Random musings of a wandering soul

Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Mid flight Musings

IMG_8733.JPGThe eyes are Pavlovian. The mind might be lost in some wayward dream, the brain thinking of the next meeting and the hands trying to shove the cabin luggage into the narrow space above. The moment a book is in the vicinity, the eyes latch on, unabashedly. Usually, it is accompanied by a neck that contorts itself into some complex gymnast move, it was easy today, though. The gentleman in the next seat had t opened it yet, and there it lay bare, ‘Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy,’ Sheryl Sandberg.

Seat belt on, I delved into my bag and brought out my companion for this trip. And the man in the next seat started trying my circus moves. With a wide grin, I showed him the cover.

“Sethu,” he said. Ah, a fellow Malayali.

“What is the book about?” he continued.

“It’s the story of Muziris, the ancient port town that is supposed to have been somewhere near Kodungallur. There’s been these recent excavations in Pattanam that has brought out some interesting facts,” I replied.

“ I’ve read only one book of his, forgot the name, though.”

“Paandavapuram?”

“Yes, that one.” Was there a tinge of sadness in his words?

“How’s your book, sir?” I had read some excerpts and had loved it.

“It’s good, and I need it for a session that I am going for. Our company is organizing a workshop for people like me who will be retiring soon. We need to learn to live alone, when it comes to that. Can’t expect the two of us to go together. I mooted this idea and the management agreed, luckily. Ten of us, away from the madness, in Karwar.”

“What do you do, sir?” that was a cliched question, I know.

“I am a scientist,” he was a little reluctant to say anything further.

“That Sethu book, I lost it,” I had not imagined that sadness, after all.

“Last year’s Chennai floods. We stay on the ground floor, water went up to the ceiling. Almost 2000 books, all of them gone. Except a few, maybe.”

For once, I was lost for words.

“Go on, read your book,” he said.

The Tamil professor Perumal was replying to the protagonist Aravindan’s question on the great flood of 1341 that may have destroyed Muziris without a trace.

‘എന്ന്നാലും പെട്ടെന്നിങ്ങനെ?’

‘പെട്ടെന്നൊന്നുമല്ല, നൂറ്റാണ്ടുകളുടെ സഹനത്തിനു ശേഷമേ പ്രകൃതി ഇത്തരം കടുംകൈകൾക്ക് മുതിരുകയുള്ളൂ. അന്ന് ഞാൻ പറഞ്ഞത് പോലെ കടലും കരയും തമ്മിലുള്ള നിലയ്ക്കാത്ത പോര്. കര കാക്കാൻ മനുഷ്യർ മറക്കുമ്പോൾ കടൽ അതിന്റെതായ വഴികൾ കണ്ടെത്തുന്നു.’

~ സേതു, ‘മറുപിറവി’

‘but why, all of a sudden?’

‘It’s never all of a sudden. Nature bears all, suffers for centuries before attempting such catastrophes. The eternal war between the sea and the land. When men forget to take care of his land, the sea finds its own ways.’

~ Sethu, ‘Marupiravi’

Yes, the sea, the nature, is finding its own ways, across the world. Will we ever pay heed to the desperate call, the lonely cry of our land?

Advertisements

Random scribbles from a beautiful morning

“Let two persons go out for a walk; the one a good sketcher, the other having no taste of the kind. Let them go down a green lane. There will be a great difference in the scene as perceived by the two individuals. The one will see a lane and trees; he will perceive the trees to be green, though he will think nothing about it; he will see that the sun shines, and that it has a cheerful effect; and that’s all! But what will the sketcher see? His eye is accustomed to search into the cause of beauty, and penetrate the minutest parts of loveliness. He looks up, and observes how the showery and subdivided sunshine comes sprinkled down among the gleaming leaves overhead, till the air is filled with the emerald light. He will see here and there a bough emerging from the veil of leaves, he will see the jewel brightness of the emerald moss and the variegated and fantastic lichens, white and blue, purple and red, all mellowed and mingled into a single garment of beauty. Then come the cavernous trunks and the twisted roots that grasp with their snake-like coils at the steep bank, whose turfy slope is inlaid with flowers of a thousand dyes. Is not this worth seeing? Yet if you are not a sketcher you will pass along the green lane, and when you come home again, have nothing to say or to think about it, but that you went down such and such a lane.”

That was John Larkin, quoted by Alain de Botton in his book, ‘The Art of Travel.’ I had just finished reading it before a solo trip to Himachal two years ago. Sitting beside the stream on the third day of the journey, these words came to mind as I struggled to bring my thoughts together in an attempt to write. The small note book was kept aside somewhere after my return and forgotten under corporate struggles and domestic travails. Until last week, the red cover splattered with doodles stared at me from under a few other dust laden ones and asked, “remember me?” As if it knew the time had come. My scribbles from  one of the seven mornings on an idyllic holiday…

IMG_6501.JPG

It is a single note at first. The gentle roar of the river. Separate notes emerge as you listen, slowly. The gentle lap of the small waves against the shore, as if a mother is carefully washing the soft skin of her first born. A stream that slides over a flat rock only to hit itself over another one and jump right back at the first. A playful gurgle, like kids splashing rain water from a puddle with an expert kick of their foot. There is a dip at the bottom of another rock, three streams seem to join as one. The first one comes straight over it, one part of it diverted in between and coming back in a gentle curve into the same meeting point and the third one going around it only to be guided back by another rock one the way. Three notes joined as one, gently flowing down into a small pool, just as a stream of holy water is poured on to the cupped palms of a pilgrim.

Rivers are a lot like us, humans. The first steps are tentative. As the meaningless gurgles turn into chatter, the steps turn sure. Wild laughter, playful banter with the shores, gushing joy, adolescence is pure madness. Youth matures, but the spirit is bright and beautiful. When does the light dim and the steps slow down? As it flows, what is around seem to have more impact than what comes from within. Have you noticed them in cities? The very essence of life seem to have been sucked out. The once vivacious young girl is now expected to take in all the filth and sins of everyone around her, without as much as a whimper. Just as the tears dry up even as the pain sharpens, the river starts drying up. Until the next rain. As the silt begins to shift, the season ends. And she is thrown back into her emptiness. Again.

Patience has its virtues. I finally catch sight of the owner of the mellifluous voice above my head. A tiny beauty that could fit into my daughter’s palm with enough space left for its parter. Yellow under and green on top, perfectly camouflaged among the green and yellow leaves of the trees around. The trees themselves remind me of Ruskin Bond. Of his island of trees. I give up trying to capture the little one on my camera. Either the camera or my eyes need a fresh pair of lens. ” I am like the elusive words in your mind,” she seemed to say. Some you capture on paper, some just float away.

Butterflies, in abundance. Black with yello dots, brown patches in black, pale yellow, milky white, a group of sky blue ones that looked like someone tore away some clouds and a few pieces of sky came along with that. They looked liked school kids who had bunked classes en masse. I decided to keep the camera away and just sit there, watching their joyous dance. “Why do you not stay still?” I ask. They answer in an instant, “We are like your thoughts, when did they ever stay still?”

IMG_6502.JPG

I continue to sit still. A sudden movement across the river catches my eye. There is an odd shape on the embankment. A grey gecko. The feel is ecstatic. A little more than half an hour, and I feel like Princess Jasmine on Aladdin’s magic carpet. A whole new world seem to open itself out for me.

p.s. even after two years, I can remember that day, almost minute by minute. Some days and places are like that, isn’t it? Your special place  to go back to, some days just to have that feeling of peace and pure joy, some other days to run off and hide. 

 

 

Zen and the Art of Pillion Riding

img_6461

Dreams come true, always. The best part is, sometimes it happens even if you are not longing  for it. In the small town that I grew up in, it was only a brother’s bike that a girl could hop on. Or a husband’s. In either case, the girl sat demurely, with both legs on one side, wearing a salwar or saree. Not much fun. We got to see the adventurous ones only on movie screens. Was it Priya Raman or Amala that ignited a spark, I don’t remember. Anyway, the dream was short lived and life went on to other dreams.

Many years later, I asked a colleague of mine for a lift. There is a smile on my face as I remember his answer, ” I’m on a bike, are you sure?” “The boring auditor on my bike?” he might have wondered. The crazy and often unpredictable twists and turns of life gave a poetic answer to that question, for I landed a permanent position on his bike and in his heart. The rides were short lived as we moved on to dignified seats in a red Maruti 800.

Ten years and eight four wheelers later, there was a sigh, ” I want to buy a super bike.” The answer was a surprise, he says, “What’s stopping you?”

Riding together is like living together. It takes time, to find the rhythm. First came the cult one, the Yamaha MT – 01. The macho, muscled one. A killer in looks and power, his first love and mine too. For a sedentary pack of lazybones that I was, the speedster Suzuki GSXR was beyond reach. That was for the boy that lived on inside the man’s heart. To race , on road and on tracks. Life then moved on to adventure and touring. We had ‘Triumph’-ed. The Tiger Explorer XC

Geared up, the test ride if one could say so was to home base. Bangalore to Kochi and back, in the heat of summer. We don’t take things halfway, you see.

That was more than two years ago. A few brief rides in between, it was as if life and its routine hassles had taken over. Some incidents and certain people shake you out of your reverie, reminds you that you may not have all the time in the world, for all the things you wanted to do in life. And thus started the best phase, and it goes on.

It’s the rhythm. Each bike, every rider, has one. Takes time , effort and an open mind for the pillion rider to find it. Especially for one like me, who doesn’t even ride a bicycle. Most of us girls when young, have this romantic notion of a fast paced bike, you hugging the rider tight, a beatific smile on your faces, and your long and silky hair waving along in the wind. Reality check. Life is harsh. The first shock, “Can you move a little away?” “How dare he? Where is all the love? The romance?” I was livid. It took a few hours of ride in the scorching sun for realisation to dawn. The heavy leather that covers your entire body, add the protective stuff over almost every joint, the balaclava and the helmet and then an equally heavy body on your back? Even the hulk would balk.

The first lesson – space. As in life, we need our own. Not to separate, but to enjoy the brief moments of connect. Over time you realize, as in a good marriage, an overdose of proximity can be suffocating on a ride as well. The brief touch on your knee that asks without words, “are you alright?” It says a lot, much more than a thousand and one meaningless utterings of love. Khalil Gibran must have been a rider, I’m sure. What he said of marriage , is exactly what a rider would say,

” But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.”

The seasons. They change, from mile to mile.

The Sun. He is gentle in the mornings, warming your face and waking you up. As the day goes on, it gets harsh, burns you down, scorches your throat, sucks the life giving water out of you. Short breaks, splashes of water on your face and down your throat, you are ready again. To face whatever comes along. Together.

The rains. You can either get wet or dance in it. Wasn’t it Bob Marley who said something to that effect?  Another wise one. It was on the ride back from Goa. Two and half hours of it. Glorious rain, in all forms. First, a drizzle. Then the tantalising one, on and off, a gentle downpour now, disappearing after a few minutes, only to come back then. The harsh one, from an impossible angle, like pin pricks on your body. The mighty one next. Along with the wind, threatening to topple you. Flooded roads, the gale forcing your whole body to a side, it’s a dangerous one. You can sense the rider struggling to keep his balance, slowing down to keep his rhythm, taking care his fellow rider is safe. Life. When it shakes you up, follow the lead. Move with him, this is not the time to go solo. As you ride out, you know that was one of the best phases. Wet to the core, yet lit with joy. The dance of a life time.

The wind. The life saver, the life giver. Can be a killer too, when it gets too hot to handle. Changing from moment to moment, it can soothe you, cajole you back into life or burn and scorch you. Doesn’t give you much choice, the only choice, go with it. Ride it out, without complaints. Because, the best is yet to be.

The curves. Season, you ask? Oh girl, you just have no clue, I say. Have you taken that bypass from Salem to Coimbatore? The one that goes over the highway? The sharp curve on that? That was my first one. Next best thing to being an eagle, its like soaring in the high skies. Wings steady and strong, floating in the wind. Some think they are dangerous, it’s all how you take it, is all I can say. Perfect moments of togetherness, two as one, just space and rhythm. It’s in you, to turn it into a graceful dance. Or not. The most dangerous moments, they can be the best of all. Be in sync and make it. Go alone and break it.

Many a ride and more curves later, I realize riding pillion is like Tao. Let go. Go with the flow. Follow the wind. Just be.

And, enjoy the curves. Better still, live for them!

Those Saturdays of August

The sleepy town slowly opens its eyes as the fury of monsoons turn into a pleasant  drizzle. The angry rivers have calmed down and the churning lake lay placid. There is a bright sparkle in those eyes that is otherwise stoic. The rhythm of a land starts reverberating in their steps. It is that time of the year, when the heart of a land beats in perfect rhytm to the clarion call of its boatsmen, “Aaarrrrpppo, Irrrro, Irrrro, Irrrro.” And for us kids, the culmination of an year of wait.

image

The story goes back to the wars of yore between the small water logged kingdoms of Chempakassery, Kayamkulam, Thekkumkoor and Vadakkumkoor, parts of today’s Alapuuzha and Kottayam districts. The king of Chempakassery was a worried man after continuous defeats. He did a root cause analysis and arrived at the conclusion, his war boats were too slow and ill prepared. So started a search for an aashaaari, or a boat craftsman, that zeroed in on one Koduppunna Venkitanaryanan Aashaari. The rest, as they say, is history. The Aashaari crafted a long, sleek boat that could cut through water and carry more than hundred warriors at the same time. The long boats that were more than hundred feet long were called ‘chundan valloms’ after their pointed sterns. Wonder who translated it as ‘snake boats’. The helms supposedly looks like the hood of a king cobra. I’ve always thought it looks like the decorated trunk of an elephant.  Anyway,  the king of Chempakassery never had to look back again. The bollywoodesque epilogue has a dashing young guy sent as a spy by the king of Kayamkulam to learn the art of boat building. Seducing the aashan’s daughter and with promises of marrying her, the roguish spy learned the secret and promptly disappeared to build similar boats for his king. Alas, when it came to the proof of the pudding, or payasam as you would have it, his boats were nowhere near the original aashaari’s. The master craftsman was a crafty one, for sure.

The snake boats must have continued to be used as boats of war, but no particular stories seem to be recorded till our first Prime Minister decided to visit Allleppey and Kottayam in 1952. Around ten such boats accompanied him as he traveled in a motor boat across the water and a race was organized for his enjoyment. And enjoy, he did! Apparently, he was so excited that he jumped into the winner, the ‘Nadubhagom Chundan.’ He went back to the capital, but the excitement stayed with him. He had a replica made in rosewood and sent it back to Kerala and thus was born the now world famous Nehru Trophy Boat Race.

There was a time when I used to literally detest my village. Those were the days of youth and foolishness, when fast was better and slow was looked down on. Imagine a place where you could reach only by boat, that too after travelling for more than an hour and half. Wow, you say? Bah, would have been my retort. There were no roads, the only mode of transport was motor boats or the ones that someone had to row. Years had to go and the place turn distant for it turn into longing. Anyway, let me get back to our yearly wait.

The second Saturday of August needed no reminder in a calendar. It is etched in stone in the heart of every true Kuttanadan / Alleppey-ian. And like most of the other homes in the town, it was a day of festival when all the friends and relatives would descend in droves and walk as one to Punnamada Lake. No GPS was needed, the genes were grafted into the feet at birth.

Our family was large, especially on my mother’s side. Between my grandfather and his three siblings, there were thirty kids. And many of them were  just a few years elder to me. Yes, my uncles and aunts were more like my siblings. Led by my normally stern grandfather, at least fifteen of them would arrive by ten in the morning. Our young feet would be tapping in impatience if they were late even by minutes. The fire in our kitchen would have been burning overtime for the past few days, ending up on  a dining table that had not even a single inch uncovered by food. Off we would go, after a sumptuous lunch, with packets of crisp cutlets and bottles of water in hand, obediently like school kids out on a break, with grandfather in lead.

The Punnamada Lake borders the town of Alleppey and its canals lead to the largest lake In Kerala, the Vembanad Lake. The otherwise quiet waterways comes to life from early July, the time when the season of traditional boat races, or vallom kali, as it is called, starts. This was years before tourism and its by product, the house boats, became ubiquitous. Temporary galleries would come up, made of the trunks of arecanut trees and firmly held in place by sturdy coils of rope. Made in Alleppey, it was, totally.

image

Spending money on fun was anathema, but this was life itself. And my grandfather would have only the best seats. By default we would, too. Another wait started. We had to claim our seats by 12, first come first served was the norm and the races started at 2. First would come the procession, all the participating boats out in full splendor, the boatsmen rowing in slow rhythm, the oars against the water as one, to the tunes of the traditional boat songs, the vanchi paattu.

The races started with the prelims or ‘heats’ as they were called. Four to five  rounds each and four to five snake boats in each round. The winners of these would compete in the finals. But in between, would be the others. Veyppu vallams, used for cooking, or veyppu, as it is called in  Malayalam, the Churulan vallams, that finds its name from their curved ends, and the Iruttukithi, literally meaning one that traverses darkness. The last one was supposedly used by pirates and hence the association with night. Then there was the customary round of woman’s boat race, usually in the Churulan variety. These were but mere interludes, when we feasted on cutlets and watched the antics of drunk guys frolicking in water.  The navy helicopters would come and we would watch in awe as the troopers parachuted down, dutifully bursting some colourful powder into the atmosphere, whence the very same copters would come back for rescue.

The fun started in all seriousness after that. First round after the interval was all the fourth place holders from the heats, then the ones that came third, the losers final and then the race of the day. The Nehru Trophy Finals. Yes, we had our favourite clubs and boats too. The sleek Kaarichaal, the stately Nadubhagom Chundan, the legendary Kavalam  Chundan whose heydays were over by then, the famous Jawahar Thaayamkari, the rebuilt Aanaari Puthan Chundan, were names that were etched in our hearts. And the last fight would almost always be between two stalwarts, UBC Kainakary and Kumarakom Boat Club.

The starting point was far away, for the track had to be that long for boats that were more than 100 feet long. The small transistor that grandfather carried came into handy to know who was leading. The whole gallery would move as one. Glistening bodies arching in rhythm, hundreds of oars cutting the lake as one, a single beat in those hearts and in ours, the ‘hee haw’ of the helmsmen, anything could change in a matter of seconds. The boats well oiled in sardine oil the previous day, glistening in the evening sun and gliding across the waves, and the quintessential nail biting finish. The winners raising their races in a unified salute, was a sight that filled our hearts to the brim and sometimes made it overflow, irrespective of who the winner is. I have goosebumps all over even as I watch this.

We grew up and apart. One after another, the family dispersed. Living room couches took the place of those makeshift galleries as Keltron TVs moved Punnamada Lake into our homes. As other interests and life interfered, Nehru Trophy turned into a news item in Malayala Manorama. As I read the Sunday newspaper announcing Jawahar Thaayamkari as this year’s winner, it doesn’t take even a moment to get transported back to those second Saturdays of August. And I realize, it is no more the races that I miss. It is that feeling of togetherness, of being connected. That seem to be lost, forever.

(photos courtesy – The Hindu, The New Indian Express)

Going Solo : 7 Days of Solitude – Part 1

image

“What?”

A look of total disbelief was the inevitable first reaction.

“Oh, you must be meeting your blog friends there,” so said those who know about this space.
“Meeting friends there?” asked a few.
“You must be joking,” said the others.
Patience has never been one of my virtues. I took the pain, nevertheless. As if explaining to a young child, ” Yes, you heard right. I am taking a vacation in Himachal. A week. All alone. No family. No friends.”
The reactions were quite interesting. Many of them, mostly the guys, looked at me as though I’d gone totally crazy. The women folk had a twinge of longing in their eyes as they told me, “I’ve always dreamed of something like this…….some day….”

Years ago….

The five year old girl sat staring out into the dark. The bus went up the winding roads, the scent of the strong breeze on her face was strange and new. The passing silhouettes were tall and imposing. As someone pulled down the dirty green shutters of the rickety old bus,the folds reminded her of the paper fans that she made with her sisters back home. There was a sudden feeling of loss, as if something that she loved deeply was denied to her, all of a sudden, without any reason. The next thing she remembers is waking up to hills all around. She could not understand the feeling of joy and the unexplainable heaviness in her heart. All she wanted to do was run up one of those fairway hills and wander around the woods like a carefree butterfly. As she returned to her home in the plains, it was as if she had left her very soul behind.  That day, the wind in the hills carried a few seeds in their wings, that of a lifetime longing.

Maybe it was something to do with the place that I grew up in. Wherever you turned to, it was water all around. Like life, the terrain was also flat,  it went on in the same manner, with no particular ups and downs.  There were visits to,the hills after that, the fascination only grew, transforming to an insatiable thirst, to be one among the clouds, to cavort around the hills, to feel its highs and lows, to inhale and infuse the scent into my soul and very being. Even after traversing up and down the Western Ghats, there was a feeling of not being complete, as if the soul was still searching for something that was lost long ago,  even though I couldn’t exactly put my finger on what I was searching for.

Somewhere in the not so adventurous school years, the mighty Himalayas found its way in. Like any another ambitious school kid, first it was Mount Everest that I wanted to conquer. As  lazy as I was even back then, that dream was shelved even before it grew wings. The highest peak was too much trouble. That was when the fragrance from the Valley of Flowers  seeped in. And there was no looking back. It’s another matter that the dream remained just that, for years.

I”m sure Paulo Coelho appropriated the thought from somewhere else. But that didn’t stop me from waiting for the conspiracy to come true – that of wanting something so badly that the Universe is forced to conspire. It took many years and a few jobs in between for the elements to join forces and present two whole weeks before me. No job. Nothing to be unduly worried about. It was as if the perfect opportunity dropped by itself, straight into my lap.

Unseen forces are always at work behind the scenes, don’t you think? Else, why would a friend decide to go to, of all places, Himachal Pradesh, and that too, a lovely place so unpretentiously named ‘Raju Bharti Guest House’?  He is a wandering soul himself, so caught on immediately as I voiced my plans. The winds were blowing this way, definitely. The place , which is normally booked months in advance  was free when I wanted. Even Vayu Bhagwan was kind , tickets available at half the normal price and that too, just for the two flights that I was looking at. My moment had arrived, definitely.image

 

It’s not for nothing that certain people in our lives are called the better halves. For, more often that not, they are far better at making us believe that we are capable of things beyond our belief. Yes, I had travelled alone before (mostly on work), knew the kids would be safe and sound, and there would be no tsunamis or earthquakes if I let go for a week. Still, there is this nagging guilt that is the birthright of many a woman like me, that it is not right to leave the family behind, to do something just for yourself, by yourself. The logical brain says, ‘bah! Humbug!’ ,  while the guilt inducing emotional side tries to nag, “should I ?” The practical man just said, “Go”.

And that is just what I did. Go. 7 days. Alone. No friends. No family.

Was it easy? Not initially. To get out of the comfort zone and do something out of the ordinary is not easy. However brave or unconventional others think you are. Some of the initial excitement turned into anxiety as the day approached. Chandigarh was a totally new place. There was no one or no where that I knew in the city. And I had to spend 8 hours there and catch an over night bus. Well, have I ever told you that angels do exist ? One phone call was all it took and there was a ready made family waiting for me there. Ruchira, whatever you might say, what you did  is something I can never thank you enough for.

Yes, there is an element of uncertainty at each step. What if I miss the connecting flight? What if I reach there in the middle of the night? What if the taxi driver is a criminal? What if the other people at the home stay is horrible? What if the place itself is not as I expected it to be? What if I meet with an accident? The what ifs are endless and can kill you, but only if you allow it a free reign.

The place was all mine for the first few days, another group that had made reservations cancelled at the last moment. Solitude was what  I asked for and that was exactly what Was given to me. I went on a short walk , a medium trek and a slightly harder one, all alone. There was anxiety, I have to admit. It was like learning to walk, in a sense. I had to stop for breath after every ten steps, but walk I did. And reached the end. And then walked all the way back. Trekked uphill, over narrow mountain paths, not a single soul around, in absolute wilderness. Yes, I was scared, more than a bit. But I knew I had to do it, for myself. I had to believe that this old bag of creaky bones still had something of the old spirit left in it. And believe I did. And was proved right. The body was weary in the end, but the spirit was soaring and the soul , triumphant.

“Didn’t you get bored?” many asked on my return. Not for a moment. Honestly. But then, I’ve always been a dreamer, who could spend hours by a river doing nothing. Wander around aimlessly, with nay a thought or worry in the world. And switch off from the rest of the world, easily. So there I was , waking up before six everyday, listening to the birds chirping around, talking back to the stream gushing by in all the excitement of youth, biting into juicy green apples straight off the tree, sitting by the river bed for hours, reading, writing, dreaming, even  dozing off now and then.

“What about my family?” you ask? The other half says I would have gone anyway, irrespective of his opinions. Maybe. But, the fact that he gave that push right from the moment I uttered “shall I ?” mattered, quite a lot. He did not have an iota of doubt, even if he had, loved me enough not to show it. And that glint of pride that I see in his eyes is proof enough, not that there is need for any proof. Without him here, I wouldn’t have done it, with such a sense of abandon. As for the kids, son seemed happy that there wouldn’t be anyone breathing down his neck for a week, especially with exams looming around the horizon. The drama queen that the daughter is, she tried her usual “I’ll miss you so much” routine and was duly silenced by the father, “it’s amma’s dream. Let’s her go and enjoy”. Thank God for kindred souls that turn into better halves.

Looking back, the trip and especially the trek feels like a dream.  Son asks half in earnest and half jokingly, “but amma, why did you have to go all the way to Himalayas for a walk?” My answer is instant and from the heart, “it was my dream.” Hopefully, that is what will remain in their young minds. That you could have dreams, and make them come true. Even mothers. Especially mothers.

 

image

 

 

 

 

Do nothing….just linger….

Some trips are like happiness, it happens when you least expect it. There we were, looking at each other, a totally boring weekend staring at our faces from the side, when the phone call came. The usual banter about bikes, jeeps, wheels, tyres and what not and in between was thrown in a casual question,

“Heard there was some last minute cancellations at Balur?”

“Going?” our good friend asked without batting an eyelid.

The man knew what the woman would say even as he told his friend, “let me check with the wife.”

In less than two hours the kids were readied, bags packed, windows and doors checked and the family was out, dirty dishes in the sink be damned. The new beast all revved up, we were on the road by 2.30 in the afternoon. The road is good and straight till Belur, then turns a bit rickety and narrow thereafter.  Night had fallen, even though the hands of the watch stuck together to indicate it was just 6.30, but then as Gulzar saab said, “Raat pahaadon mein kuch alag hein” .

The rustic beauty of the Kannada villages seeped in through the darkness and we finally found our way to the century and half and more old Balur Estate.

balur estate

The duo of Hamza and Rakesh were waiting  and quickly settled us into the warm and large bed room . Attached was what must have been a dressing room , which was now converted into a children’s bed room, a very welcome change, I should say. That is indeed a luxury , when you are a family of four, travelling together. Two cups of steaming tea was ready by the time we had freshened ourselves up. The gentle breeze cooled our faces and minds as we  idled on the chairs outside, looking at the silhouettes of the hills that bordered the property. Being the partner’s friends had its own perks, we did not have to say a word about food, it was as if Ratnamma, the charming cook knew what our tummies would be craving for. Spicy pork fry and chicken, hot chappathis, steaming rice and home made curd, my eyes almost popped out watching my non-foodie man stuffing himself with the tasty home made spread.

The early morning air in the mountains does something to your souls as it does to your lungs. It is an almost zen-like feeling just sitting there under one of the trees, engrossed in a book, the breeze trying to lull you back into sleep and the sun trying to warm you out of stupor.

balur morning

The first instinct was to do what the promoters of the property said, “Do Nothing”, but the call of the hills won, no surprises there anyway. Previous evening, Hamza had told us about the view point in the tea estate. “You could do a trek up there or drive up in a 4-wheel drive jeep.” There was not even a question of what the choice would be. In the pre-beast days, the legs would definitely have got a much needed stretch, but this was too good a chance to miss for testing the mettle of the newly added member to the family.

The path up was strewn with rocks of all sizes in different stages of array or disarray, the bends were sharper than the smallest hairpins and overgrown shrubs relentlessly tried to leave its scratchy imprints on us. Each bend in the road took our breath slowly away as we finally reached somewhere close to heaven.

thar

The pain that was nagging my back , the aches that I thought was a reminder of my added years, and the bits and pieces of stress and restlessness that has become part of the city life, all seemed to go up and disappear into the sprawling hills that surrounded the summit that we reached. Words just cannot do justice to the view there. Look anywhere around, your breath stops, almost. Undulating hills in varying shades on green, till your eyes can reach, clouds white on one side and dark and heavy on the other and the gentle caress of the breeze…. the feeling is something beyond pure bliss. We came back only because we had to, but with a promise to ourselves and to the hills that we will back soon, to spend a night here.

Another sumptuous lunch, by then pork was a staple, added was akki rotis and some yummy egg masala. After a brief afternoon nap, we drove down to a lake in the estate that looked serene, but thirsty for some rains. A small stream broke itself into a small fall over the rocks to provide some fun for the kids. Along with the evening, the realization falls that you actually have nothing to do. There are no TVs, practically no connectivity for your phones or laptop, it is a true break from the routine life. Son started feeling a little bored as expected , daughter as usual made friends with the few kids who were there and was having a lovely time.

The unexpected break was truly refreshing, the only regret was the added kilos to our girth. This is a place that has no frills about it, and they don’t lay any claims to having any either. The promise is a trip back into nature, away from the hustle and bustle of what is considered normal these days. It is also a lesson that absolutely nothing is going to happen to the world and even your close family and friends  would not even miss you, if you just switch off for a few days.

As for linger, I have to specially mention the hospitality of Hamza, Rakesh and Ratnamma. They are there for you, always, anticipating your needs at each step and ready with what you want even before you think of it. They do all this without the intruding on your privacy and that is truly something, when people either tend to ignore your needs or go overboard.

You can also stock up on some organically grown spices, I haven’t smelled cardamom like this ages. But the real discovery of the  trip, if you ask me is this, made at Rakesh’s home….

betel

One sip…..and girl, what a kick!!

 

pictures courtesy – the husband, as usual 🙂

The Goan Holiday

So, finally we made it. The trip that has been in the works ever since we decided to take the plunge some thirteen years ago. Along the years, we added a few vehicles, a couple of kids and a home, not necessarily in that order.  The famed beaches of Goa kept beckoning throughout . Time and experience is still trying to teach me to grab  what I want, and this time I decided to heed their call.

The men wanted a resort and the women refused to resort to commercial hubs. Who won, is as always, a moot point. The trip started with a solo drive of five hundred kilometers through the lovely countryside of Karnataka…

country

….then a joint one through the last hundred and twenty five through  rain washed ghats…..

ghat

….and finished with the final five hundred meters with a daring drive ithrough probably the narrowest stretch of road in all of Goa.

We reached a small capella and an inviting sign board that pointed us to a driveway strewn with leaves and wild grass…..

driveway

…that led us to the most welcoming entrance that I had seen in a long time.

entrance

Cool and warm, overgrown shrubs and huge trees all around, there was nothing organized and artificial about the place. The plants grew at their own pace and flowered on will. There were leaves strewn everywhere and grass peeping up in some places and thriving in others. One look at the garage, the man was at home.

bikes

A peep inside, and I knew I had reached home as well.

inside

Two flights of steps made of solid stone up , the door opened to small passage, with a window that looked down…

courtyard window

….into a courtyard below

courtyard

The beds were huge and comfortable …

beds

….and the writing desk a piece of paradise….

shelf

The balcony opened out to another piece of heaven…

balcony

Sipping our morning tea, we felt like royalty…

tea

….yes, we did see some of the most beautiful beaches…..

aguada

…and thanks to our friend who stays in Goa, got around to one that was practically deserted. The kids and of course the parents, had their tummy full of salt water

morjim

Father and kids just fooled around in the pool the last day …..

jump

…while the mother curled herself up here

veranda

….leafing through some real treasures

ayesha books

The place belong to the lovely couple, Jamshed and Ayesha who runs J&A’s Ristorante Italiano in Bardez, Goa. Your eyes are sure to pop out as Ayesha tells you the house is just about seven years old. The love for details and passion to get things just right and totally at home is so evident as she goes on to say how the doors and windows and beams were brought in from second hand markets in Bombay and how they were lucky enough to inherit most of the antique furniture from their families.

The attention for even the smallest things is amazing, and I cannot but post some pictures of the lovely bathroom. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration when I say that one could easily spend a day in there…

bath

….even the soap dish captured my heart

soap dish

Yes, we feasted on the famous vindaloos and sorpotels …

sorpotel

….and an array of Goan fish delicacies….

fish thali

….but it is Capella that is going to stay with us for a long time. Kids know how to put feelings into words so well, as my six year old keeps saying, “I want to live there for ever”

capella 2

Epiphany struck the last night. The man in love with his bikes and jeeps, the woman with a treasure trove of books and love for cooking, and a home that is built from their heart and soul. Were we looking at a slightly older and far better looking versions of ourselves?

pictures courtesy – the man 🙂