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.
On a sunny afternoon, I sit on the steps outside my room, gazing at the bare, brown mountains and their snow-clad peaks. I’m lost in thought when four kids, wearing maroon sweaters and warm stockings, their heads shaved off, come and sit next to me. Word has gotten around that I speak Hindi, and the curious ones have come to check for themselves. On first glance they look like young boys from the village, so I ask Aap sab bhai hain? (Are you brothers?). They solemnly nod no, point towards the nunnery, and tell me they are nuns.
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.
After my soulful sojourns in the North-eastern and Garhwal Himalayas, I descended to Mumbai for some personal work. Three weeks of sweltering heat has left me craving the rains, and made me nostalgic of my monsoon adventures last year, when I chased the rains from Rajasthan to Hampi. Over two trips to Hampi, I’ve discovered experiences that go beyond the majestic ruins of the ancient Vijaynagara kingdom. Take my list, stay with the locals, meet the dwindling gypsy community, cycle amid dramatic landscapes, and indulge a little:
On my recent trip to the Philippines, I spent a night in Manila at a charming vintage Spanish villa, complete with high ceilings, old hardwood floors and tasteful antiques. It sat in a quiet bylane of a typical Pinoy barangay (neighborhood). During the day, mellow instrumental music wafted in from the large windows, and down on the streets, boys from the neighborhood played basketball, aiming for makeshift hoops. In the evenings, jeepneys and tricycles, the heartbeat of the Manila Metropolis, moved in organized chaos on the narrow roads, much like in India, soliciting passengers at every corner. This is how I like to travel.
We slowly row away from the shore, leaving behind the dim lights on our palm-fringed island. The current in the backwaters sways our tiny kayak, and after a brief show of resistance, we surrender and let it guide us. Small fish occasionally jump out of the water, creating ripples. A thousand stars shimmer in the sky above. These are the virgin backwaters of North Kerala’s Kasaragod district, silent, untouched and without a houseboat in sight.
There are very few places in the world that feel like home to me, and northern Thailand is one of them. I showed up there with a tired soul, on an impulsive trip that I hoped would rejuvenate me (Read: Going Back to The Places we Love). And what can I say? Thailand gave me the time, space and natural beauty to think, write, and appreciate the little joys of life again.
Over 2 years ago, when I quit my corporate job to follow my dream to travel the world, I didn’t imagine I would one day land up in a township dedicated to the same ideology. Auroville is it. A place where people come to live their dreams. I’ve come across countless stories; of a market researcher turned organic farmer; a policeman turned village school headmaster; a corporate honcho turned teacher; a teacher turned mechanic. It’s a place to ditch the life you’ve lived, and live the life you’ve always wanted, even if for a few days; here your conviction to follow your passion holds more value than your salary or title (Read: Auroville: Utopia or Something Like it).
I lie across a ledge on the open terrace of Auroville’s Solar Kitchen. Inspiring my words are the soothing melodies of an aged man’s flute. His music attracts chirping birds to the lotus pond below, from their hiding spaces in the surrounding forest. I feel a sense of déjà vu, like I’ve seen this place before, maybe in a story I once read. I come here on some evenings to read Thoreau in the fading light of dusk. And he to play his flute. We haven’t felt the need to exchange words yet. This is Auroville; a bit like entering a dream, and a bit like waking up from one.
Back when I was a Delhi-dweller, I always felt a tad bit jealous of the way people in Bombay talked about the city; the je ne sais quoi, the laid back attitude, the cosmopolitan food. Every time an opportunity took me to Bombay, I indulged in the city. I talked to street vendors peddling their wares, to baristas in coffee shops, to the cabbies I rode with, and every time, the chalta hai way of life in the “city of dreams” shone through. 24 hours might be too short to experience that spirit of Bombay, but they certainly can give you a flavor of the city, literally and figuratively. These recommendations are compiled from my various trips, and focus on the western suburbs of the city: