Sunday, July 5, 2015

My Travel Diary: The Best Moments of 2015

This year has been fairly good to me so far. Within the past six months I've been on vacations to four destinations as different from each other as they could possibly be. If Bombay had sands and the sea, Dharamshala had mountains and snow. The United States marked my first step onto a foreign land, while soon after came a road trip to Nainital, the land of lakes and lush greenscapes.

Things have been looking up on the personal front. I've taken a big career leap, putting on hold all dreams of being a civil servant and jumping headlong into a year of liberal arts, writing and finding myself. Confused? Why, yes, I got selected for the Young India Fellowship 2015-2016! That also means I'll be shifting base from Delhi to Sonepat, Haryana (not too far from home - lucky me). The course starts in another 10 days. More on that later (in a blog post soon to follow).

It's a Sunday today. I never write or, for that matter, do anything of any consequence on a Sunday afternoon. I am generally not even awake by 1 p.m. I'm usually found comatose on my bed, striking funny poses and drooling onto the pillow on a Sunday afternoon. But today is different. I woke up at 7 a.m. and have been awake ever since. Read Lolita for a while, then drifted on to reading online articles about solo travellers, and then on to browsing travellers' pictures on Instagram. And that's when the pangs of nostalgia struck. In that single monumental moment I realized - no matter how much you travel, the wanderlust bug will keep biting and pinching you in the derriere as long as you're not travelling. Every time I look at people's travel pictures, I experience this intense, haunting, all-consuming desire to take off with my camera to a far-off destination. It just doesn't go away!

So this afternoon I found myself browsing through pictures from my travels during these past few months, and reminiscing. I instantly knew I had to do a post chronicling some of my lesser known travel stories and moments from this past half-year. So, here goes.

I. January 2015 - Bombay

I kick-started the year with an impromptu trip to Bombay with my mom. My exams had just concluded (in late December) and it had been exactly a year since the first time I visited Bombay. I wished with all my heart to visit again, albeit alone. But that was not to be, because Indian parents and their worries. Mom decided to accompany me. Within the next few days, we booked 2 Rajdhani tickets, packed our bags, made our reservations, and I bought my camera to take along. Our seat wasn't confirmed till the last day because of the holiday rush.

It was raining cats and dogs as we made our way to the railway station on the afternoon of 3rd January. Our seat was still not confirmed, and despite all our attempts to buy/bribe/plead our way into a seat or two, nothing worked. So we spent the dreadfully cold night sprawled out initially near the restrooms of our coach on cardboards/bedding generously provided by the train staff. Then in the middle of the night we managed to score a seat and took turns getting some shuteye. It was a nightmare, yet probably the most hilarious and adventurous journey I've ever been on. Reaching Bombay, we had aches all over our bodies but big grins lighting up our faces.

It ended up being a great trip, full of little joys and surprises. We went to the Elephanta caves by a ferry, hung around Colaba market almost everyday, visited many iconic places, and took a bus ride of the city too. We ate hearty breakfasts at the hotel every morning, and then took off to wherever our collective mood took us that day. It was a really memorable holiday for me. And now for the one picture that embodies the most adventurous rail journey of my life. (Psst...no one has ever seen this picture before. It's been my top secret until now!)

Bad camera selfie of an amused mother-daughter duo who've made the joint between two train coaches their transient living room.
That time I sat in the ferry driver's cabin on our way to Elephanta and listened to him talk about the art of navigating a boat.

II. March 2015 - Dharamshala/McLeodganj/Dalhousie

This one was a family trip of sorts, in that mom and I went ahead, while dad and my sister joined us after 4 days. It was one of our most unforgettable holidays as a family. I've already written about how the weather in Dharamshala was beautiful during that time, and with wild rains lashing down, there were crazy photo ops all around. What I haven't written about is the wonderful time we spent in Mcleodganj, some 10-11 kilometres uphill from Dharamshala city.

Mcleodganj is the residence-in-exile of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. It also houses a number of Buddhist temples and a huge Tibetan population. That's what makes it a one of a kind experience. I was so taken in by the Buddhist vibe of the place (I'm a closet Buddhist, didn't you know?) that I just couldn't bring myself to write about it. Some things are best left unsaid, only to be cherished as an experience. But I did put together a compilation of some of my best pictures depicting Buddhism, and another one of the Mystical Himalayas on Behance. Go, see!!

One of my favourite moments from the trip was in Mcleodganj. Mom and I were strolling around, looking for a place to eat. Finally we settled for a restaurant that had canopied tables on the rooftop with a splendid view of the snow-capped Dhauladhars. At the top of the stairs that lead to the roof, there was the cutest little Lhasa Apso dog, waiting to greet us with an innocent little friendly bark! I fell in love with him. He kept scurrying in and out of the guests' legs throughout the time we ate our meal of mushroom soup and noodles. And needless to mention, my eyes kept following him in all of his canine adventures. While paying the bill downstairs I talked to the young restaurant owners and got to know that the little one was called Tracko. I was so enchanted, I took a vow to revisit that restaurant on my next trip, if only for sweet Tracko.

Look at those cute beady eyes!
Being able to eat with chopsticks, or even knowing how to, is one hell of a feather in your kitty. :D

Another run in I had with the local dogs was in front of the Dalai Lama's residence and temple complex. As I was standing there waiting for my mom, who was busy haggling with a street vendor, I observed a female construction worker sauntering in from my right, closely followed by her little one, who looked naughty from the very outset. On my left I saw a couple of big, shaggy-looking dogs coming down the street. I had a feeling they'd meet in front of me and the child would be terrorised by the dogs. They did meet too. But you couldn't possibly guess what happened next. The dogs suddenly got all playful around the little kid and began nudging and tickling him, while the little child, naughty that he was, giggled and enjoyed pulling the dogs' hair in return. It was such a surprising sight, and simultaneously so endearing!


If I'd had an option, I'd have stayed on in Mcleodganj for a whole fortnight and observed more, and maybe written much more. But I know I'll visit again. All in its due time. :)

Okay, this afternoon seems to have turned into evening without my moving so much as even an inch. I must sign off now (I'm hungry). But I'm not done yet. There are two more vacations I want to tell you plenty of stories from. So don't go anywhere; I'll follow up with the second part very soon. Until then, keep fuelling the wanderlust!

P.S. Find more pictures and stories from my travels on Facebook and Instagram.
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