Posted in Life, Mumbai, Nature, Places, Quick Thoughts, Travel

coming back home

Still immersed in the smells and sights of my trip, I came back home yesterday after twelve days. On way back, I was a little irritated by the return journey and worried about going back to normal life. An unclean house awaited me with an empty kitchen and fridge. The suitcase in my hand reminded me of mandatory upcoming laundry time. My mind indulged a bit in the memories of the people I met and places I saw. But the discomforts of the trip would soon be replaced by convenience of a home. I was looking forward to the familiarity of home while missing the strangers and friends I left behind.

Every time I come back home, there is a mixed set of feelings. Happy and sad. A little annoyed. Sometimes tired and numb. Followed by confusion. But as soon as I enter home, there is always something that brings in a sense of comfort. The turmoil inside settles down.

Mostly its a small item kept in my room that spells home for me like the Ganesha idol on my dressing table or a pile of books lying next to my bed.

Yesterday, it was just the balcony and the view outside. It started raining as soon as I entered home. The vast landscape was covered in mist. I stood there for a while soaking in the sound of heavy rainfall, cool breeze, misty view and gorgeous patterns of streetlights in rains with city melting away in the background.

Mumbai in rains. Life is back to normal.

 

 

 

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Posted in Life, Nature, Places, Travel

A common mistake we make in love

 

What do you think about when you think about love?

What do you pray for when you pray for love?

 

Be careful what you wish for, it might just come true!

 

I learnt an interesting lesson about love during a trip to one of my dream destinations. It might sound obvious enough but most of us make this common mistake anyway.

Ever since I can remember, I had fancied Cherapunjee, a small town in Meghalaya widely considered the place with most rainfall in the world. It was one of my dream destinations. I love rains and I love mountains. I don’t know when but sometime as a kid I remember reading that somewhere far away in the North eastern part of the country, up in the mountains, there is a town called Cherrapunjee which is blessed with abundant rainfall. I was fascinated.

I dreamt of being there at least once in monsoons and get drowned in the love nature bestowed upon us in the form of this beautiful green mountain village. It was not a popular tourist destination of India like Kashmir, Kerala or Goa. I was laughed at for the desire of visiting Cherapunjee in monsoon, an unlikely tourist destination in an off-peak season. But I reveled in my blind love for this mythical land.

As I grew up, opportunities for me to travel increased; the world changed; travel and communication became easier; and the global environment saw a shift. Cherrapunjee dropped to the third wettest place on earth. My love only grew stronger and more stubborn. I had to go there once.

Finally… finally I managed a trip last monsoon. And guess what I discovered. I had been in love with a false image. Cherapunjee is beautiful… but… not even close to the image in my dreams. There were no clouds and no rains. Five days in Meghalaya and I saw only a light drizzling on one morning. And on other days, I saw tons of tourists who gorged on its pristine beauty. I was late by a few years (before tourism took over) and late by a few months (when monsoon was at its peak). I went with different expectations. I was in love with an image. This was not my dream.

I was disappointed because I went with wrong expectations at the wrong time. I can blame the people, government, environment or cry in front of God. But the truth is that having expectations of a dreamland from a real world village is probably just stupid. I also refused to accept the changes that are inevitable with time. I refused to let go of my fairyland image. And most importantly, I just wished for the wrong thing.

The real reason I fancied Cherrapunjee was because of its beautiful rains. I fancied clouds, incessant rains, cool breeze, grey roads and muddy pathways in mountains. I fancied myself getting drenched in the rains and drowned in the mesmerizing beauty of mountains. What I instead wished for was a visit to a place with the name Cherapunjee. I asked for the gift box, not the gift. I received the gift box but when I opened it, it was just empty dark space.

I have extremely fond memories of my travels around Western Ghats in Maharashtra & Karnataka in monsoon… treks and drives through the beautiful hilly pathways in rains. I was in love when I was there. I was immersed in the beauty of rains and mountains. But I kept longing for Cherapunjee. My heart defined Himalayas as the real mountains and Western Ghats as small hills. I loved Western Ghats and Mumbai monsoon with all my heart but there was always a little corner in my heart reserved for Cherrapunjee.

 

Don’t we all make the same mistake with the love of a man or a woman? We long for a perfect image. We pray for the gift pack and often we receive an empty box. We think we want a specific man or woman because it perfectly fits the definition of ‘the ideal’ partner. That crush, that college friend, that person you had a great vacation with, that person you dated once, that person from work, that person… that name… that is not necessarily what you want. We pray for a specific name. But how often do we pray for love… real love? Love can come in any form, the one we think is right or someone we ignored. And often we end up in relationships with no soul.

Be careful what you wish for, it might just come true!

Wish for the soul, for love… Don’t wish for a name, a particular man or woman. That specific person may or may not be the one who can give you the love you want and deserve the love you can give.

 

 

Posted in Nature, Places, Travel

The color of Earth and Sunshine

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It’s Brown. It’s bright. It’s beautiful. Ladakh. It’s a cold desert. It’s cold and dry. The colours of Ladakh had me in shock when I reached there. And then I was mesmerized. Ladakh is an uncanny combination of dull and bright. Because of the altitude, the sun is especially bright and sky clear and Blue. However, for miles, I could only see huge rocky Brown mountains and winding Grey roads. A part of me yearned for another colour, especially Green. I like Green and Blue. I like them together. I have never before seen so much Brown and Grey. The part of Ladakh that is Green wasn’t a part of the itinerary. If I had known the overpowering feeling of Brown rocky mountains and bright sunlight, I would have probably altered the plan a bit.

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I wonder if the lack of colours ever bothers the native population. The people from the deserts of Rajasthan make up for the dull monotony of Brown and yellow with extremely colourful clothes, interiors and food. But Ladakh’s clothes are also Grey and Maroon.

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The overpowering feeling of being surrounded with Brown was especially bothersome on our way to Nubra valley from Leh. The route was long and tiring. It was absolutely beautiful but so very Brown and rocky. The journey ended in a sand desert that inhabits double hump Camels. More Brown and Grey.

Two-humped camels from Nubra Valley

The key highlight of the drive was Khardungla pass. The route can get really scary as you keep going higher up. As far as the eyes could see, there are rocks. The Blue sky meet the Brown rocky mountain near the hairpin bent of the Grey road. And you are a tiny little blip on the landscape.

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Initially it was fun searching for variants of Brown and Grey and playing with the sharp contrast created by sunlight and shadows on majestic mountains. After a while, I felt a little tired. The prayer flags brought in an interesting relief providing a beautiful contrast to the otherwise dull landscape.

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Brown has a very unique appeal. The first association of Brown for me is Soil and Trees, which remind me of the beauty of nature and the simplicity of existence stripped away from the artificial world created by man. Surprisingly enough, it’s also a very comforting color. It feels more natural than the other brighter colors. It doesn’t have the fire of Yellow, Orange and Red. It doesn’t have the icy coldness of Indigo and Violet. Just like the pleasant Green, Brown is also very comforting and motherly. It’s soothing to the eyes. The color reminds me of Petrichor, the beautiful fragrance rising up from Earth after the first rains. However, in Ladakh, we encountered Brown without the rains and the trees. The dry rocks were rough. The beauty was lost on us initially.

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It was on the last leg of our journey, in Pangong Lake, that I found an absolute love for the magnificent mountains. Early morning, on our way back, we decided to stop near the lake for a while more. The beauty of the moment was unparalleled. The reflection of the glorious mountains in the lake filled the landscape with Brown… a much softer shade. And it was gorgeous.

Pangong Lake

Ladakh is Brown, Grey and Blue.

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Posted in Life, Spirituality, Travel

Life view from monotony of long queues

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View of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

I was advised to not miss a visit to the Victoria peak in Hong Kong by tram. And I didn’t. However, I didn’t find tram not-to-be-missed mind-blowing experience. The view from up there was absolutely mesmerizing. The view from tram was interesting. But the experience of getting in the tram was painful. Those were the longest two hours of my life.

I love high viewpoints. I love the views at dawn and dusk. I love the night views of big cities. In my unplanned Hong Kong trip, the only thing on my must-do list was Victoria Peak by tram.

Like any other tourist, charmed by the thought of a brilliant viewpoint and an interesting ride, I went strolling down the streets of Hong Kong in search of the Tram station. I walked through the city during the day and planned to reach the peak late in the evening to catch the sunset view. I was comfortably oblivious to zillion other tourists.

I was directed to the beginning of the queue across the road under a bridge. I stayed under the bridge for almost an hour walking over every inch of that little square. This was followed by another hour over another tiny square next to the ticket window and then the unstructured herd at the platform.

It was hot, humid and noisy. Needless to say, the queue moved slowly. It was uncomfortable and painful, especially to my shoulders from carrying a heavy camera bag and my legs from dragging me over that annoyingly short distance of less than 100 meters in a span of two hours.

While waiting in the queue, all I could do was observe, watch or meditate. I was the only single tourist there. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t feel alone or lonely. I was surrounded by a sea of people. No one looked like me but no one looked down at me with the disgust or fear reserved for strangers, dark skin and single women. No one came alone but no one carried a question or suspicion in his or her eyes landing on a solo female tourist in the queue. However, no one even tried to smile at others or talk to anyone outside their groups. Everyone was busy in friendly chatter or trying to find innovative ways to deal with humidity and the monotony of standing in a never-ending queue.

The monotony was overwhelming. The only thing that kept me going was the need to see the view from the peak. In the initial moments, my mind tried to bring back some memories from past or plans for future. What else could it do? Initially the thoughts were from my recent past, disappointments and pains of my life. But the emotional pain couldn’t keep up with the unimaginable amount of free time offered to the idle mind. It moved to future plans. It fabricated scenes and plans to deal with the upcoming challenges. There was still more idle time to deal with.

Sometime soon enough my mind gave up. Nothing mattered anymore… the emotional pains of the past or the fears of the future. The need to cry or complain or forgive was gone in the first fifteen minutes I think. All that mattered was to get through the queue and reach the top. I just observed the world around me and kept taking the next step when the queue moved. I just moved forward, one step at a time. The fragile ego didn’t care about the hurts; and the pains failed to bring up any feelings. In that moment, everything was forgiven simply because forgiveness has no meaning in the absence of pain. The past professional achievements and future dreams didn’t stir anything inside. Life didn’t loose its meaning, but the mind lost its ability to ponder on the meaning of life.

Nothing was important enough in the monotony of those two hours. I went through a similar experience a day after in the queue for cable car to Ngong Ping Village. The distance was longer and the queue was faster. By now my mind was experienced. It gave up as soon as it entered the queue. It said rudely, ‘don’t irritate me with your silly life problems… let me enjoy the view and the breeze.’

Monotony of queues gave me a new life perspective. The pains of lost love or ego-crushing humiliation of failures or the egotistical accolades for professional achievements or self-congratulatory notes on beauty and intelligence or the self-pity on physical ugliness and deformity or any other form of absolutely irrelevant emotion that basically arises from ego and a sense of self with respect to others didn’t matter. I wondered if nothing really matters. Most of it arises from the imaginations of your mind. None of this is real. When your mind is not bothered to feed you with images or create thoughts, you cannot perceive reality… any version of reality. Most of your life story comes from how you perceive your version of reality basis how your mind plays with imagination. The moment you realize all of this is a game, you can influence your brain to create thoughts, images and change your reality and your life story.

The tragedy can become comedy. The ego or self can be redefined. The hurts or pain can be turned to humour. Emotions like envy or greed can lose their meaning. Love can become an easy choice.

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized

My travel notes: Providence

I always wanted to see the snow. I don’t know why it fascinated me so. It was a dream that eluded me for almost three decades. I traveled to destinations where snow falls in abundance but the timing was never quite right.

I finally saw it in a small European village right out of a picture postcard. It looks like the place where they shoot pictures for holiday cards. It’s more beautiful than the dreams and the childhood fantasy land.

You can see the whole village from the train station. Our hotel address was only a house number. There was no street name or block number. Information center at the train station gave us a map of the region and pointed us in the direction of the house. There didn’t seem any need for public transportation. We walked.

It was raining which further added to the beauty of the village. Clouds also meant a need for alteration in our plans. We expected to cycle around the nearby villages, sit by the lake in bright sunshine and enjoy the view of the scenic landscape from a viewpoint up in the mountains which can be reached by a cable car.

The hotel owner informed us in a very disappointed voice that we will not be able to see anything from there because of snow. We can only visit the ice caves at the first cable car stop. The second stop is accessible but we can’t walk up to the view point.

To his surprise, I jumped up in excitement because I wanted to see the snow.

We dropped our luggage and immediately left. The ice caves were spectacular. The beauty of frozen ice inside caves was accentuated by the artificial lighting effects. By the time we reached back to the cable car station for our way ahead, our bodies were tired, spirits high and the heart still longing for snow fall. However we were too late. It was around 4:30 pm and the last cable car down from the high point was at 5 pm. The operator refused to take us up there because the view point was about 30 min away on foot and we would be stranded up there. So near yet so far.

We went back to the downhill cable station. While we waited for the cable car, an old man appeared out of nowhere and took the bench next to us. He looked a lot like Santa Claus without the red suit. He greeted us and asked where we are from. My friend replied, ‘India’. He said, ‘you should see the snow up there’. We told him it’s too late now and enquired how long it might take. He said he just came back from there and it took only 4 min. ‘You should go’, he said again.

After a moment’s hesitation, we made an impulse decision to take our chances. We ran back to the uphill station. The operator told us again that ‘you will need to be back by 5 and you won’t be able to go to the viewing point’. We went nevertheless.

It was snowing up there. We stayed near the station exit for about ten min. It was eerily quiet with an occasional noise of a machine being operated nearby. Everything was white. I felt soft light snowflakes falling on my hands and hair. I looked up at the snow falling from nowhere in particular. It was white and misty. A sense of absolute purity, beauty and peace set in. It was mesmerizing.

I finally saw the snowfall… by coincidence… a series of unplanned events… on an unexpected day… in an impulsive moment.

The old man was gone by the time we came back. I can’t help but wonder where did he come from and why in a 5-second conversation, he told us about the snow.

 

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized

My travel notes: The artist

She is an Austrian artist, currently based in a small touristy town in Eastern Europe. She sits on the sidewalk of a small uphill road running up to a proud fortress from the 11th century. She paints little miniature paintings of the fortress and other popular tourist destinations of the city. She describes her miniature artistic impressions of the fortress in great detail along with the significance of every little ledge protruding from the grey wall. She talks even more passionately about her flower paintings. Every flower she paints has a special significance. The story of each flower and its medicinal properties is even more impressive than the painting. The beauty of some paintings is enhanced further by philosophical little quotes written below in her beautiful artistic handwriting. There is a line from the poem written by her and a few others by famous philosophers from Europe and China. While she tells you about the therapeutic properties of some flowers, she throws in a line about the technique used for making the painting.
She pulls her torn jacket close to her body to protect herself from cold. But her eyes never leave you, except when she tells you about the political conditions of the country and treatment of women and artists. The wisdom of her light blue eyes, partly hidden by old specs, is deeply enhanced by her wrinkled face and warm smile. She can talk about art, history, medicine, yoga, philosophy and social perils with equal flair.

She sits at the steps of a grand ancient fortress in a beautiful European city, painting all day long, hoping to sell her miniature artistic impressions of the city, it’s spirit and her favorite flowers in an attempt to make some money for food and warm clothes, and happy to share her life story with anyone willing to listen to her.

She has great wisdom gathered over many years from books, her mother and her personal life experiences. She has strong political and social views. She is there only for a few more days. Once winter arrives, she has to find another place to sit, paint and sell her paintings. She dreams of writing a book with medicinal properties of flowers which few know of. She plans to migrate to another country, hopefully warmer, to continue her work.

I don’t know if her work is painting, medicine or philosophy. I don’t know if she has any family. She says she lives with a friend. She says the treatment of women artists in her country is unfair. I don’t know what gives her hope and what is the source of life in her.

But her story makes me wonder about the condition of women and poor in a rich country.

Posted in Travel

My travel notes: The old book shop

He is a German boy with a surprisingly sweet smile. He runs an old book shop hidden in an alley behind the main market road buzzing with eateries and souvenir shops flocked by tourists. He plays piano while you browse around the shop.

He doesn’t promote his shop. He says he would like to keep the surprise element when tourists find him.

It was a pleasant surprise for us. After a day of wandering around in a very touristy city where every second shop is trying to use Mozart to sell everything from a perfume to alcohol to chocolates, we stepped into an old quieter lane on our way to dinner. The quiet alley was lit up by a little book shop which looked straight out of the early 19th century. Turns out, the shop has been in existence since 1860.

Since all other shops were closed by that time, we stood at the entrance and queried if the shop is open for business. A young cute boy behind the counter popped out his head and welcomed us with an unexpected warm smile. He looked busy with accounts. We started to browse around.

The shop had an old world charm. The air inside was rich with the aroma of old books spread around the shop in no clear pattern. He didn’t seem to care much about order. It seemed as if books were haphazardly kept around in various wooden boxes, tables and shelves mounted on the walls. The old books were placed with the new ones. The torn papers were strewn around with the postcards. Some postcards had beautiful paintings but they looked as old as the shop itself.

The highlight of the small room was a grand wooden piano that seemed to serve more as a table for books than music. I was proven wrong soon enough when he started playing a beautiful melody without notice.

He had a very abstract answer to all our customer queries. He has a favorite poet, writer, painter but he didn’t know where the relevant books might be kept in the heap or whether he even had any. We found a few captivating sketches that were torn papers from a very old book which he couldn’t remember the name of.

While my friend was browsing the old books in an even smaller inner room, I was checking the origami papers in the outer room, which looked like the newest item for sale in his shop. His gaze followed me around the room for a few minutes before he started chatting.

He used to work as a book seller in Germany and then bought this shop from an old couple about 6 years back because he loves books. He spoke broken English but still managed to hold our interest enough with his words and gestures to make us want to come back.

We stand next to the piano with big warm smiles, wondering who will say goodbye first. I reflect on the past few minutes. Surreal. Memorable.

We leave with 2 coffee table books, torn pages from an old book and origami papers. We wish him good bye. ‘Thanks for finding me’, he says. I can see the lights dimming behind me as I leave. He wraps up his day and we walk on to explore the next alley.