Have you ever lived, even briefly, in a house with bare walls, empty bookshelves and a kitchen so stripped of its wares it looks like a riot mob just, well, ran riot? I have been living like that for a few days now and take it from me, it’s not a nice feeling. I have watched the municipal sweepers who are assigned on my street move stuff after stuff and pack it in cartons either to recycle or take it away to the dump yard. Like pond herons fishing in shallow waters, they carefully lift each item away until my house is entirely empty and all that’s left is my life’s wares neatly packed in a backpack and a suitcase. They didn’t have to work a lot because I have lived frugally.
I haven’t been hoarding a lot (if you discount the huge cartons that I saved for moving). Many of my books were gifted and some of them were exchanged in Blossoms, for new, unread ones that is being carted with me. Kitchen appliances, utensils, pillows, sheets, a spare steel cot, board games, yada yada yada went away to the above mentioned personnel. A bare minimum was sold to friends.
Is it cathartic? Both yes and no. The house certainly feels empty now both literally and figuratively. And I am scatterbrained with little to no head-space to work. So, in effect, I can’t feel the catharsis. But I’m a giver, not attached to a lot of possessions (according to at least, one of my friends). That makes me sound like a saint (which I’m certainly not) but if you’ve known me even briefly you’d know. If you express interest in anything I possess, I’ll offer it to you. Or offer to buy you a similar one.
That brings me to the topic. I’m leaving Bangalore. I don’t believe in forever but this does feel like an irreversible move. Where am I going to? Germany. Don’t ask me how I don’t recollect this detail but another good friend tells me how I used to talk about wanting to live in Germany ten years ago when we shared a room in a barracks, bordering the arid desert of Wadi Kabir in the suburbs of Muscat. Deserts can have that effect on one, I tell ya.
Bangalore has given me so much – lovely friends who opened up their hearts and houses to me and sometimes take me on spontaneous bird watching trips, rava idlis and obattus at many upaharas, tall stouts at Toit, the wildly optimistic jacarandas on Koramangala’s streets and rambling walks in its parks – Cubbon and LalBagh. I will forever be grateful and nostalgic about all that represents Bangalore (heck, I’m even carrying a pack of MTR puliogare mix and avalakki.)
This uprooting and replanting myself, is a major move, something I haven’t done in a decade (right after Oman happened). I’m excited, thrilled and scared in equal measures. Excited about the possibilities but scared about what it takes to re-build myself from the scratch. But it also, perhaps, provides me opportunities to shape myself as a completely different individual (wishful thinking, that).
Either way, this space will exist though I’m not sure right now how it’ll evolve. I will post, if not regularly, at least once a month. Wish me luck and watch me stumble, struggle and make progress in Germany.
The state of Bihar doesn’t exactly figure high (or figure at all) in anyone’s travel-to list. As the world knows it, the state’s star attractions are pretty much Bodh Gaya and Madhubani. Bodh Gaya is the poster child of Postmodern Buddhism attracting dreadlocked mystics and orthodox buddhists from all over the world in equal measure. Madhubani has more or less transformed into the homogeneous face of rural Indian art outside India.
Bihar’s roads are populated by persistently honking unruly drivers (much like elsewhere in North India but only in inflated proportions). Calling its traffic nightmarish would be understating it grossly. Patna received its first set of traffic lights just when I was visiting the city (in April 2015).
The state doesn’t exactly inspire confidence among travellers. But I did manage to scratch just below the surface mildly and it revealed a rich Buddhist heritage amid the chaos of its day to day existence. There has no been no recorded history of Buddhism from the first millennium in India except the journals written by the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsiang when he was travelling in the Bihar region. His reports have been of immense help for scholars in various fields including archaeology, arts, religion and history in general.
From mughal era tombs of sufi saints to relics of Buddha to Jain thirthankara Mahavira’s birthplace (Vaishali), Bihar is scattered with monuments of immense archaeological significance. As is the case with anywhere in India, Buddha and Mahavira have been assimilated into the local culture and are referred to as ‘Buddh Bhagvan’ and ‘Mahavir Bhagvan’. It is also not uncommon to see Hindu pilgrims thronging the Buddhist religious sites, praying to the idols, their dutiful hands folded in supplication.
One significant mughal monument is the Chhoti Dargah, the tombs of saint Makhdum Shah Daulat who died in 1608. The tomb also consists of the remains of Ibrahim Khan, the ruler of the time, who is buried at the feet of the saint.The sand stone monument, its beautiful Arabic inscriptions and intricately carved trellises are sights worth to behold. On a searing sunny day, the pond by the Dargah simmers, lazy water buffaloes chew on their lunch of dusty grass, cormorants sit with their wings extended drying themselves. It is quite a sight of dreamy rural landscape.
In the Buddhist circuit, though I visited Rajgir, Vaishali and Nalanda, the magnificent structure of Kesariya stole my heart. Alone and elegantly imposing, the crumbling ruins of Kesariya stupa built by emperor Ashoka rise above the flat nothingness of Bihar’s East Champaran district. Barring a few Japanese tourists in their chauffeur driven vehicles, not a soul was present at Kesariya when I visited.
Bodh Gaya, on the other hand, is thriving with international tourists. Bus loads of pilgrims from neigbouring countries with strong Buddhism influence namely Myanmar, Combodia, Vietnam and Japan jostle with domestic tourists for darshan at the Maha Bodhi temple. Though it felt touristy at the time, in retrospect, while sifting through the pictures I sense a vibrant quality to the place. It must be the devoted reverence of hundreds of these pilgrims that is rendering Bodh Gaya an ethereal quality.
Nalanda’s ruins are phenomenal, no doubt. It speaks of a period that fostered rich educational practices in the 6th Century BC when students from countries as far away as China visited and studied. Extensive remains of brick temples, monasteries, sculptures in stone, bronze and stucco, were excavated beginning 1915.
Bihar has always been stuck in an unfortunate economic quagmire. The sheer number of global NGOs working in the development sector in its capital city Patna is proof that change is likely to happen, albeit in smaller pockets over a longer period of time. However, there is no denial to the fact that travelling in the state can be rewarding despite all these obvious unavoidable setbacks. May be, these pictures will serve as proof.
Under its rough exterior, Bihar boasts of rich archaeological treasures that stand magical and forlorn, as if in anticipation of a bright new day.
Have you visited Bihar? What has been your experience? Why not leave a comment and let me know.
PS: I also visited Madhubani during my time in Bihar. That is perhaps for another post.
I spent the better part of my last evening at the Gay Pride Parade in Bangalore (the rest I spent in getting back home in an auto rickshaw swimming through Bangalore’s notorious traffic). The Bangalore Pride Walk was held as part of the annual Bengaluru Pride & Karnataka Queer Habba celebrations.
Some pictures from the parade.
Expressing solidarity with the LGBT community of the city, there were painted cheeks, elaborate headgears, flashy scarves, ethnic finery and of course rainbow umbrellas and flags braving Bangalore’s late monsoon drizzle that cloudy evening. Speeches, camera flashlights, thumping drums and folks generally shaking a leg or two complete the picture.
Homosexuality is illegal in India and social stigma along with harassment of openly queer people are common. Shows of support like the gay pride bring in a sense of inclusivity and instills confidence among the sexual minority group.
Have you ever walked a pride parade? Why not leave a comment and let me know.
While most of Madhya Pradesh’s national parks are overrun by family tourists and amateur photographers jostling each other in their safari jeeps for a glimpse of the mighty tiger, Satpura’s relative anonymity can be refreshing. There are neither frenzied queues at the safari counters nor are there olive green jeeps snaking from a kilometer to the entrance of the national park like in Kanva or Bandhavgarh. The pleasant nip in the morning air is, however, heavy with a quiet sense of anticipation.
Spread across the belly of India, The rugged terrain of Satpura National park is part of a significant part of India’s Central Highlands and was set up in 1981 after combining Satpura, Pachmari and Bori sanctuaries. The park, rich in biodiversity, borrows its name from the Satpura Hill ranges that huddle around its periphery. The dry deciduous forests of Central India’s jungles are home to tiger, leopard, spotted and sambar deers, nilgai, four-horned and chinkara antelopes, gaur (Indian bison), wild boar, wild dogs, sloth bear, fox, porcupine, flying squirrel, mouse deer, and the Indian giant squirrel.
On a gray morning in late June while monsoon was slowly gaining momentum in the plains of central India, I visited Satpura. I went on safaris that were coloured by the anticipation of spotting the big cat – tiger and leopard. So the sambar deers, nilgai, four-horned and chinkara antelopes, gaur (Indian bison), wild boar and wild dogs stood little chance. I did not see the leopard, only its shadow at a distance. But I was amazed by the birdlife and wildlife at the national park.
I saw pied kingfishers hunting for termites near forest streams fringed by golden brown elephant grass. I spotted the Besra, Cresent serpent eagle, Brahmini starling, Great tit, White bellied drongo and white eye buzzard.
I enjoyed the raucous, discordant screeches of the Indian rollers preying on large insects. Their blue throat has earned them the name ‘neelkanth’ while their beauty, the acronym ABBR (Another Bloody Beautiful Roller) by the birding community.
Perhaps the most beautiful and hard to find bird I spot during the safaris remain the Indian pitta. These migratory birds are so beautiful and somewhat rare to spot that they are the cover birds of most birding guides. Over false alarm calls by anxious Sambar deers, I spotted pittas everywhere – perched on the branches in the forest canopy, foraging for twigs and feasting on insects. “It is the pitta season. They are nesting now,” reassured our guide Raju.
All the bone rattling safari rides were compensated by a generous amount of beer guzzling and nibbling on the Burmese Khow Suey at the restaurant of the Denwa Backwater Escape resort, which overlooks the still waters of Denwa’s backwater.
In the end, I did came very close to spotting a leopard. As we waited for the ferry to take us across the backwaters after the final day of the safari, we heard high pitched alarm calls of cheetals. The leopard had successfully run riot in the stag party and has had its prey. Our naturalist confirmed this, adding that this incident happens almost every day.
The vision of a lone Mahua tree from my cottage, by the waters being whipped by the monsoon winds, is still fresh in my mind. Brown skinned cows grazing the golden grass, a peahen skittering across, her head bent, presumably looking for insects for her afternoon meal and a wary lapwing noisily calling away at cows to prevent them from accidentally trampling her expertly camouflaged nest. Intrepid swallows braving the wind and trying to fly against it. These are my memories of Satpura and Denwa Backwater Escape.
PS: I was hosted by Pugdandee Safaris for this trip.
Travelling with an Indian passport means you obtain visas beforehand, almost always. Visa is a huge part of your travel plan if you are an Indian. ‘Visa on arrival’ is a privilege Indian passport holders can only dream of in effusive terms. An Indian passport doesn’t inspire confidence with the consulate officials and it can be truly daunting to apply for four different visas for a trip.
Which is where I was when I planned my Trans-Siberian train trip. Here’s where, I think, a good visa agent comes in handy. Before I sought out an agent’s services, I read and reread the consulate websites of Russia, Mongolia, China and Japan (Japan is not technically a part of your Trans Siberian trip but I was planning to go there) and came away confused each time. The sheer number of documents (bank statements, hotel and flight bookings, a patronizing covering letter, IT filing proofs, trip schedules..phew) made me believe that I needed help.
Help arrived in the form of a good-natured visa agent called Prem, at the STIC Travels, Bangalore office. He assisted me in arranging for all travel documents, writing trip planners and cover letters for each visa and his visa wisdom was of immense help for me. Oh btw, you can use http://www.booking.com to do dummy booking to show hotel bookings while applying for your visa without losing a penny. If you have an extremely good visa agent, he/she will also help you with dummy flight tickets to help plan your visa because the consulates need your ticket proof to consider your visa application.
Here’s a short brief on the visas.
Unlike countries that have a fixed duration visa, Russia provides visa for the period you request for. My visa was valid starting the day of my trip started and ended two day after it ended. You will need a cover letter, hotel bookings, flight bookings, financial proof (attested bank statement for the past six months) to apply for the visa. You will also need an invitation letter from a Russian tour operator along with your visa application. I got this from Real Russia whose services I used for booking my train tickets. If you want to stay beyond 90 days in Russia, you will need an additional document to prove your HIV test results.
By far, I can say, the least complicated visa of the lot is the Mongolian visa. Mongolia gives you a 30-day visa. The usual documents – cover letter, hotel bookings, flight bookings, financial proof (attested bank statement for the past six months) are required to apply for the visa.
For an Indian, the Chinese visa can be tricky. I have had friends tell me that their visa applications are returned twice over for want of additional documents. Though you will need only the usual documents – cover letter, hotel bookings, flight bookings, trip planner and financial proof for the visa, the ease of you being granted the visa lies in how uncomplicated your trip planner is. In my case, I only visited Beijing and hence I think it was simple. I was granted a 30-day visa. Also, be prepared to go through extra scrutiny at borders if you are an Indian and be asked if you have enough cash / a visa card to survive your time in China. Humiliating yes, but hey aren’t we used to it by now?
The Japanese visa is also mostly fuss free to obtain. After submitting my application, I was called to the consulate because my signature in the cover letter did not match with my passport. Go figure! Otherwise, it took exactly three working days for the Japanese visa to be processed. All usual documents (cover letter, hotel bookings, flight bookings, trip planner and financial proof) apply. Though the Japanese visa is valid for three months, you can only stay for 15 days in the country.
Why not leave a comment and let me know if you have any visa wisdom from your travels? I would love to know. Do read this wonderfully informative post by Shivya Nath on travelling the world on an Indian passport by clicking here. Also, if you need Prem’s contacts, leave a comment and let me know.
Ps: With this, I end the series my Trans-Siberian trip. I will, however, publish stories on the places I visited during the trip. Follow the blog to read stories on the Russian / Siberian towns, Mongolia, China and Japan.
I don’t know (or believe) heaven exists but if it does, I’d like the road leading to its gate be littered with flowers. And I’d like those flowers be rhododendrons. They might not stand a chance against the daffodils and lotuses of the world but I have come to like rhododendrons because they remind me of the hills. The rugged, frosty and hard to tame Himalayan peaks. In crimson red, fearless pink and pearly white they seem to challenge the mundane green of the hills when they are in bloom.
Before I left on the Sandakphu trek, I stayed in a Nepali border village called Jowarbhari near Sukhiapokri that overlooks pretty mountains and witnesses spectacular sunrises.
Each year, starting late January until mid June more than a hundred species of rhododendrons bloom in the eastern Himalayan region that straddles between India and Nepal. The rhododendron blooms render a feisty tone to the otherwise green forest canopy. Also found in the bloom season in this region are the stately white magnolias and the poisonous cobra lilies that strikingly resemble a cobra’s hood. Called Gurash in the local language, rhododendrons are also distilled into a local brew called rhododendron wine – a strong tasting liquor with an aftertaste of the flower.
I went on a trek to Sandakphu in April 2015 and saw rhododendrons in bloom all along the trail. Rhododendron is also the national flower of Nepal, a country whose borders are often crossed during the course of the trail. The 50km trek, done in 3 – 4 days, culminates in a view point from where the Kanchenjunga and even the Everest would be visible on a clear day – a feat I was fortunately able to achieve. The trek also traverses through tiny mountain villages – some of them comprise of only two families (like Tonglu) and provide accommodation and food for the trekkers in this route.
Staying in mountain villages you get to experience the fluidity of international borders (India and Nepal in this instance). The silver pine trees and the alpine meadows notwithstanding I was also tantalised by the very possibility of spotting a red panda. Only that I didn’t. We hiked through the Singalila National Park where the promise of spotting a red panda in the thick bamboo forests loomed large.
After three days of trekking in the pissing rains and dense fog, I’ve almost lost hope of seeing anything as I reached Sandakphu. But unpredictably, as is customary in the mountains, the weather cleared up on the last day of the trek despite the dismal fog and wheezing rains the previous night. And I woke up to a glorious sunrise lighting up the entire range of Kangchenjunga, Kumbakarn, Simbhu, Pandim, Norsing and Sinni Alsu. Not to mention, I also got a peek of the Everest.
Have you been on the Sandakphu trek? Don’t be shy. Leave a comment and start a conversation with me. We could bond over travel, you know. Follow me on Instagram and like my Facebook page for more updates and to keep in touch more often. PS: I took this trip with http://www.tripwizard.co.in. Phone: + 91 9749630978.
I hate to say it but this is going to sound familiar. I quit my job a year ago to travel. (There I said it.) Partly to satisfy my wanderlust and partly to gain travel experiences so I can write about it. I wanted to develop a mutually agreeable relationship with my travelling and writing. Looking back, I mostly have achieved what I set out to do. I have been travelling considerably well in the past year and have been published as often as I’d like to be. However, what I did not think about this whole plan is whether it is a sustainable model for my livelihood. Now I know it as clear as coconut water that it most certainly is not. I am still mostly burning through my finances hoping to figure out a viable plan for life sooner (hopefully not later) than I go broke. I pacify myself by saying that we were not born with a plan! And I am not exactly a nomad. I do live in a house, albeit spend much less time in it than I ever used to. Fortified by the travels in the past year, I feel I have suddenly become eligible to dish out some travel gyan. Go on, read and let me know if you agree or disagree with any of these.
You don’t need A LOT of money to travel
Who am I kidding? You do need money to travel. The stress here is on ‘A LOT.’ No, you do not need a lot of it. The secrets to save money are of course to couchsurf, stay in hostels, use public transportation and eat street food. Additionally, I also sift through my network to see if I can find anyone related to the place that I am visiting. Perhaps a friend or a friend’s friend could be of help. They have been of help for me. I have stayed with them and they have provided me with insider tips on where to go and what to do.
The best experiences are had when you have fluid plans
I am increasingly ditching the guidebook wielding, well-planned route to travel. Partly because I am lazy but also because I discovered that such unplanned trips have the potential to surprise you. Recently I went on the Sandakphu trek only because I had the time in hand and decided to play it by the ear. Trekking in the wheezing rain amid a burst of bright rhododendron flowers, straddling between Nepal and India, that trek turned out to be among the memorable experiences I had this year.
Working while travelling is easier than you think (WiFi is also easy to come by)
I have turned in articles, written blog posts and met deadlines without a glitch while travelling. I have found WiFi at the oddest of places. For instance, in Loikaw, East Myanmar, the internet was so fast I could even catch up on my latest episodes of Better Call Saul and Broad City.
You’re never going to have enough money. Like ever.
I didn’t have to tell you this but hey we all need a push, don’t we? It is a fine thought to want to have enough money in your account before taking a break to travel. Our salaries are never going to make us millionaires. Ever. The ideal way to do it is to decide upon a realistic bank balance. To achieve that, you might have to give up on a few movie night outs / dinners / shopping and so on and so forth. You get the drift.
You make friends even if you are an introvert
Here is a confession. I am an introvert. You might know me as a jolly good fella but I bet I needed some ice breaker before I became your friend. During my travels, I have found conversations happening with amazing fluidity with strangers. When you travel everyone is a stranger and everyone is willing to strike a conversation with you. People are nice and more importantly, they don’t bite.
Sometimes side trips can be great
Recently, after a two-week long trip to Arunachal, I along with my friend decided a little detour on our way back to visit the gibbon sanctuary in Jorhat, Assam. Watching those gentle creatures swing from branch to branch gracefully in the wild is the most adorable thing I have ever seen. Also, it helped that they had silver eyebrows.
Even the unlikely place has interesting parts
Recently, I was in Bihar tracing the Buddha trail and visiting the buddhist monuments peppered across what is the most underdeveloped state in India. If you manage to get beyond the notorious traffic, the blaring horns and the killer instinct of the drivers on its road, Bihar has some interesting archaeological sites to offer.
Every experience, good or bad, teaches you something
In Bagan, Myanmar, children are enterprising. They are poor and they need to make a quick buck to survive. “Where you come from,” a little boy asked me at a pagoda. He showed me his currency collection, from different parts of the world, and asked me if I had the Indian currency. He had a ten rupee note but he wanted one of a higher denomination. I obliged and gave him a hundred that I had. He whisked away happily. A little later, at a different pagoda, another little boy came up to me with the same request. I realized I was conned. But what other options do these children have? They are so crushingly poor that they have to employ devious ways to make money. Talk about starting young.
Every sunrise is worth waking up to
As dawn breaks, the day stirs to life. Forget the fact that the soft golden light of the day break gives you incredible pictures, it is also a unique part of the day to people watch. There is a certain mellow energy that thrums up to life as the day starts and it is worth experiencing.
Trust me, you will hate coming home
Of late, I have started to dread the thought of coming home. The stillness of my house doesn’t excite me anymore. The familiar smells and visions of my house is supposed to comfort me but it is increasingly not. I don’t know if it is a sign that I am going to pack my bags and hit the road permanently, but trust me constant travelling will make you not want to come home. Because, you know, home is only a feeling. As long as you feel home wherever you are!
Have you been travelling for a long time now? Have you experienced any of this? Leave a comment and let me know.