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.
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?
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. Such are the legends of Kinnaur, whose wild beauty I witnessed in the monsoon of 2012 (Also See: In Photos: Sangla Valley, Kinnaur). Winding along the Himalayas hours from Shimla, our car screeches to a halt beside the jagged mountain rocks. The steep bend ahead is one of the most dangerous, cursed even, on these mountain roads. Hidden away in the mountain is the cave of a saint, without whose blessing no buses dare to continue the journey. …
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 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.