There are airlines that fly you from one part of the world to another. And then there is Virgin Atlantic. I consider myself one lucky soul to have journeyed from India via London to New York City on Virgin’s Upper Class.
Much has been learnt, more has been loved – and the one thing that has remained constant is my desire to keep moving.
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!
On a rainy Goan afternoon, wrapped up in my blue poncho, I drive my bike past verdant rice paddies, abandoned railway tracks and sleepy hamlets, to cross over to little-known islands in the interiors of Goa. On the empty ferry, the surprised driver asks me why I’m going there. Why? Because these islands are covered in mangroves and mist-laden meadows, adorned with old Portuguese homes, and home to large populations of colourful migratory birds and tiny populations of people who, far from the beaches and revellers of Goa, exemplify the susagade (content) way of life. I’ve spent two blissful monsoons rediscovering Goa. Take my list and go, and soak in experiences you never could have imagined: 1) Discover the sleepy Chorao Island. In the heart of North Goa, this quaint little island is serenaded by gentle backwaters, loved by migratory birds, and home to the friendliest locals. On a weekday afternoon, when a friend and I ferried our bike to its shores, the locals were all tucked in for their afternoon siesta in their old Portuguese homes. We chanced upon La Fayette, a little neighborhood eatery, and knocked on its doors, …
In meat-loving Eastern Europe, Romania was an unexpected treat for my vegetarian taste buds. Partly because the country’s orthodox population goes on a vegan fast twice a week or six weeks a year, and partly because the countryside produces some of the finest vegetables and fruits in the region. This is my little guide to vegetarian food in Romania, and the best places to sample Romanian food in Bucharest, Brasov, Sibiu and Sighet:
Romania had one hell of a way to welcome us. We had dragged ourselves out of the flight after 20 hours in transit, when 3 burly ashen-faced men stopped us the moment we stepped into the airport. Passport, they demanded. Confused and intimidated by these casually-dressed men, we dug around in our bags. A little police badge on their belt was our only solace. They examined us well, comparing our passport photos with our faces for what felt like an eternity, and finally let us enter a country that would stop us from judging people by their stern expressions and lack of smiles.
It all began one night, when a friend and I sat staring at the world map. I had landed a fat assignment and finally reached my savings goal for a long overdue trip out of India. After turning down many drab international 3-4 day FAM trips that offered nothing immersive or even remotely exciting, I craved a mix of the east and the west, interesting food and the chance to experience a culture I knew little about. Romania seemed to tick all the boxes. Flights were booked, visa hurdles painfully crossed, and off we went. Into a world that continues to delight and surprise me.
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!
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’m sitting on a window sill as I write this, feeling the cool breeze on my face and watching the incessant rains spring new life into the wilderness that surrounds my (temporary) home in Goa. The joy of driving, walking and just being in the monsoons is not mine alone. The village folk are out in their carpet-like rice paddies, tilling the land in their colorful ponchos, humming along cheerful tunes at the late monsoon arrival. It took me a few days of being here to slip into the susagade mode of Goa, feeling content with life, appreciating the little things like hot tea and freshly-baked Goan poi on rainy evenings, happy to gaze out at the wild beauty that surrounds me.