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.
For centuries, the valley remained cut off from the rest of India. Legend has it that when a road was finally built and the first car drove up, the locals weren’t sure what to feed it. The driver playfully declared that the car likes chicken and whisky. The locals innocently obliged, and the driver had a feast. They also say that when an elderly woman boarded a bus for the first time, she left her shoes on the road as a sign of respect to the bus. Getting off at her destination, she was shocked that her shoes were gone, no longer outside the bus where she had taken them off.
On a late evening, we sat on a steep cliff, drinking the local Sikkimese Beer. Sparse villages and farms lay scattered in the valley below. The River Teesta roared along intensely. The mountains echoed with hypnotic chants from a nearby monastery. We were lost in our thoughts, when the mist slowly rose, and revealed to us in all its snow-capped glory, the mighty Mount Kanchendzonga.
Two weeks ago, I impulsively decided to venture into the remote north-eastern Himalayas of India. Staying on an organic tea farm an hour’s ride from Darjeeling, I sipped the finest hand-rolled tea, drank the local thomba brewed from fermented millets on chilly nights, got a first hand perspective on the separatist Gorkhaland movement, and reminisced with the hill folk about the times gone by. Then I hiked in the mountains, through dense forests, past charming hill villages, along tea estates that dotted the landscape, and barefoot across the Rangeet River, to Sikkim.