Category Archives: Travel

Sea shells in Seychelles

22 July – 31 July 2017

It was a rather random plan that was floated among the four of us – a trip to Seychelles. The name sounded rather exotic to a geographically challenged person like me, and simply the mention of beaches was enough for the idea to be sold.

My husband and I often travel to the forests of India. These trips usually have a fixed itinerary – wake up, go on safaris, eat, go back on a safari, sleep and do the same thing the next day. As routine as that may sound, the real thrill is in discovering the hidden beauties of the forest. So each minute in each safari is unpredictable, although the overall trip is planned to the T.

This time however, the destination was a little out of the comfort zone, and we struggled to wrap our heads around it. What do we pack, how much do we pack, do we need to carry food, will we have to wear a new set of clothes every single day?! Questions troubled us on the prior evening as we sat amidst a pile of clothes and wondered why we chose such an ‘offbeat’ destination….

My first impression of Seychelles was a thin strip of runway, flanked by sea on both its sides. Suddenly, I was restless for the plane to land and to get out there and smell the ocean breeze.

We landed in Mahe and rushed to catch a jetty that would take us to the island of Praslin. We had planned our vacation around the three islands that are usually preferred by tourists – Praslin, La Digue and Mahe. Unlike my traveller husband, I had not read anything about these places. I was ready to embrace whatever came my way, the good or the bad. Although looking around at the beautiful landscape, it didn’t seem like any bad would come our way for the next 9 days.

The boat ride to Praslin was the first reminder that you need the bad to help you appreciate the good. As the boat rode the rough sea at high speed, our stomachs churned and each one of us dealt with our first bouts of sea sickness. When the boat finally reached Praslin an hour later, we walked out with pale faces and weak knees, but eager to have reached the first destination.

The only plan for this vacation was that it was going to be entirely unplanned. We had a few destinations in mind, which we absolutely wanted to check out, but other than that….we could laze around all day in the house, on the beach, or wherever we wanted.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Was, too! šŸ˜‰

We lived in self – catering apartments on all the three islands, and that was a rather fun experience as opposed to living in a typical holiday resort. You get a taste of what setting up a home in a foreign country will feel like. You get used to a different kitchen set up and new tools around the house. You get used to the neighbourhood and the cheapest bread and butter options around! And above all, you get acquainted with the locals and their way of life.

Each island we visited had a different perspective towards life. Mahe was a typically bustling city, filled with supermarkets and branded stores. People rushing about their work, not having the leisure to share a smile with their neighbour. Praslin, on the other hand, was a little more relaxed. Random strangers greeted us and wished us a Good Day ahead; taxi drivers struck up conversations on the most weirdest of topics!

But the best of the lot was La Digue. A tiny island, the only way you could move around was on foot or by bicycle. For the lazy, there were battery operated cars too. Everyone here had more than a minute to spare and we were ‘my friends’ to all the locals. This was a place where everyone had the time to see the sunset, every single evening.

These 9 days on pristine beaches and foreign soil, somehow put my entire life in perspective. I wondered why we miss out on admiring nature’s beauty so often and prefer to stay glued to our computer screens instead. Why don’t we look out of our windows more often? Why don’t we take a moment to think about why we are doing what we do, but just prefer to work right on? A taxi driver in Mahe further strengthened this thought, when he casually commented, “See, only Indians working on Sunday. Rest everyone takes break, Indians work!” Does that mean we are extremely hard working people? Perhaps! But doesn’t that also mean that we are losing out on so much that there is to offer, beyond our four walls of comfort?

When was the last time you appreciated the sunset and let it envelop you in its romance? When was the last time you walked barefoot through the silvery sands of a pristine beach? When was the last time you stood still and just let the waves wash you around? When was the last time you lived all day in your swimsuit and didn’t mind the sand trails you left all over the house?

I hadn’t really done any of these things till date. But at Seychelles, I lived them to the fullest. It was hard to come back to a life of traffic and pollution and deadlines…but come back, we had to. It was a mental break definitely, but it was also a great learning experience for me.

It taught me to take some time off from all that routine we get ourselves into. It made me look beyond the hazy polluted air and smile at the orange hues of each sunset that I daily drive back home in. In fact, it made me leave office in time to catch each sunset.

Almost 12 days later, I am still suffering from the Seychelles hangover. I have a tan, evidence of all those hours on the beach. I have a swimsuit filled with sand, souvenirs from the waves I jumped into. And I have a smile on my face that refuses to diminish, proof of how effective that vacation was…

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Meghalaya ki ‘khasi’yat…

3 – 10 September 2015.

Madness. Chaos. Work pressures. A super – early flight. Rubbing the sleep out of eyes. Collecting friends en route the airport. Backpacks dumped, one upon the other. Pune – Delhi – Guwahati. A flurry of activities all around. Whew!

Fresh air. Good roads. Grey clouds clamouring in the sky. A light drizzle staining the car windows. A sense of peace slowly pervading through. Relaxing each inch of the body. Phew!

Such a massive transition. Within less than 12 hours, we had travelled from the noisy streets of Pune to the serene winding roads of Meghalaya. The mind was slow to catch up, where the body had already reached. It is amazing, what technological progress can do to mankind. How we had crossed the breadth of the country within such a short span of time. How we had gone from honking horns to dreamy valleys. Welcomed with an Assamese “gamcha” at the Guwahati airport by our local help for the next 8 days, our journey finally kicked off, in the true sense.

It was an idea floated rather casually within friends a few months ago. The idea of exploring the North – east. An area that quite a number of people are unaware of. We were bombarded with questions like “Are you done with your visa?” “What are you going to do for 8 long days there?” “Wouldn’t you be better off visiting some tourist- friendly place instead?” It surprised us, it baffled us…..that the people around us were that ignorant about such a beautiful part of our own country.

It helps to have a husband who works in the travel and tourism industry. It helps even more to have travel companions with the same goals and objectives of the trip. And thus, the four of us booked early-bird (and dirt cheap!) tickets to Meghalaya. And that is where our planning began and ended! It was going to be a spontaneous trip, with our feet, hearts and stomachs guiding us.

After the months of anticipation, failed attempts at planning a basic itinerary and random coffee meets instead, there we all were….sleepy-eyed but excited, with lighter hearts and even lighter backpacks. We were headed to the Abode of Clouds, to bring back the rains, wrapped in sheets of memories…

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Our first stop was Shillong. A city not too different from Pune. Traffic jams met us at every nook and corner. But what surprised us was the discipline imbibed within the Shillong traffic. Cars lined up silently one after the other. Drivers switched off the ignitions and waited patiently for the roads to clear up. Hill-stations are often sleepy towns, we had heard but this was a level of patience we were not prepared for. Especially since we came from a city where every vehicle is in a state of constant competition with each other. But then we discovered the secret behind this discipline that prevailed through Shillong. At every possible juncture, boards reading “No overtaking. Fine Rs.500/-“, “No Parking. Fine Rs. 500/-” and other such threats were put up. And why not? The threats worked! There were traffic jams but none where cars were stuck for ages. Our journey was slow, but steady. As the sun set on our first day in Meghalaya, we reached the Assam Guest House, our home for the next 2 days. Economical and a luxury, the rooms were a treat to our sore backs. A quick stroll through the city, dinner at Cafe Shillong and we had hit our beds. The next day was spent in exploring Shillong. A rather typical tourist city, we visited the Elephant Falls and got a bird’s-eye view of Shillong from the Shillong peak. We spent hours admiring the work and history of Don Bosco at the Don Bosco Museum, enjoyed a sky walk amidst a beautiful drizzle and gaped at the enormous and private collection ofĀ butterflies from all over the world.

IMG-20150907-WA0013A bustling city, Shillong was beautiful….and yet the travellers within us were restless. Where were the clouds lying low over the mountains? Where was the dense greenery? Where was the crisp air? 2 days later, our luggage was back in the hired car and off we headed, toward Cherapunjee. A name straight out of Geography textbooks. The place of highest rainfall. And there we were, visiting it in the monsoon. Our main objective here was trekking down to the Double Decker Living Root Bridge. A UNESCO site, this bridge is a tangle of massive roots…strong enough to hold people and carry them back and forth. [A separate blog dedicated to this wonder coming up soon!]

IMG-20150907-WA0012We also visited the Nohkalikai Falls near Cherapunjee, known to be the tallest plunge waterfall in India. Beyond this noteworthy statistical information, witnessing the waterfall was an entirely different story altogether. Imagine this : You are standing atop a mountain. Looking down. A waterfall, highlighted by a sliver of sunshine. Sparkling bright. Crashing down into the depths of the valley and yet flowing smooth as silk.

Heading on to Mawlynnong – the cleanest village in Asia – we gorged on local food and visited the single living root bridge there. Then off to Mawsynram, the place that now holds the record for the highest rainfall. Back to Shillong. On to Guwahati. Our plans were guided by the weather. The rains and floods tried to ruin our plans, we were one step ahead by embracing whatever was possible.

We made our way through clouds, we struggled with language barriers, we faced disappointments, we had minor disagreements. And yet, we greedily devoured fresh pineapples being sold by the IMG-20150907-WA0011roadside; we participated (and even won!) at ‘legalised’ archery gambling; we walked down the starlit streets of Shillong; we warmed ourselves at the fireplace of Cherapunjee; we walked along the Dawki river and peeked over into Bangladesh; we argued over who last had the deck of cards; we also cruised the mighty Brahmaputra to hungrily gapeĀ at the 5 captive Golden Langurs upon the Umanand island….

We loved and lived each inch of Meghalaya that was available to us. We yearned and wished for the rest of the North – eastern states. We came back from a vacation but with lingering memories. Our bodies are back but our souls left behind a promise. That we would be back. And soon. To explore the nooks and crannies of the diversity even a few states put together can offer. To taste the variety of cuisine these states offer. To soak in the multiple languages and dialects being spoken here. To just breathe in that pollution-free air.

We spent 8 long days there, and yet so much remains unexplored. A beauty that keeps tempting you back, that is the ‘Khasi’yat of Meghalaya…

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The F word…

14 July 2015.

Today, Facebook is flooded with pictures from yesteryears. Every second update is a flowing tribute. I smile as today, I don’t just scroll through the endless updates but actually stop and read each one. I am amused at how many of my friends come from the same source.

Foliage Outdoors.

Today, as Foliage Outdoors turns 15, every person associated with it till date relives their memories. You can see it in their updates. You can see it through their photos. And as you read, you realise how a single organization has changed the lives of so many different individuals in so many different ways…

If I were asked what Foliage Outdoors actually means to me, I think my immediate response would be a moment of complete silence. Of speechlessness. And in that very silence, my love and gratitude will find voice. I doubt if I could ever find a single all-encompassing word or even a sentence to define my relationship with Foliage.

Family? Friends? Entire families who have become friends? So many friends who became one huge family?

Foliage Outdoors turns 15 today, my age when I first walked in to this office. A smaller office than today’s, slightly cramped and yet always welcoming. Till date, the memories of that cozy office with orange hues warms up my heart. It was where I cycled to, at any and every leisurely hour. It was where I experienced the pampering of older siblings that I had not. It was where I learnt to explore new potentials within me and it was also where my career interests were nurtured.

My first camp as a camper. My one and only. Ranthambhore, the forest that introduced me to wildlife. It taught me how to love it and respect it, to care for it and help conserve it. The rage of eco – tourism caught up with me and I stepped over to join the Eco-centrics. I wasn’t actually born to be wild, and yet these people taught me to live life just so.

To rappel down 20-feet mountain faces or rather just plunge into the chilled waters of the Ganges from a 40-feet tall cliff. I shivered from within and learnt to put on a brave face nevertheless.

To visit the many beautiful and pristine forests of India and see the animals in their natural habitats. The skipped heartbeat while hearing the echoing alarm call just inches away from you or the racing pulse upon seeing the Royal Bengal Tiger walk straight toward you. The joy of seeing a leopard cross your path and knowing that this cat can never bring you bad luck. The realisation that you are falling in love with this life. Hard and fast.

To pack 40 hyper kids in a single bus and take them away from the comfort of their homes. To share this love and addiction of camping. To teach these young souls to become independent little beings. In return, you get treated to slobbery kisses, heartfelt hugs, midnight cuddles and teary goodbyes. You wipe off their vomits, you teach them toilet manners, you reprimand them on their eating etiquettes and you heal each physical and emotional wound there is and can be imagined. For those few hours and days, the families are forgotten and you become their everything. A mother, a father, an elder sister, a best friend. You know in 3 days, you are going to go through this process again. With a new set of hyper kids. And yet, just for that moment, you want to get caught up in that magic. Of trying to cheer up 35 homesick children. Of trying to convey the Ā impossibility of squeezing in 20 people on to a single bed, to 7-year olds. Of loving these darlings truly and having them love you back. An innocent love, so rare.

Today, the memories flood in by the plenty and I end up staring at the screen with mixed feelings. I am happy, sad, nostalgic, proud and so much more. Foliage Outdoors gave me more than I could have ever asked for. A huge family, an endless stream of friends and new experiences around each bend. They took a shy girl in and believed in her. While once upon a time, I didn’t have anything worthwhile to talk about, today I never run out of topics. I learnt how to recognize birds, plants, butterflies. I learnt how to handle snakes. I learnt how to distinguish between the different calls of animals. I also learnt how to tie different types of knots and how to conduct adventure activities. I learnt to handle a rifle and the intricacies of archery. I learnt how to handle children and how to read the language of their eyes. I learnt how to deal with all sorts of people and even fall in love with one. I learnt how to think of others before self and how to take care of yourself.

In the 8 years that I have been associated with Foliage, I’ve shamelessly grabbed on to each opportunity that came my way. I can only hope that I manage to give something back as well.

Foliage is my kinda F word. Children should learn this one instead šŸ˜‰

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