It’s hard to believe that 2013 is coming to an end. This is the year I truly, madly fell in love with the sheer beauty of India, despite the challenges that travelling here is laced with (Read: 120 Days on The Road). I experienced the “other” side of the Himalayas and the Thar Desert, ventured deep in the interiors of Assam and Rajasthan, and developed an unexpected fascination for life in the wild. In search of an India Untravelled, I met incredible people dedicated to preserving the country’s beauty, ecology, heritage and traditions.
These are 13 moments from 2013 that make me all mushy about how much I love this crazy country.
1) Sunset on the Brahmaputra: Majuli, Assam.
A rusty ferry ride on the Bhramaputra River in Assam deposited me in another world at the start of 2013. We cycled along rickety river bridges, strolled along vast green meadows, and lived in ‘river bed’ villages far removed from civilization. The sunsets on the Brahmaputra convinced me that Majuli is one of the most beautiful places in India!
2) Touching the clouds: Dhanachuli, Uttarakhand.
At a time when the world was canceling its travel plans to Uttarakhand, I journeyed to the Himalayas of Kumaon to discover how the floods in the higher reaches of Garhwal had unfairly affected tourism in the entire state. In the terraced valleys of the quaint little village of Dhanachuli, the monsoon rains in July painted the most surreal scenery; forget writing, I was inspired to pen poetry.
3) Rain in the desert: Rajasthan.
Thus continued my unintentional chasing of the rains. In the vast, dry, parched desert of Rajasthan lay oases, small streams, and such greenery as I would’ve never fathomed. We off-roaded into the endless wilderness, spotted a Great Indian Bustard in its mating season (there are only 300 of them left in India), and joined the desert dwellers in celebrating the rain as we saw it approach us from the far end of the desert.
4) Unexpected love: Bangalore.
You probably know that I’ve never been a city person. So when I found myself drawn to stay longer in Bangalore on each trip, I was surprising even myself. But it’s a city that’s easy to fall in love with. The chilled out vibe, the always pleasant weather, the awesome eating options, I’ve loved it all, and could use any excuse to go back next year!
Read: 24 Hours in Bangalore
5) Beer by the beach: Coastal Karnataka.
Sitting on the rooftop of a beach home in coastal Karnataka, the waves crashing on the virgin beach below, the sunset painting the sky pink and red, sipping beer with a friend… that’s the earliest memory etched in my head from the time I went location independent in August. I’m glad the seagulls called!
6) Riding a speedboat: Goa.
I have to confess I didn’t know Goa had backwaters before I landed there in September. In the postcard village of Aldona, my host family introduced me to the “other side”, and believe it or not, I rode a speedboat along the virgin, riverine backwaters, home to crocodiles and kingfishers. Bliss.
7) Driving a Scooty in the Himalayas: Binsar, Uttarakhand.
Did I ever tell you about our Scooty gang in school? I’ve driven in the sloping hills of northern Thailand, and in blinding rain in Goa, but driving a beaten down scooty with a friend behind me, almost up to Zero Point in the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary was something else! (Mom, please don’t read this.)
8) Reasons to love Delhi again.
When I thought I was running out of reasons to love Delhi, my quest to find “Delhi Untravelled” salvaged me. I spent a day in a potters’ village on the outskirts of the city, charmed by their earthy way of life and fascinated by their genius at the wheel. And another day hiking along a cluster of pristine lakes in the Aravali hills just off Delhi, stunned by the treasures that lay in my own backyard all this time. It’s true; giving up my base in Delhi has made me want to see the city more!
9) Breakfast by the gorge: Panna, Madhya Pradesh.
On our very first jungle safari in Panna Tiger Reserve, we wound up at a gorge with waterfalls and vultures, and sipped tea with this view; that was the moment I knew I was in love with the wild. Pugdundee Safaris introduced me to the fascinating world of forests and wildlife in October, and speaking to their naturalists gave me much-needed perspective on wildlife tourism.
10) The man with the flute: Auroville.
I still find it hard to put my finger on my Auroville experience; they say it’s a place where everyone comes to follow their dreams, but for me, it was a place that inspired me to dream. On many evenings, I went to the rooftop of Auroville’s famous Solar Kitchen to read, and this man would show up with his flute, the birds following close behind. It was a wordless connection.
11) Encounter with the big cat: Tadoba, Maharashtra.
If Madhya Pradesh introduced me to my ‘wild’ side, Tadoba had me hooked. On our first jungle safari with Svasara Jungle Lodge, we were greeted by this majestic Royal Bengal Tigress for a whole five minutes. I can still feel the adrenalin rush of hearing a forest come alive with alarm calls, and can’t wait to do it all over again.
12) Geminid Meteor Shower: Thar Desert, Rajasthan.
I’ve dreamt of watching a meteor shower since the time I was a kid, and spent fruitless nights wandering around my terrace at home looking for shooting stars (heck, I even named my blog after it!). Laying on a mattress under the open sky in the Thar Desert was beautiful in itself, then a million thick green shooting stars surfaced in the skies! I’m still trying to find words to describe that experience.
13) Opium for breakfast: Dhalop, Rajasthan.
What can I say? The Rabari shepherd community of the Pali district of Rajasthan wanted to top all my other fabulous experiences in 2013, so there I sat with them, drinking opium!
Hope you enjoyed travelling across India virtually with me!
What were your “Incredible India” highlights of 2013?
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