I woke up to a distant roar, and felt a chill run down my spine. Sitting up, I slowly moved the curtain behind me, half expecting two fierce eyes staring back. Much to my relief, the only glow in the pitch black night was from the million stars twinkling above. A cool breeze tingled my face, and the stillness of the surrounding forest washed over me. I oriented myself in the dim light of a lantern, reminding myself that I was sleeping in a machan in the buffer zone of Pench National Park. My love affair with Central India’s forests began a couple of years ago, when I lost myself in their wild ecosystem, and discovered why encroaching on tiger territory on safari may not necessarily environmentally irresponsible (Read: Wildlife Tourism: Are We Saving the Tiger?). So when Taj Safaris‘ invitation to experience the dramatic forests of Pench landed in my inbox while I was away in Central America, it went right to the top of my India cravings. Now, with a friend in tow, I was tucking back into the comfy machan of our hut at Baghvan – a …
An old dug-out wooden canoe waited for me on the banks of Yorkin River. Two cowboy-like young boys, dressed in vests and gum boots, greeted me with wide smiles and is-be-shkena. Dusk was fast approaching, so I had little time to voice my apprehensions. For an hour, we manoeuvred rapids upriver with an old motor and a wooden stick, slowing down to a crawl at narrow bends, tilting almost 60 degrees when sharp rocks rose from the river bed, nothing but dense forests on either side. My pumping adrenalin washed off the nervousness of being somewhere so remote, alone, in a country I had set foot in only two days ago (Read: Costa Rica Wasn’t The Country I Imagined). As night descended and finally on land, I lugged my backpack and followed my new friends into the home of the Bribris – one of the last remaining indigenous communities in Costa Rica. Deep in the rainforest, without electricity or connectivity, far from civilization as we know it. The boys made way for Don Guillermo, the head of the clan, to receive me. I expected him …
I lay in a lounge chair on the breezy deck of a slow ferry, as it traversed the choppy waters of the vast Lake Nicaragua. Every few hours, we stopped at remote islands to drop off essential supplies and a few passengers. We had ourselves photographed by island dwellers who came with their families to enjoy this rare incursion in their lives and catch a glimpse of the outside world! It was hard to resist the charm of the Solentiname islands we passed by, but when we finally arrived in Ometepe ten hours later, I knew it had been worth the journey. The eruption of two volcanoes rising from the expansive Lake Nicaragua created two circular land masses joined by a narrow strip of land – and this island of two mountains was christened as “Ometepe” from the ancient Nahuiti language. For a blissful week, we lived in the shadow of Volcano Concepcion and Volcano Maderas, on an organic farm called Finca Montania Sagrada, run by a group of Europeans. Like many expats in Central America, our hosts had packed up their lives in search of …
As I swayed on my hammock, hearing the gentle waves of the Pacific Ocean in Costa Rica, India seemed pretty far away. But I only had to traverse the crevices of my mind, to recall the solitude of the Himalayas, the serenity of the backwaters and my serendipitous encounters over the past year.
I had to pinch myself as my tiny 20-seater plane with an open cockpit, circled a lush mountainous island surrounded by the deep blue Atlantic Ocean. It looked a little like Isla Sonora from the Jurassic Park movies. The plane descended sharply as the hillocks parted to reveal a tiny airstrip, which ended just a few feet away from the ocean. The airport was only connected to the rest of the island by boat.
I almost didn’t go to Honduras. I remember sitting in a cafe, skyping with my friend, trying to decide if we should travel there; it sounded beautiful, but also pretty damn scary.
I bring you this latest travel contest from my home in a pristine little village on the shores of Lake Peten Itza in Guatemala. I’m staying with a local village family that has adopted me as one of their own, and this morning, I joined them in making hand-rolled tortillas. Every time I land up in a place like this, I’m reminded of how much I enjoy a life of travel. And how much I wish it upon my readers – which is why I’m forever urging you to participate in exciting travel contests.
A week ago, I marked ONE YEAR of being on the road without a home. On my adventures across the globe, I’ve stayed with some special people and unearthed experiences that few knew existed. At a vineyard in South Australia, my host turned out to be a Polish refugee who had been sheltered during World War II by an Indian Maharaja. In little-known neighborhoods in Spain, Turkey, Philippines and Romania, I’ve sampled the way the locals live. And most recently, at a sprawling estate in the dense forests of Uttarakhand, I was hosted by a descendant of Burma’s royal family!
I tearfully parted ways with Ladakh over a month ago, but I feel like I’ve never really left. A part of me still wanders around the cold mountain desert, gazing at the stark scenery and merrily greeting jullay to the village folk. I might not be going back anytime soon, but I hope TWO of you, my readers, win a once-in-a-lifetime expedition by Ceat Tyres and Mahindra Adventure, and get to experience the immense beauty of the snow-capped Himalayas of Kashmir and Ladakh!
I groggily board the flight to Leh at an unearthly hour. Waking up irritably to the flight attendant’s announcement, the view outside my window quickly changes my mood. We are flying precariously close to the snow-covered Himalayas, and would soon land in the cold mountain desert of Ladakh. Three years after my first solo trip to Spiti, I am back in the trans-Himalayas, still dreamy and wide-eyed, a little nervous, and hoping to find solitude in the mountains. It feels like life has come a full circle.