Three years after I moved out of Singapore, there is something about this little island state that still lingers in my mind. Most of us travel to find solitude in nature or to relive parts of ancient history. But Singapore, with its manmade beaches, solar-powered gardens and city lights glittering almost more magically than stars, is a glimpse of what travel might become in the future. When the world has culturally assimilated and technology surpasses even the wonders of nature, won’t we travel to witness progress?
I am transiting through Singapore on my way to South Australia as I pen this. Amid the lavish hospitality of the Singapore Airlines’ SilverKris Lounge and the excitement of visiting the land down under, I find myself looking back fondly at the last week, which I spent road tripping through rural Maharashtra. Just 2.5 hours away from Bombay, the state revealed many hidden surprises! We drove along pristine lakes, stayed at a work-in-progress art village just off Panchgani, and lazed in the warm afternoon sun on virgin beaches along the Konkan coast.
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.
Between my recent trips to sunny Seychelles and festive Germany, I was drawn by the call of the wild to Svasara Jungle Lodge at the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra. My jungle adventures in Madhya Pradesh earlier this year made me a wildlife tourism enthusiast (Read: Wildlife Tourism: Are We Saving The Tiger?), but Tadoba left me intoxicated. I can’t stop dreaming of forests brimming with unravelled mysteries. Or the sheer beauty and intricacy of their ecosystems. This is a glimpse of that world beyond ours.
The faint outline of a waning moon appears in the sky, as the sun slowly descends beyond the magnificent temples, and times, of the moon-worshipping Chandela dynasty. In the distance, a guide solemnly explains to an Indian family the sculpture of a foursome on the wall – this aasan (pose) depicts a man “satisfying” three women, the pose helps improve blood circulation in the entire body, he says. I gape in awe, first at the intricacy of the stone carvings, then at the nonchalant reaction of the family. Chances are, the same adults will condemn their daughters from dating men of their choice, label sexual references as taboo in another (non-holy) setting, and scorn at pre-marital sex, all in the name of Indian culture.
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:
Nothing could have prepared me for the boulder-strewn landscapes, majestic ruins, pristine lakes, and lush greenery that surrounds Hampi. Staying in a community-run retreat in the village of Anegundi, on the other side of the Tungabhadra River, we rode in coracle boats, swum in village lakes, and drove amid the remains of the 14th century Vijaynagar empire. Luckily for us, we beat the crowds, witnessed the monsoons, and captured a glimpse of real village life in and around Hampi:
The seagulls come calling, and off we go. The sea breeze slowly replaces the aroma of coffee (Read: Coffee and Conversations in Coorg). The soft rustling of the maize fields turns to the fierce roaring of the Arabian Sea. From the bus, we watch the sun set upon palm fringed backwaters. And finally at the entrance of our beach house, we stand mesmerized by the crimson red sky and sea. Far from the beaches of Goa and the backwaters of Kerala, this is coastal Karnataka; picturesque and untouched.
The whiff of coffee awakens me on a damp morning in Coorg. I lazily walk into my balcony, to witness silver butterflies dancing above the coffee plantations and the forest bathed in warm sunlight. I don’t know it then, but this is just the beginning of my love affair with Karnataka’s coffee country.
Over the years, I’ve travelled to and stayed in many amazing places, in many countries across the globe. Even with such high expectations, sometimes a place comes along that completely takes me by surprise. A place that makes me appreciate my life as a travel blogger. A place that I know I won’t forget for a long time. Lakshman Sagar, in the Pali district of Rajasthan, was one such place.