Around the World In 8 Marathons

It is the day of the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon and while I’m out there running you can get to know more about my marathon obsession. But, no, I had been bitten by the travel bug first. The ‘run bug’ bit about five years ago when the Bandra-Worli Sea Link in Mumbai was opened for public use. After the ‘first-day, first drive’ euphoria, we now wanted to walk, run and loiter on it. That, of course, was not possible. Possible, my husband and I discovered, when we thought a bit harder, if we participate in the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon.

 

But then, never having run in our lives, doing a 21 km was out of question. Until we got into serious running a year ago, when some of us in the same neighbourhood came together to form a running group and a weekly running regime. The novices amongst us gave ourselves to the ‘Marathon Veterans’ in the group, and were soon moulded from a ‘I can’t run’ to ‘conquered 5km, 8km, 10km’.

 

Image Credit: Satara Hill Marathon
Image Credit: Satara Hill Marathon

We soon got carried away by the rising confidence and registered for the Satara Hill Half Marathon in September 2014, also called it the ‘Ultra’ Half Marathon! Blame the desire to participate on a moment of heightened insanity. For, all through the 21.1 kms, there is a 413 meter ascent that needs to be conquered. You start at 678 metres above sea-level, go through 4 kms of the Satara town, and then start climbing the Satara hills till about 1059 metres above the sea level! Lured by the prospect of seeing the Kaas Plateau in full bloom post the rains and after a protracted training, Jayanta, my husband, and I did manage to complete our run within decent timings.

 

The Satara medal, now hanging from our necks, gave rise to another demon—we wondered, how about one medal from picturesque marathons around the world? Here’s our list.

 

Athens Marathon – A run here is akin to going back to where it all started. Try finding out how the word ‘marathon’ came about and you will learn that when the Greek village called Marathon was invaded by the Persian army, the Athenians offered a tough resistance and won the battle. An Athenian soldier then ran 24 miles (approx. 37 km) to the city of Athens to deliver the news of their victory to the establishment. Those 24 miles gave birth to the modern day Marathon. An Athenian medal, then, would be the mother of all medals, what say?

 

Details: 8th Nov 2015
Start point: Marathon

 

© Tommy Papadimitriou
© Tommy Papadimitriou

 

Ladakh Marathon – Driving down is better than flying to Ladakh—the advice most people give you when you say you are headed there. You get to experience so much more of the desert-mountain beauty that way, they go on to say. So then, imagine what a run at 11,500 ft, past little villages, stupas, the Leh Valley and the Indus river can do your senses? A medal here would certify that you have run the world’s highest marathon and maybe the most serene one too!

 

Details: 13th Sept 2015
Start point: Leh

 

 

Image Credit: www.ladakhmarathon.com/
Image Credit: www.ladakhmarathon.com/

 

Istanbul Marathon – How about running from one continent to another? From Asia you run into Europe—that’s Istanbul Marathon for you—a bridge across the continents, a bridge from the East to the West! You run past the Bosphorus Strait, majestic mosques and ancient towns when you sign up for the Istanbul Marathon. The traveller in you squeals at the prospect, doesn’t it? Not without reason.

 

Race date: 15th Nov 2015
Start point: Near Bosphorus Bridge

 

Image Credit: www.dandablogging.wordpress.com
Image Credit: www.dandablogging.wordpress.com

 

Bhutan Marathon – I can give my right hand, or maybe right leg, to do a walking tour of Bhutan. Crazy dream, you accuse. Well, then, maybe a marathon, I negotiate. Frankly, I could do anything and everything to simply go back to Bhutan’s green valleys, enigmatic dzongs, picturesque countryside! That the marathon ends at the mighty Punakha Dzong is an added bonus.

 

Race date: 23rd Feb 2015
Start point: Upper reaches of rural Punakha

 

Image Credit: bhutaninternationalmarathon.com/
Image Credit: bhutaninternationalmarathon.com/

 

Big Five Marathon of South Africa – Imagine an opportunity to see the Big Five (lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo and leopard) and giraffes, zebras, antelopes and other wildlife while running a marathon. You’d be forgiven to think that this was a safari instead. I bet, you’d wish to run with your camera dangling from your neck. Yes? Well, train with it then!

 

Race date: 20th June 2015
Start point: Lakeside Lodge at the Entabeni Game Reserve, South Africa

 

Image Credit: www.adventure-marathon.com/
Image Credit: www.adventure-marathon.com/

Barossa Valley Marathon – Here is the perfect opportunity to pop the cork of the champagne, err… sparkling wine, after a run. You have, after all, run past vineyards and wineries of the Barossa Valley, Australia’s famous wine region. While most people go for walking tour of vineyards, you can flaunt your ‘running tour’ of vineyards! Cheers to the dream.

Race date: 24th May 2015
Start point: Tanunda, South Australia

 

Image Credit: The Times (On the Coast)
Image Credit: The Times (On the Coast)

 

Jungfrau Marathon – A run past the lovely, heaven-on-earth Interlaken and then a trek of the Alpine mountains, Jungfrau Marathon is not for the one with a weak heart or weak legs. For this one marathon, though, I’d be willing to keep aside my ‘timing goal’ and simply run, walk, climb and soak in the beauty. Nothing more, nothing less!

 

Race date: 12th Sept 2015
Start point: Interlaken

 

Image Credit: Remy Steinegger swiss-image.ch/
Image Credit: Remy Steinegger
swiss-image.ch/

 

San Francisco Marathon – why else but to run past, you guessed it, the Golden Gate Bridge. By now you know of our ‘bridge’ fixation!

 

Race date: 26th July 2015
Start point: San Francisco city

 

That reminds me, my dream of running in the Bandra-Worli Sea link has come true this Sunday as I run the Mumbai Marathon. If you are mad about running too, tell us which runs are your favourite and why.

 

Image Credit: Indian Express
Image Credit: Indian Express

 


Deepa & Jayanta

 

 

 

 

 

Deepa Dutta Chaudhuri
Writer, blogger and one half of the warring couple of Wheels on Our Feet. And a newbie marathon runner!

The Storyteller Has Been Unleashed!

Happy Tripping was launched with the sole objective of getting travellers to talk about their voyages and discoveries. We launched with a bang, with the Happy Tripping Travel Contest last month!

 

The team had a few bets on the number of entries we would receive. Even the most optimistic number was way short of what you, each of you writers and storytellers, have gifted us. We surpassed that number by a happy margin and went grinning to bed when the competition shut last night. We thank each of you for that.

 

We’ve received entries from the USA to far away Australia. We had writers who brought the picture alive with their words, others who charmed with their photographs. With each of you, we’ve journeyed from Nevada to the blue seas of Andaman, we climbed up the Himalayan Range, dropped into Vietnam, checked out cherry blossoms and we also marvelled at the turtle hatchlings. We had calm relaxing holidays, ones filled with culture and heritage, and tagged along with adventure travellers who got our adrenaline pumping with their dare-devil tales. We’ve traversed more places during the short duration of this competition than what we have in our entire lifetime. And are feeling awed by the splendour in the Earth, all over again! We are also excited by the journey that community travel on Happy Tripping has in store for everyone.

 

The contest has come to a close. We at Happy Tripping want to thank you once again for your support. The judges are now munching over the entries with some hot chai and biscuits. The winners will be announced by the 20th January.

Watch this space!

The contest might be over, but the travel continued. Keep you trips coming, keep your stories alive, and keep taking us places with your logs. Keep the magic alive. Happy Tripping folks!

 

HT Interviews: Mansoor Khan and Acres Wild Farmstay, Coonoor

A few weeks ago I wrote to Mansoor Khan of Acres Wild Farmstay, Coonoor, a place that has been on my go-to list forever. I asked if he would be willing to answer some questions as we wished to profile him on the Happy Tripping Magazine. He replied with a pleasant yes and then added, “BTW my name is Mansoor not Mansoon”. Embarrassed, and with ample proof that I had limited Bollywood knowledge, I sent of my questions, though expecting him to be offended by my scant knowledge of his ‘silver-spoon’ pedigree. His response was far from that, it was honest, enthusiastic and witty. A few days later I chatted with him on the phone, he was easy to talk to, had such a great sense of humour but at the same time, was extremely dedicated and earnest. A very interesting person with an even cooler life story, one that many of us travellers would love to replicate. Read on to know more about Mansoor Khan of QSQT fame and Acres Wild, Coonoor. If this inspires you to leave the city and set up a farm somewhere, you know we’ll be your first guests! Over to Mansoor…

 

Can you tell us a little about yourself…
I am a techie by interest and education… studied at IIT (a year) then moved to Cornell University, USA and then transferred to MIT, Boston. Somewhere then I realised that my deeper desire was to actually move away from the mainstream, cities and 9-5 (jobs). While I was figuring out how to manage this I got into making a film on video which no one has seen. It taught me a bit more about my abilities and what I wanted to convey in a film. My plan was to make Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander and then run off into the wild. But that was not to be. I ended up making QSQT first and that became a big hit. Now I was stuck! So I went on to re-write the ‘Jo Jeeta…’ script with my newly gained experience and was immensely satisfying when it finally took form. I thought that I would surely be done with films with Akele Hum but that was not to be and I signed up for Josh. Once Josh was over I tried hard to make another film but it just would not happen so I decided to make the most of this and moved lock stock and barrel to Coonoor.

 

That’s an amazing move that I am sure many of our readers will envy. Who doesn’t wish to leave the cities and take off to the towns. But do you miss Mumbai?
If you love the buzz of the city you should be there… But I know myself, I completely blossomed when I moved here. I know myself very well so it’s not difficult to understand what I am doing and why I am happy here. But I know i’m lucky that it happened…

 

Will anyone get to see that video you shot all those years ago?
Don’t think so, don’t even think it’s in a form to be seen. I am proud of it. My dad liked it very much and I think it gave him the confidence that I could direct.

 

Tell me something about your childhood, a story, a nugget…
I had a very happy and protected childhood. We lived in a joint family in this large bungalow on Pali Hill. My father, Mr. Nasir Husain, was an immensely successful film maker and a very loving father. He was a great story teller and had a super sense of humour. Though I was not interested in film-making I would love to observe him work… I guess that is where I subconsciously learnt how to write and tell stories. I would watch him work from the bare story idea (which gave me a sense of the importance of the basic premise of a film) which he would narrate to his colleagues to the final fleshing of the screenplay. It was most fun for me to watch his music sessions with R. D. Burman. I was always drawn to the sound of the piano and composing simple tunes on it. The final recording of the songs at the studio made me marvel at how the whole soundtrack came together.

 

How was it growing up in the India of those days…
India was slow and simple those days, like everywhere else. At that time it may have felt that we were missing out a lot on what the West had so obviously we yearned for it. Today I wonder which was better.

 

From wanting to escape Bollywood, to making cheese in Coonoor… How did you get here?
Initially I thought I would stay just on the outskirts of Mumbai near Alibagh so I could be away from the city yet connected. As time went by I realised that even those parts were too influenced by the city. I would have to move further. Luckily my parents had bought a house in Coonoor and I already had a nostalgic connection with the Nilgiris from the films that my dad and later me shot here. I decided to move to Coonoor with the intention of setting up a farm and to build a life around it. Cheese-making was not on my mind at that time. That came only later when I had to persuade Tina (my wife) to move to Coonoor.

 

Tell us more about this property Acres Wild… What were the roadblocks when you started building it?
Surprisingly we had a very smooth time. We found this land on the very first day of our search. It was just a tea estate, no roads, no structure, no power and no water connection. But it had a water spring and that was one of the reasons we bought it. Water is everything if you are going to start a farm. Our best friend in town Mr. Vikram Devraj, was also an architect, that made the designing and construction smooth and enjoyable. Vikram understood our approach. We want simple structures. We wanted to make our own bricks with local mud from the foundation.

 

Probably the most painful thing in India is to get building permission even if it is completely permissible. Once obtained the joyous process of shaping the multiple structure, cow-shed, gobar-gas plant, water harvesting tank, water body, etc began. It took us 6 years to complete.

 

Cheddar House - Front Sunlight - 4709 - Cropped

 

Were there language problems…
Language was not an issue as the building contractors all spoke English well. We also adjusted to the local rhythm of doing work. Which meant that Mondays are automatically holidays. I think that this slowness of life is the reason why we had come to Coonoor in the first place. I wonder why people complain of this when they move to a smaller place.

 

Tell us about your most interesting guests… something they did or said…
You know we have been mostly lucky and we get mostly very understanding guests. Partly because they come directly to us through our website and they know what to expect. I have put it clearly on our website that we don’t have TVs in the cottages and there is no room service and that they should be ready to walk up and down a hill.
Once a guest asked us if we have a Jacuzzi and when I paused she realised how silly it must have sounded to expect that on a farm. Another time a guest insisted that we install a dish antenna overnight at his cottage so he could watch the cricket match. We have chosen to treat these episodes as amusing rather than disturbing.

 

What advice would you give to future guests?
I would request our guests to read our website as thoroughly as possible as then they would know what kind of place we are trying to run, what the objectives and goals are. Therefore make an evaluated choice about whether they should stay with us. One thing that I am not able to warn them on our website is the free presentation and talk that they will get from me about Peak Oil and Energy Descent. If I told them this then they just might decide not to come here. But honestly so far most guests have found this talk very interesting only after they have heard the realties that are hidden from us by our present media and education system.

 

We are all about stories. Any stories about the people, events, anything that has happened to you?
The most interesting event that happens on our farm is when the elephants visit us annually in the summer months. On the very first day in Sept 2009 when we moved to our farm there was an adolescent male that had been left behind by his family. He was very disturbed. Even more because some people were throwing stones at him to get him out of the way on the road. Suddenly he got upset and started chasing all the tea workers in the estate next to ours. In particular he turned his attention to a young lady worker and chased her downhill towards our farm. She disappeared under a tea bush and the elephant went right up to it and started searching for her. There were about 25 workers on our farm as some of the structures were still being built and they were all shouting and screaming to dissuade the elephant from looking for her because if he did then she was dead—he would crush her. Suddenly the lady got out of the bush and ran. The elephant lost of a few precious seconds but followed. She managed to keep her cool and crossed over into our land as the elephant gave up because of all the noise we were making. It taught us all that an elephant may look slow and lumbering once it is upset it can outrun anyone any day. We warn our guests in the summer when we know elephants are around.

 

And what next? For you?
I am working on a documentary that is based on my book called ‘The Third Curve – The End of Growth as We Know it’. I feel it is urgent to take the message to people who expect perpetual economic growth to go on forever.

 

What made you write this book?
We are living in a world that is facing multiple crisis… What is happening?  Growth is a religion today. We have embedded it as a fundamental aspect of modern life. If you aren’t growing, then you are wasting your time… if you don’t do that then you’ll end up in doomsday. My book is to explain why growth cannot last, it explains the end of growth as we know it. For more information visit this website.

 

What next for your farm?
On our farm we hope to get more structured in our planting practices and include more and more guests into this activity. So that when they come here they feel they can participate and contribute. Helps us too!

 


 

HT Mag Tips!

Getting there:
Coonoor is a small hill station in the Nilgiri Hills in Tamil Nadu state in South India. It is about 20 km from Ooty.
One can reach Coimbatore by train or flight from the major metros in India. It is then a 1.5 to 2 hour drive by taxi to the property.

HT. Do. Not. Miss.
Book the Cheese Making course in advance. Please check with Mansoor and Tina for costs and availability.

For more details: Acres Wild

 

Avril and Vanessa - 4551

 

Cheese Cupboard - 2668

 

Image Credit: Mansoor Khan

Free Hugs From Seattle to India

In mid 2007, my work with an I.T. firm took me to the city of Seattle, USA. This is a city that has been home to some of the greatest music acts the world has ever known. From bands like Nirvana that introduced the world to grunge music to alternative acts like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and more recently Macklemore & Ryan Lewis—Seattle is a city that has inspired many a musician. Here I was, a fledgling singer, wide-eyed and excited, scouring the city for my next musical inspiration. I had chosen to live in the city and not in the suburbs unlike most of my other Indian co-workers, because I felt the city was more alive… with street performers at every corner, a buzzing nightlife and vibrant markets.

 

One evening as I was walking home after work, I noticed an old man sitting by himself. He was surrounded by bright balloons and a teddy bear, and he held a cardboard sign. I squinted and read the colourful letters aloud “Free Hugs.” ‘Free Hugs’? How does that work? Intrigued, I went up to the old man and initiated a conversation.

 

“Hi there! What’s ‘Free Hugs’? What are you doing this for?” I asked.

 

“Hello young lady! I give free hugs to whoever wants one. I’m just an old man who wants to spread a little love and sunshine in this world. The world is a dark place, it needs more people that care… I come here everyday at this time.”

 

“That’s such a beautiful thing to do! How long have you been doing this?”

 

“Oh for many years now! After my children left, I’ve led a lonely life. I know there are a lot of other lonely people in the world as well who could use a hug. Sometimes people have had a bad day and there’s no one to go to. It’s the least I can do to help people break the walls that surround them and reach out to one another.”

 

“And you don’t get paid for this I guess?”

 

“Only in smiles,” he said with a toothy grin.

 

With a smile, I extended my arms out for a hug. It was a nice, warm friendly hug in the middle of a crowded street. I felt pure joy at being a part of this simple act of kindness from a stranger. In this world where money and time are a priority, here was someone whose only agenda was to spread sunshine.

 

There was a Starbucks nearby and I hopped over to buy both of us a coffee. The least I could do on that cold day was warm the hands of a man who had spent most of his life warming so many hearts.

 

I was so inspired by this man and his story, that I wrote a blues song, “Free Hugs” that made it to my debut album. And here’s how it goes: Free Hugs. (Click here for lyrics)

 

The story didn’t end there. On returning to India a year later, some friends and I organised a Free Hugs campaign in Pune, the city I lived in at that point. This was post the Mumbai terror attacks and it was our way of passing forward the message of love and hope that I’d received in Seattle.

 

 

It’s been over 5 years since I met the old man from Seattle and yet, every time I sing my song “Free Hugs” on stage, I see his face with that toothy grin, holding the old cardboard sign endearingly asking, “A free hug for you today sir?”

 


Pragnya Wakhlu

 

 

 

 

 

Pragnya Wakhlu
Eternal optimist, songwriter, musician & story teller, Pragnya is inspired by the simple things in life. She released her debut album “Journey to the Sun” in 2012 which was nominated for multiple categories at the South East Asian Music awards, GIMA & Jack Daniels Rock Awards. She is the founder of Mousai India, an organisation which explores using sound & movement for liberating people’s true potential. She writes an informative music blog A Musician’s Musings for indie musicians in her free time. Connect with Pragnya.

 

Take This Test to Compare Travel Styles!

Happy Tripping and RARE have come together to give you an opportunity to win a free trip to a luxury hotel across India. You might already know all about the contest but if not, do read more here. It is tough to write for judges you don’t know much about, especially when it comes to their travel styles. Imagine if you get it all wrong! We at Happy Tripping wanted to help. So we sent out a bunch of questions to the judges, compiled their answers and are sharing that knowledge with you, right here. But before that, maybe you’d want to test yourself to know your travel style!

 

This is our list of questions. Answer – score – compare. 

  1. Your travel preference: Solo or group?
  2. Your travel style: Planned travel or impulsive?
  3. And GPS enabled or google-less?
  4. One city you cannot get enough of: Paris, Berlin or NYC or name another?
  5. One activity when you travel: Museums, restaurants or shopping?
  6. Entertainment in a city: Shopping or Pub-hopping?
  7. What’s your action quotient: Adventure trip or cultural discovery?
  8. Preferred mode of transport: Walking, metro or a taxi?
  9. Which water body: Backwaters of Kerala, Lakes of Kumaon or the sea at Andaman?
  10. Choose your poison: Chai or coffee?
  11. One travel device you can re-charge: music device or camera?
  12. Getting there: fly, train, bus or drive?
  13. Favourite destination: wildlife sanctuaries or cities or heritage sites?
  14. Are you a mountain person or a beach person?
  15. Ideal New Year’s Eve: party-sharty, relaxing by a fire in an outdoor camp or spending time with your family at home?
  16. Choose your allegiance: Mumbai or Delhi? (We need to know where your loyalties lie!)

 

Scoring:

For each right answer give yourself one point if your answer tallies with any one judge, if all three then give yourself 3 points.
Now, total your score!
Maximum that can be scored—48
Minimum—errr… need we spell that out?

Scoring Patterns final

 

Click here for the judges answers.

 

Once you’ve got your score, craft your tale and pitch it. May the best ‘copier’ win*! (Ahmmm ahmmm…) Don’t forget to tell us your score with a tweet @HappyTripping or on Facebook

 

*This is purely for fun. It has no holding on the final results.

 

Taken for a Ride at Khajuraho

An unknown number flickered on my mobile phone’s screen.
“Hello?” I said, tentatively.
A voice boomed back saying, “Hello madam! This is your autowala speaking. Could you tell me where your train has reached? I’m at Khajuraho station.”

 

I was seated in a passenger train headed to Khajuraho amidst a constant supply of chatter and chai. The idea for this trip was seeded when I had a week of holidays in hand and decided to travel solo to Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh. While Orchha and Chanderi were recommendations by a friend, a tweet about the ‘Top 8 Destinations for Solo Travellers in India’ convinced me about adding Khajuraho to my itinerary too. A series of delays through the rest my trip, courtesy the great Indian Railways, made me want to enter Khajuraho better prepared than usual. I had requested the hotel in Khajuraho to arrange for an auto rickshaw to pick me up from the station. And that is how this faceless voice came booming through the other end of the line.

 

Some six hours later, I stepped off the train at Khajuraho and began to scan the crowd of faces at the railway platform. He spotted me before I could, though he was holding up my name board and not vice versa! Did I stand out that much, I wondered? Rameshwar Bhai, the driver, was chatty through the bumpy ride to the hotel.
“You see that structure being constructed to your right? It is the International Airport so that foreign tourists needn’t have to come via Delhi.”
“The total population of Khajuraho is no more than 15000 citizens. The people here are very simple…”
He continued without a pause but with a shake of his head, “Yes. Too many big hotels have come up in the last 5-10 years.” Referring to the string of five and seven star hotels that had sprung up all over Khajuraho.

 

Kaleidoscope of imagery on a bumpy road
Kaleidoscope of imagery on a bumpy road

 

At the hotel when I turned around to pay him, he suggested I first check-in. I hesitated; surely I could take such calls, but decided to go with the flow. Check-in formalities out of the way in less than ten minutes, I turned around to find Rameshwar Bhai now seated and with a sheet of paper unfolded in front of him.
“There are three groups of temples at Khajuraho,” he said. “We could go to the Southern group this evening. The sunset is a must-see. We could cover…” The itinerary for the two days was laid out in front of me in minutes. My ‘tour’ of Khajuraho began that same evening.
Rameshwar Bhai didn’t accompany me as I walked around the different temples. His snippets of information would be presented just as I stepped out of the auto rickshaw. At my first stop, the Eastern Group of Temples, Rameshwar Bhai explained, “This is the Chaturbhuja Temple. It’s one of the rare temples that looks to the west. Don’t forget to look at the statue inside the temple. It has the face of Lord Shankar, the body of Lord Vishnu and the legs of Lord Krishna.” Later, as I stood there and watched the sunset, I realised why he’d insisted that I spend sunset at this temple. It was spellbinding to watch the rays of the sun gradually descend down the temple.

 

Figurines at Khajuraho
Figurines at Khajuraho

 

That wasn’t all he advised me during my trip; it was a non-stop supply. His best tip was to watch the ‘Light and Sound Show’ prior to visiting the Western Group of Temples. I normally stay away from such shows, but he’d said, “You won’t need to pay a guide to tell you anything later.” Thanks to him not only did I experience my first ‘Light and Sound Show’, I didn’t need a guide to chaperone me around the next day, and sometimes it’s nice to walk around without the guide setting a fast pace. His second best tip was a restaurant recommendation for authentic Bundeli food. Needless to say, it was my most satisfying meal at Khajuraho.

 

Rameshwar Bhai also set me free on my last day! I spent it learning interesting facts like how the erotic sculptures at Khajuraho comprise a mere 1/10th of the total sculptures on the temple walls and I also stumbled upon the Pratapeshwar Temple which has three distinct elements—the Islamic dome, the Buddhist pagoda and the Hindu temple spire—all on one structure. Later in the day, I crossed paths with Rameshwar Bhai at my hotel.

“So did you see the temples?” He asked.

I nodded back as if to say, “Just the way you directed.”

Today as I sit and reminiscence about my trip, I wonder where and how he’d picked up all that information about Khajuraho and its temples. I have many memories of those ancient temples from my trip, and one that rivals those is the voice of Rameshwar Bhai, my rickshaw driver and guide.  If any of you bump into him at the Khajuraho train station, don’t hesitate to hire him for your trip and if you do, ask him how he learnt so much!

 

Standing tall—the Pratapeshwar Temple
Standing tall—the Pratapeshwar Temple

 

Carved in stone, etched in my memory!
Carved in stone, etched in my memory!

 


 

 

 

 

 

Elita 
Travels, Writes, Travels, Blogs, Travels, Reads, Travels—in that order, Elita hasn’t looked back since that day she travelled solo for the first time. For her, writing and blogging about her travels are not only forms of expression to be shared but also opportunities to relive her travels once more, albeit through words.She blogs at Nomadic Thunker.

Travel Gone Wrong — Those OOPS Moments!

Our travellers were out in the world all of 2014, exploring, discovering, and learning more as they travelled. Not all trips unravel smoothly, even when planned (errr… especially when planned). We got our merry bunch to send in some stories of travel gone wrong. After you read them you might even wonder why we even bother to head back out! But isn’t it for exactly these unpredictable moments that we leave the comfort of our homes? It is these moments that make travel memorable and make those moments that always linger on. And like Kalpana said a few days ago, trips like these translate into great movies. We wanted to begin 2015 with some hilarious stories to keep you holding your stomach well into this new year. As you plan and plot your next trip, always remember, sometimes it’s the mistakes, mess-ups and OOPS moments that actually make your trip. Over to our merry band of travellers, writers and dreamers…

 

Elita (Nomadic Thunker)
In August earlier this year I was aboard a Tempo Traveller with the world’s most reckless driver for company on one of India’s most dangerous roads (Manali to Spiti). Rajesh AKA Satan’s spawn was my worst nightmare come true as he’d overtake HMVs at 12000ft. above sea level and race through roadless routes while averaging well above the prescribed speed limit. I can now claim to have been on the ledge during torrential rains, and even snow, with a nonfunctional wiper and survived to tell this tale!

 

spiti - photo by elita
Photo Credit: Elita Almeida

 

Rushikesh (Breakfree Journeys)
While returning from our Lonar trip, we were to board the Nandigram Express at Jalna. The train was delayed by an hour and when it finally arrived, we found it to be very crowded. Our Sleeper class coach was packed like a Virar local during peak hours, we couldn’t board our coach but had to squeeze in an another coach and then wade through the sea of people to reach our compartment which we shared with over 15 people until Nashik. We never expected it to be this crowded but it also brought to the fore – the connectivity issues that locals of the Vidharbha region face. Inspite of the inhuman numbers, people were accommodating and adjusting and tried to make space for us to pass. It was quite a memorable journey for us!

 

Deepa (Wheels on Our Feet)
Good and bad make your experiences. Ironically, it is our Shirdi trip that defined the ‘trip gone wrong’ in 2014. It happened when the bus we were coming back in, caught fire in the Nashik-Mumbai Expressway — the driver-conductor duo refused to call for another bus from Nashik and no one from the booking office responded to our calls. We were worried about the impending dark; finally hailed down a state transport bus after about 3 hours of waiting in the highway to reach the railway station at Thane. From there we booked a taxi to take us back home safe, though exhausted and appalled at how service-providers can get away with such callousness and unaccountability.

 

Pragnya (Pragnya Wakhlu)
On our way back from Chandigarh to Delhi, we booked train tickets on the Shatabdi for the 5:00 p.m. train. We were returning from a friends wedding and came straight from the function dressed in ornate clothes, carrying huge suitcases. When we found our seats we saw that there was already a family seated there. After a confused conversation it dawned on us that the travel agent had booked tickets for the 5:00 a.m. train and our train had already left! We were asked to move near the loo and wait there. The catering fellow felt sorry for us and gave us each a vanilla ice-cream cup meant for the passengers. We sure made quite a sorry, albeit comical sight, dressed in fancy attire, finishing off our cups of vanilla ice- cream while making way for people to enter the bathroom… and this was all the way back to Delhi!

 

Priyanka (Our mommy traveller!)
When Sidd (my son) was about 6 months old we took an ambitious food focussed trip through Napa Valley. I had stopped breastfeeding and was looking forward to lazy afternoons sipping wine at the famous Michelin starred restaurants. We had everything planned, we made reservations late in the afternoons and evenings so our meals coincided with Sidd’s sleep schedule.

Our very first meal was lunch at Bouchon Bistro where reservations were made weeks ahead, we get there happy with our perfect timing. Fellow diners glance at us anxiously as we enter with a stroller but quickly relax when they see a content sleeping baby. We jump into action, wine, oysters, special tasting menu appetizers are rapidly ordered and consumed. 2 drinks down and half way through our meal, Sidd starts to stir, we panic, we start rocking the stroller hoping he will go back to sleep. Unfortunately he wakes up and starts cooing… pleasantly. Whew!! He is in a happy mood; we relax and hand Sidd a breadstick. We are beaming with pride, a well behaved 6 month old, tipsy parents and admiring strangers, this is how life was always meant to be.

And then, Murphy makes an entrance, I notice something black, something that looks like mud along Sidd’s legs, I make a mental check of all the places he’s been to that morning but nothing ‘muddy’ comes to mind. I shriek, as I realize what has just happened. My happy cooing 6 month old had just pooped his pants and was now happily squishing it everywhere!

What a way to kill the buzz!

 

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Just after Sidd was cleaned up! Photo Credit: Priyanka Mehan

 

Supriya (Tea 4 Travel)
Visiting the haats (local markets) of the Chhattisgarh tribes has been the most immersive travel experience of 2014 for me. On an October afternoon as I walked the streets of Tokapal haat, an old tribal man came up to me and threatened me to leave. Severely reticent and guarded about their culture, such a warning is to be taken seriously in that part of the country. The fierce look in his eyes, support of a few other men and a language gap that left me incapacitated to explain why I was there, I grudgingly turned back. This was important for a book and I was in no mood to leave. It must have been something about the disappointed look – suddenly my right arm felt a fierce pull and my body followed, swinging behind it. I was taken under the wing of the village women, who were drunk on landa, the local brew made of rice. A little hitch in the journey that could have abruptly stopped but for the kind drunk women. Of course, I sat and had a whole leaf full with them!

 

Faye Rodrigues (Pages of My Waking Life)
This took place about 10 years back, but it’s still fresh… On a family holiday in Goa, we had taken a short day trip to a nearby hot springs. After an eventful day filled with fun moments, we returned home and immediately crashed. A couple of days later, the family wanted to see the pictures that had been captured. My uncle immediately went to develop the film and lo and behold! There was no film! I guess we’re really thankful for digital cameras, but what if we forget the memory card this time?

 

bhavani (merry to go around)
We were on our way to find those fireflies at Purushwadi, on a trip organised by Grassroutes. They had promised it was a simple drive from Mumbai. We began, of course, after consulting Google Maps and made our way down the highway, took this right turn that the woman with the American accent told us to and then another.  The road meandered along pretty rural areas and we were quite happy as we went up, down, twisted and turned. It was a rather long drive till we reached a tunnel. We went in only to see that it was blocked at the end. We stopped, looked at this wall and wondered if there was a way out. The village, our destination, was just on the other side of this mountain. Confused, we turned and made our way out of the tunnel… There were two security guards sitting on plastic chairs and sharing a cup of chai. Just as we rolled down our window and began to ask them, one of them said in a loud voice, “Oh aap internetwale hai? Internet wale log bahut aate hain…. Ye tho kab se bandh hain.” Yes, we were the ‘internet people’ who had landed up there, like the many other ‘internet-people’! It was a long journey back to the highway, and in a rather eerie way, when we replotted our destination on Google Maps, it said we were off-course. Yeah, like we didn’t know!

 

Photo Credit: Bhavani
After we turned around… the light at the ‘wrong’ end of the tunnel? Photo Credit: Bhavani

 

5 Trips That Didn’t Go As Planned (But made Great Movies)

What kind of a traveller are you? Do you Google the life out of your next trip? Read a hundred reviews of the hotel you’ll be staying in, Street View the place and draw up an itinerary that programs every half hour of your vacation time? Or do you give into impulse, pack at the last minute and, as Elsa in Frozen sang, ‘Let it go’? No matter what your preferred mode of trotting around the world is, the thumb rule is that most trips are rendered memorable by the unexpected. Here are five real life epic trips gone wrong, trips that did not go as planned, and the equally epic films on them.

 

127 Hours (2010)
Link (Trailer)

 

A cocksure 28 year old hiker gets his arm wedged under a boulder in the deserted Blue John Canyon in Utah. None of his friends or his family know where he’s hiking, and after five days without human contact, his only chance at freedom is self-amputation with a dull knife. Based on the true story of Aron Ralston, Oscar winning director Danny Boyle takes us into the deepest recesses of the human survival instinct. Be warned, it’s graphic. Audience members fainted during a screening of the film at the Toronto Film Festival. But it’s also life affirming in the best sense of the word.


 

Kon-Tiki (2012)
Link (Trailer)

 

Kon-Tiki is the name of the Inca Sun God. It’s also the name of the raft that Norwegian explorer and ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl piloted across the Pacific Ocean in 1947 from Peru to Polynesia. Yes, a raft. Not a ship. Not a boat. To make matters even more interesting, he couldn’t swim. Why did he do this? To prove his hypothesis that contact between the South America and Polynesia was possible in the pre-Columbian era. Heyerdahl set off on an almost 5000 mile expedition with just five crew members and a parrot for company, and on, a gentle reminder, a raft. It was a bumpy ride, full of sharks and storms and no navigational technology. In 2012, Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg turned it into an Oscar nominated film that is a testament to the spirit of discovery.


 

Grizzly Man (2005)
Link (Film)

 

Grizzly Man is simply put, one of the best documentaries of all time. It’s based on the life and times of bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell who actually lived on a bear reserve in Alaska to prove his point that human interaction with grizzly bears was safe. As it turns out, this was not true. Werner Herzog, working off 100 hours of actual footage that Treadwell shot, brings his signature contrarian point of view and Bavarian accent to the proceedings. Grizzly Man gave me more sleepless nights than The Blair Witch Project. Enough said.


 

Into The Wild (2007)
Link (Trailer)

 

Sean Penn’s directorial debut is based on the real life story of Christopher McCandless; an extreme idealist who felt that modernity was a corrupter of the soul. After his graduation McCandless burnt his credit cards, gave away all his money and set about winging his way through Western America. He kept the all-important journal documenting his moves but was ill-prepared for the harshness of nature and eventually starved to death in Alaska. In 1966 John Krakauer recreated McCandless’ journey through a book which caught the fancy of the beatnik generation and McCandless became something of an icon. Perhaps because, despite his naiveté, he remains one of the most relevant representations of material disenchantment and the urge to venture into the unknown. Penn’s film is a must watch. It also features a superb soundtrack by Eddie Vedder, the lead vocalist of the band Pearl Jam.


 

Seven Years in Tibet (1997)
Link (Trailer)

 

Brad Pitt, looking like the very epitome of Aryan beauty, plays Heinrich Harrer an Austrian climber who wanted to conquer the Nanga Parbat peak in the Himalayas. While he and his team were attempting it, World War II broke out. They were taken prisoners by the British and sent off to a POW camp in Dehradun. Harrer and a teammate managed to escape and somehow made their way into Lhasa in Tibet where the then 11 year-old Dalai Lama engaged Harrer’s services as a tutor. He went on to spend seven years in Tibet. Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film on Harrer is sometimes simplistic but it remains a potent true story of the East and the West colliding.


 

The next time things don’t go as planned on your trip, take heart, you are in some stellar company!

 


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Kalpana Nair

An Associate Producer with the digital platform Film Companion, Kalpana is addicted to movies and can no longer tell if she is in one or watching one or writing about one. She blogs at www.ladymiddlebrow.wordpress.com and tweets @kalpananair.

Birdsong—A Prayer for Tibet

‘Twas a windy day as we roamed the streets of McLeod Ganj, a beautiful little town in Himachal Pradesh. The air was laden with the fresh scent of pine trees and the cool wind blew in our faces. My oldest friend from school Divya and I had decided to go on an all-girls trip to explore Dharamsala & McLeod Ganj. As we made our way through the crowded by-lanes of the market, we saw plenty of curio shops with “Free Tibet” signs outside. Prayer flags adorned every tree, every shop entrance and every house, creating a festive & colourful atmosphere.

 

We spotted a quaint little organic café and meandered in. To one side of the café, I noticed a lady wearing a traditional Tibetan dress sitting by herself with a cup of coffee. She was chatting to the store owner in Tibetan while showing her some pictures on her phone. The Tibetan language, with its high-pitched tones & intonations, sounded almost like a bird song. Suddenly she broke out into a lovely folk song. Her voice engulfing the room like waves gently covering the sandy shore. Enraptured, I knew I had to speak with her and find out more.

 

“You have such a lovely voice,” I gushed. She looked up at me and smiled. “I am a musician from Delhi and would love to learn this song from you. Please could you tell me the lyrics so I could write them down?”

 

She looked around shyly, surprised at the unexpected attention, but after a little egging on, she obliged. I wrote down the words she narrated on a paper napkin I’d borrowed from the lady at the counter (who looked both amused and delighted with the scene). She taught me the song line by line and then we sang it together; the café echoing with the sound of our voices. When we finished, the other customers at the café cheered and clapped. We had become the stars of a mini concert in a little corner of the world.

 

“Could you explain the meaning of the words?” I asked her, curious.

 

“It is about a bird flying above the mountains looking for freedom,” she explained in a soft voice that trailed off.

 

I sensed there was something deeper to her words and wished to know more about her story. She was born in a beautiful little village in Tibet where she lived an idyllic life with her husband, a school teacher. This was until China occupied Tibet and all hell broke loose. Scores of monasteries were broken down. Strict oppressive laws were brought into place. People, who raised their voices, mysteriously disappeared. Musicians, who sang about injustice, were jailed. In desperation, monks started self-immolating to bring attention to their cause. India opened her arms to hundreds of Tibetans, led by his Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

 

“A lot of people tried to flee Tibet during this time,” she continued. “Those who were fortunate escaped, but many didn’t. I managed to escape to India with my children but my husband… He was not allowed to leave.”

 

She rummaged in her purse and pulled out a photo concealed in a plastic cover for protection. Two handsome young men looked at me, almost forlornly, from the picture.

 

“These are my boys,” she said with pride. “One is 19 and the other is 17. We live in Bangalore, where I work at a healing centre.”

 

“And your husband? When did you last see him?” I asked, dreading the answer. With a faraway look in her eyes she said, “I haven’t seen him in 17 years”. Seventeen years! And I complain if I don’t see my husband for two weeks.

 

“I speak with him when I can on the phone but most of the times I can’t reach him and don’t know if he’s ok. When I miss him a lot, I sing these songs, they remind me of him, and our life together. I don’t know when I’ll see him again but I pray that I will, someday… Pray for me?”

 

Something about her story struck an emotional chord in my heart and I couldn’t hold back my tears.

 

“May I give you a hug?” I asked. She gave me a nod; we hugged and sobbed in each others arms. Not saying anything but understanding… everything. Two strangers, now friends, bound by a story of love and loss, and a moving song.

 

We sang together again, one last time in unison. Our voices ringing with truth, a silent prayer and the conviction that one day the bird would indeed fly to freedom and be re-united with his beloved sky.

 

Photo Credit: Pragnya
Photo Credit: Pragnya

 


Pragnya Wakhlu

 

 

 

 

 

Pragnya Wakhlu
Eternal optimist, songwriter, musician & story teller, Pragnya is inspired by the simple things in life. She released her debut album “Journey to the Sun” in 2012 which was nominated for multiple categories at the South East Asian Music awards, GIMA & Jack Daniels Rock Awards. She is the founder of Mousai India, an organisation which explores using sound & movement for liberating people’s true potential. She writes an informative music blog A Musician’s Musings for indie musicians in her free time. Connect with Pragnya.

 


Feature Image Credit: Bhavani

A Rule-bound Stay at Windamere Hotel in Darjeeling

Katherine Hepburn once famously said, “If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.” Not at Windamere in Darjeeling, I thought to myself, you would have been punished if you didn’t obey all the rules. ‘All the rules’, for, there are plenty of them. Windamere used to be a boarding house after all. So what if it has long been converted to a hotel. Old habits die hard! Nay! Old ‘rules’ die hard!

 

This 19th Century boarding house, for the bachelor tea-planters from England and Scotland, became Windamere Hotel in the 1930s, post which came deluge of travellers from around the world. Thus started an era of high profile guests and grand parties. The Christmas party at Windamere is legendary—there are stories of how party enthusiasts would book their tables a good one year in advance! The tradition continues to date, well almost; now, bookings are made months in advance. With the cottages, library, music room, and snuggery intact, Windamere retains its old-world charm even as everything around us is fast crumbling. And it holds on to the old-world discipline too… the ‘rules’ I was telling you about! Every cottage, dining room, music room, coffee room and even the bathroom has its own set of rules.

 

I saw them first when we were checking in—the rule about tipping the staff. A commonplace one, I didn’t even raise my eyebrow.

 

Reception desk

 

Then we entered our room and it was a different story. On the fireplace, sat a ‘mouthful’ of rules telling us why we shouldn’t keep the windows open, why we should stay away from monkeys, the room-heater, rules about morning tea… All neatly placed in proper frames or as laminates!

 

bedroom 1ab

 

Bedroom 2ab

 

Bedroom 3ab
Bedroom 4ab

 

Bedroom 5ab

 

Bedroom 6ab

 

And then I saw this when I stepped into the bathroom!

 

bedroom 1ab

 

If there are rules in the bathroom, there must be more! Convinced, I armed myself with the camera and headed out, first towards the reception to click the one about tipping staff, and then, towards the dining room. Eureka! There was one about the meal timings; and another even more amusing one! You cannot enter the darn place until the steward rings his bell. I dare say, the bell dates back to the boarding house days too.

 

Dining Room Rules

 

Lunch Bell

 

Like a bunch of good children, we queued up to go in for lunch. We didn’t have the courage to disregard the ‘lunch bell’. What if we got a dressing down for not being on time? No no… no taking chances with 19th Century, you said it, rules!

 

My treasure hunt resumed after lunch. I headed straight to the library and the music room, only to be further rewarded. Here, in colloquial language was another set of rules imploring you not to move pieces of furniture, not to touch the grand piano and not to… and many others.

 

Music Room ab

 

Library

 

By now, my amusement had given way to fear. I cautiously looked around everywhere before I slumped into a sofa… Then leapt out, what if there were rules regarding that too? For the rest of my stay at Windamere, I was on guard—I looked for instructions, asked for explicit permission before I touched anything, did anything or even simply moved!

 


From the Editor’s Desk:
The photographs are a bit shaky, but we still felt it was a great story to tell. Apologies about the photo-quality.

 


Deepa & Jayanta

 

 

 

 

 

Deepa Dutta Chaudhuri
Writer, blogger and one half of the warring couple of Wheels on Our Feet.

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