangalore), try and settle here, look for shelter, food and try to establish my niche in my workplace. It was a challenge in itself. Travel was a part of my recruitment too because the hospital which had given me a position requested me to come down to Bengaluru for an interview and had also arranged for my travel from Jamshedpur. A girl from the Steel city had come all the way to the Garden city and that was the beginning of my journey in Namma Bengaluru which found me my life partner, helped me find a career that I had aimed for and also helped me in slowly adapting to this city and coming to stage of calling it mine. It was the beginning of my 'Bengaluru days'. The travel to this city made me fluent in Kannada, the local language here. Travel, again had made me learn a new language. I made new friends, I explored places on my own, I understood the fast paced life of the city and it made me a stronger and a better person day by day.

My travel during the initial two years after joining work was only limited to frequent visits home and Chennai for a wedding function. Additionally I got a chance to set foot in Nagpur, where my engagement ceremony was held. The function was fixed so quickly that we didn't have much time to plan and couldn't get air conditioned tickets for our family of 15 who were supposed to go for the engagement function. We ended up getting seats in sleeper compartments in the scorching hot summer season. There were many unreserved bookings done in our compartment for some reason and the situation was horrible. There wasn't even enough space to walk till the washroom. We had to walk in the opposite direction crossing the coach in order to find a clean washroom. The next day was my engagement function and here we were split in different coaches, having sleepless nights because of the crowd and the terrible heat. I realised something that day; Life is not always a bed of roses and times when we need a bed of roses the most, we will be denied the maximum. It is upon us to take such small situations as a learning for our future. This pretty much sums up the first phase of my travel.

What I will be talking about next is one such travel journey which I took up for a lifetime with my life partner. He showed me the world in a different light. He made travel a learning experience for me. I had never imagined going to places which I later went to. 'I' got replaced by 'WE' , post this phase. My husband is a well travelled man so his perspective of the world was much mature than mine, mainly because he had travelled to various parts of the country. We took our first step together as a couple to travel in and around the world. Our first international trip was to Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi) and Singapore. We both were very naive back then. My husband had planned most of it as I was a little skeptical about planning an international travel. He got most of things in places, right from ticket booking, VISA application and the hotel booking. I went there trusting him completely without any preconceived notions or any expectations about the place.

We learnt from our mistakes on our very first international travel. We forgot to split our luggage equally so that the permitted weight of the luggage was within limits for each traveller. We lost a lot of money in the first stage. Not having much preparation about the kind of expenses being encountered, we both were dejected even before we began our journey. But, we consoled ourselves and decided to learn from our mistake. Being eggetarians, we assumed that we would be able to manage food in a foreign country where the major population was dependent only on a non-vegetarian diet , but only when we reached there did we realise that even coconut rice with small fish is considered vegetarian in Malaysia. We had already spent a bomb in paying the chauffeur to take us from the airport to our hotel. Had we been smart travellers we could have taken the metro which could take us closer to our hotel. We learnt about it later after spending a lot of money on day1. We couldn't even choose to buy packed chips as they were also made of fish. We starved for an entire day until we found a vegetarian hotel in Batu caves, KL. It was the longest I had ever starved. We both were on a water fast for more than a day. It taught us to do our research better and enquire about places in a better way before coming to a new place. But despite all this, there was a sense of togetherness which we felt. Travel taught us to face difficult situations calmly. We enjoyed every bit of our travel and quick learners that we are we took a metro back to the hotel from Batu caves. We learnt some terms in Malay and tried to talk to the locals to understand about the place in a better way. It was another skill added to our cap. From then on, we started travelling better, we could manage to even rent a self drive car in Langkawi which helped us in navigating the island in a better way. We were able to find an Indian restaurant as well after interacting with a local. We explored the local places of sightseeing on foot just to understand the people, the culture and their life. Our first adventure experience was at Langkawi, where we tried our hand at Snorkelling. It was a funny experience, yet something which we cherish till date. The kind of life we had observed in KL and Langkawi was totally contrasting to the mechanical, monotonous and busy life in Simgapore. We even learnt something like escalator etiquette in the Changi International Airport. We were extremely careful about our luggage as even the hand baggage was weighed before we boarded the flight. We took the MTS rail to go around places as we didn't find anything interesting to do. We were not the kind of travellers who wanted to go to the exotic places in the city. We took the MTS rail and went to all the places where the metro could take, tasted cuisines, found good places to hang out, observed the people around and spent our time fruitfully. Take home message for us was that if we travel smartly, we can enjoy well.

Snapshots of Langkawi





Post this travel, life opened numerous travel opportunities for us as a couple as we were into professional candid wedding photography. We were invited to places like Chennai, Hyderabad, Palakkad, Mumbai, Dhanbad, Delhi, Allahabad, Bhubaneshwar, Varanasi and Lucknow. This made us go through a phase as a team where we could be a part of other couple's joy and celebration. We were able to contribute a lot to various couples with our candid photography team work. During this phase of travel I learnt about various wedding rituals after seeing different cultures, made new friends across the country, started developing a lot of interest in photography, learnt few tips and tricks from my husband and took this as a great learning phase of my life.

We took short trips around the city too where we drove around with family. I trained myself to drive in highways and learnt the rules of driving in the city. While driving to places around Bengaluru such as Coorg, Sakleshpur, Wayanad, Cochin, Alleppy, Trivandrum, Varkala, Goa and Palakkad, I got a sense of freedom. It was amazing to drive along the countryside, stop by the roadside enjoy the local cuisines, talk to folks around and also travel smartly. We chose home-stays over hotels in some places where we could interact with our hosts who were the native of the place and we could get to stay in their property. One such visits to a home-stay in Wayand gave us a chance to eat food prepared by the locals who could get some income with such initiatives. We were also a part of a bamboo making workshop in Wayanad where were taught to make something as simple as a bamboo pen. Such experiences were something which we both longed for.

We  got our first hand experience of Airbnb when we stayed in Granny's Inn,Varanasi. It was the cleanest places in Varanasi. It was a beautiful homestay, old yet well maintained and run by two grannies who were full of life and extremely enterprising. There were an inspiration for me, who made me understand that there is so much we can do in this one lifetime that we have been bestowed with. We just need to believe in ourselves and work hard and be smart. We chose a lot of Airbnb's for our future stays which made us come closer to the place and understand about the place better. We were slowly becoming environment friendly travellers. We advised other travellers on the way if they were seen throwing garbage on the road.

In Nepal

En-route Coorg

Paragliding in Nepal

Life's biggest lesson was learnt during our travel to Ladakh with a group of close friends. Apart from exploring the magical place we could also feel the difficulties that the locals had to face each day due to the drastic climatic conditions. A land where places can be completely inaccessible. We had doubled our respect for the army after seeing their dedication and work to maintain peace in such areas. Hats off to BRO for maintaining the roads so well and building the world's second largest motorable road. We were rescued and sheltered by nomads in Ladakh on a dark rainy night when there was a snowstorm. We were with god sent angels that day. The people are so humble and honest that our hearts melted seeing their innocence. The way they treated us when we got stuck amidst a snowstorm without expecting any favour in return or even money, is something we all have to learn. There are also such helpful souls existing in this world. The more we went around Ladakh, the more we understood that people here are tough in physique as they can bear even extreme weather conditions, they are physically very active and their hearts are as soft as they could be.

In Ladakh- On the way to Lamayuru

In Varanasi- Boat ride along the ghats


Pangong Tso

Near Tso Moriri after a snow storm

Post Ladakh, we wanted to explore another part of the world so we chose New Zealand - The land of the Kiwis. This time our international travel was a smarter move as we chose to drive around North and South Island. I fell in love with the place the moment I started driving. The people, the roads, the infrastructure, the landscapes were something we were just so impressed about. The beautiful landscapes were a treat to the eyes and the cleanliness around made it look like paradise. It was not just about travelling in a first world country but also understanding how conscious the Kiwis were about their culture and their environment. While we were about to start for our NZ trip we heard that many places in NZ had been affected by a high magnitude earthquake. We felt shuddered when we heard about this. The places where were going to had not been affected but it was still a scary feeling that we had. After going to NZ we were surprised to know that the locals there are always aware that earthquakes can happen anytime as NZ is a very earthquake prone country. We learnt from the people there that life has to move on despite natural calamities. We learnt how locals took the initiative to pick up garbage thrown around by anyone and make it a point to put it in the dustbin.We chose many Airbnb's here too. One such Airbnb was hosted by a couple who were the friendliest of all. It was only after we left from NZ did we find out that the most humble family, whose house we had stayed in, belonged to ex- Olympic 1976 Hockey Gold medalist winners. They were our new found friends who visited us when we came back to India. We played host to this wonderful couple who taught us what simplicity was. This very day I decided to build a dream home and become an Airbnb host where I could invite people from all over the world to visit our city and place. I do not know when the travel bug had bitten me. 

Rangitoto Volcano, NZ

Cathedral Cove, NZ


Drive along the Coromandel, North Island, NZ

Wai-o-Tapu - Active volcano in Rotorua, NZ
En-route Queenstown, NZ


The scenic South Island, NZ

Franz Josef Glacier, South Island, NZ
With Barry Maister, Jan Maister in Christchurch, NZ 
With Jan Maister and Selwyn Maister at our home in Bengaluru

The next travel experience was in North East where we visited Guwahati,Kaziranga, Dhekiajuli(Assam),Dirang, Bomdila (Arunachal Pradesh), Shillong, Cherapunji, Mawlynnong and Langkawet ( Meghalaya). We stayed mainly in home-stays spoke at length with our hosts who were native of each place, got to know about their culture and understood the hardships that they had to go through. They had been neglected as a community for a very long time as the north eastern states were not concentrated upon for any kind of development for many years. Only over the past 5 years the development was phenomenal. The people were honest, hardworking and living in difficult circumstances in few places, yet they had always adorned a smile on their face. The presence of the army was felt throughout our journey to Bomdila from the time we entered Arunachal Pradesh. The terrains were extremely tough where we had a terrible time driving. The locals were breaking boulders and rocks with hand tools so that roads could be made. Technology hadn't reached many of the villages. The villages were so clean in Meghalaya that we all have to take inspiration from. Their hospitality is beyond expectations. They are extremely friendly and innocent. We could see the tension in Arunachal Pradesh when we observed numerous army camps on the way but they were needed for protecting our country. Salute to the brave soldiers who protect us always. 

The circle of life- Monastery in Dirang, Arunachal Pradesh
Finally getting to capture the Milky Way in Kaziranga, Assam
Cherapunji, Meghalaya
Floating boat in Dawki, Meghalaya
Shillong- The Scotland of the East

Sualkuchi, Assam ( Manchester of the East)

Another such striking situation was observed on our trip to Srinagar and Gulmarg, Jammu and Kashmir. There is so much army presence in and around there that one cannot imagine the fear that people live in. But, life goes on smoothly despite these problems. People are extremely friendly and highly known for their hospitality. One cannot imagine how many innocent lives are lost to futile war each day. It is indeed a paradise on earth, but under the protection and scanner of the army and other opposing forces. A very sensitive topic to discuss upon but what we realised after going there is that truth is not what we read in newspapers or watch on television. Truth is way beyond what we see. Probably, all they want is peace but a kind of peace even they don't know how to attain for their city. We were having a casual conversation with a Shikara boatman who was blaming religious differences as a major cause of the regular fights. We saw messages written on every street wall by unknown groups but beyond all this there is a regular life that normal people are living and trying to build which goes futile as they are trying harder and harder to restore peace.


In Gulmarg, Jammu & Kashmir

A walk on the snow on the Apharwat Peak, Gulmarg

Shikara on Nigeen Lake, Srinagar, J&K

Travelling had opened my mind to variety of experiences which each time I am absorbing. Travelling has changed the way I think. Political turmoils leads to fear in travellers because of which they think twice before going to places. Tourism industry is a boost to any country's revenue in itself. Let us all be conscious, smart, environment friendly travellers who pledge to preserve the beauty of the surroundings they visit and also create awareness among other travellers to travel responsibly so that we can make this place an even better place to live in. Let us all join hands in making this world a green and clean place to live in. Let us all fight global warming. If it affects our ecosystem there will be no snow fall to witness, no water to drink and no clean air to breathe. 

1 comment:

Vimala S said...

Fantastic travelogue. The experience is very vividly illustrated with lot of emotional attachment. Keep it up.