Lessons in travel – After being (an almost) nomad for a year!

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.

A bunch of teenagers in Inle Lake, Myanmar
A bunch of teenagers enjoying a boat ride in Inle Lake, Myanmar

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.

En route Sandakphu trek
En route Sandakphu trek

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.

A Sri Lankan tea plucker
A Sri Lankan tea plucker

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.

Monsoons in Coorg
Monsoons in Coorg

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.

A shy child in Kalap, Uttrakhand
A shy child in Kalap, Uttrakhand
Two introvert Chitals in Kanha, MP
Two introvert Chitals in Kanha, MP. How do I know they are introverts? I guessed 😀

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.

Hoolock gibbon in Jorhat, Assam
Hoolock gibbon in Jorhat, Assam

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.

Choti Dargah, Maner Sharif, Bihar
Choti Dargah, Maner Sharif, Bihar

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.

A child at Hunnas Giriya, Sri Lanka
A child at Hunnas Giriya, Sri Lanka

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.

A sadhu in Varanasi at sunrise
A sadhu in Varanasi at sunrise

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!

Going home, Myanmar
Going home, Myanmar

Have you been travelling for a long time now? Have you experienced any of this? Leave a comment and let me know.

Advertisements

Notes from Sri Lanka

I don’t usually take travel decisions on an impulse. My travels are thought out and planned for months in advance. But when I was procrastinating at home for more than a month with major travel plans only happening in late July, I knew I had to go somewhere. As if Bangalore’s summer wasn’t bad enough, it was also excruciatingly bad elsewhere in India. And hence I looked South and there it was, begging to be explored – Sri Lanka, the tear drop island that I have only read so much about but never visited despite its proximity.

I booked my tickets, spoke with dear dear Gokul (whose photography you should check here) who is from Sri Lanka but lives in India and scribbled a rough plan for around three weeks. No other bookings were made, Gokul kindly helped me stay in his and his relatives’ house and I played it by the ear as I travelled.

I have heard people compare Sri Lanka with Kerala, India and as far as generalizations go, it is a good one. The landscape is so much like Kerala and the food much more so. You don’t eat anything that is not made with coconut, coconut oil and coconut milk. But hey, who’s complaining, right.

Here are a few things I did in Sri Lanka.

I watched the sunset at Galle Face, Colombo’s ocean front promenade.

Sunset at Galle Face, Colombo
Sunset at Galle Face, Colombo

I saw a gentle form of devotion at the Kandy Sacred Tooth temple. So much so that even the pushing and shoving didn’t feel annoying.

The sacred temple of Kandy
The sacred temple of Kandy
Devotees inside the Sacred Temple, Kandy
Devotees inside the Sacred Temple, Kandy

I saw hundreds of Buddhas in various postures – sitting, reclining and standing – carved centuries ago with their facial expressions so life like that it became impossible to peel myself away from these places.

The reclining buddha at Polonnaruwa
The reclining buddha at Polonnaruwa
Buddha at Polonnaruwa
Buddha at Polonnaruwa
Inside the Dambulla rock caves
Inside the Dambulla rock caves
The rock structure at Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
The rock structure at Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

I ate plates after plates of rice, roti, wada, curries, dhal curry, various vegetables in delicious forms, stir fried greens, sambal and often washed it down with Lion beer.

A Sri Lankan breakfast
A Sri Lankan breakfast
A Sri Lankan Rice and Curry meal
A Sri Lankan Rice and Curry meal

I went on short hikes with summits that offered magnificent views in the tea country of Sri Lanka’s central region.

View from Unnas Giriya, Sri Lanka
View from Unnas Giriya, Sri Lanka
A tea picker, Sri Lanka
A tea picker, Sri Lanka
View from Little Adams Peak, Ella, Sri Lanka
View from Little Adams Peak, Ella, Sri Lanka

I took a slow train across the tea country that offered sweeping views of tea plantations and passed through quaint little train stations with their impeccably dressed station masters.

On a slow train to Ella
On a slow train to Ella
The train ride to Ella
The train ride to Ella

I met interesting people, bought an anthology on Sri Lankan literature and wrote postcards at restaurant tables while waiting for my meals to arrive.

Notes from Sri Lanka
Notes from Sri Lanka

That’s not all: I got mistaken for Sinhalese all the time; I met Shyam Selvadurai’s dear friend; I ate a delicious fusion pizza with baby jackfruit for topping; I generally ambled around locations where conversations happened with amazing fluidity and friendships were made. Sri Lanka is lovely and it is only first of the many times I am going to be visiting the country.

Have you been to Sri Lanka? What did you think of it? Leave a comment and let me know.

 

 

Bagan mystique – the ruins of Bagan, Central Myanmar – Part II

This is the second and last instalment of pictures of Bagan ruins. Get there before Bagan catapults into the tourist circuit (it already has and tourist footfall is only going to grow). I did it by horse cart but if you have a slightly bulky wallet, get on a hot air balloon and watch the ruins from above. Balloons over Bagan offers rides, click here to visit their website. Once done, hire a horse cart with the help of your hotel front desk and take a ride along the ruins to give yourself a different view. It is quite an experience.

Do buy the February’2015 edition of Outlook Traveller (India) to read my story Bagan by Horsecart.

Click here to read the earlier post about Bagan (or simply scroll down).

Monks seeking alms
Monks seeking alms
Sundown in bagan
Sundown in bagan
Skies painted blue and orange at sun down
Skies painted blue and orange at sun down
Sulamani
Sulamani
Souvenirs for sale
Souvenirs for sale
Ruby with her cart
Ruby with her cart
Sundown in Bagan
Sundown in Bagan
Sundown in Bagan
Sundown in Bagan
Sunset cruising in Irrawadycc1
Sunset cruising in Irrawady
Thatbyinnu framed by the azure skies
Thatbyinnu framed by the azure skies
Thatbyinnu
Thatbyinnu
The structures are scattered across the plains of Bagan
The structures are scattered across the plains of Bagan
The ananda phaya
The ananda phaya
The abayadhana temple
The abayadhana temple

PS: Some of these pictures are generously provided to me by my travel companion and friend Kiran Kannappan who was with me during the first leg of my Myanmar travels.

Like what you see? Leave a comment.

Bagan mystique – the ruins of Bagan, Central Myanmar – Part I

“There is a country far nobler than any, a land that brings joy to the heart; and it is called Bagan.” This was inscribed on stone in the 14th century by order of a queen of the Pyina dynasty. Says the beautiful picture book titled ‘Bagan Mystique’ by Ma Thanegi that tries to dissect the history behind the mystical ruins that lay scattered in the central plains of Myanmar for centuries.

Bagan is an ancient city and its existence was noted by Chinese travelers as early as 1225 CE. Decades of military rule had isolated Myanmar from the rest of the world and these structures remained somewhat a mystery while the neighboring Angkor Wat hogged all the limelight. That is until Myanmar opened for tourism in 2011 after the military dictatorship partially came to an end. As soon as the floodgates of tourism are open, Bagan started receiving millions of tourists each year to gape at these architectural marvels that have stood their ground through centuries.

A devastating earthquake of 1975 destroyed many of these structures. However, a mighty 2230 of these pagodas, temples, monasteries and cave pagodas remain according to a 1993 census conducted by the Department of Archaeology. These structures are scattered across 16 square miles and evoke an imagery of surreal mysticism. Details are patchy but inscriptions found in various temple complexes suggest that construction of the oldest structured happened in the late 11th century.

The mystical Bagan is slowly gaining prominence as tourists are trickling in. Here are some of the pictures from the trip. The pictures are just so many they couldn’t be contained in one post. I will post the next instalment very soon.

A monk in contemplation
A monk in contemplation

 

A sand painter
A sand painter
A temple complex
A temple complex

 

An ornate signboard
An ornate signboard

 

Ananda Phaya
Ananda Phaya
Fresco at Apayathana
Fresco at Apayathana
Dhammayan Gyi
Dhammayan Gyi
Cycling is a preferred form of transportation
Cycling is a preferred form of transportation to visit the ruins
An apsara at the Apayadhana temple
An apsara at the Apayadhana temple
Htilminlo at sundwon
Htilminlo at sundwon
Horsecarts in front of ruins
Horsecarts in front of ruins
Htilminlo temple from a distance
Htilminlo temple from a distance
Hundreds of years have had the telling effect on the structures
Hundreds of years have had the telling effect on the structures
Little monks in contemplation
Little monks in contemplation

 

Also read my story in the February edition of Outlook Traveller that is on stands now.

Like what you see? Leave a comment and let me know.

 

 

Strolling the Crab Island – Pulau Ketam, Malaysia

The aircraft shaped ferry arrives bobbing in the water. Chinese gentlemen unload the wares – fresh catch from the island in sacks, dragged by another set of men in black containers. When I stepped inside the boat, the air smells of paint, the windows are sealed over from rust and age. The boat would take me to Pulau Ketam island, Crab Island in other words, off the coast of Klang Port. The prospect of looking out of the window having been sealed, I turn to the only other in-boat entertainment – a supremely bad B grade Hollywood thriller with Chinese subtitles about bizarre beasts and skimpily dressed blonde women.

Soon enough, the boat bobs gently and picks up. I remember the ticket counter gentleman explaining that the boat is air-conditioned. I doze off and after a couple of hours, I reach a tiny Chinese fishing village. A narrow strip of wooden walkway lined with shops on both sides sell fresh produce of vegetables, fish and groceries. Restaurants slowly wake up to the morning, elderly Chinese men sit around on concrete benches and banter. “Sir, bicycle?” a friendly Chinese girl asks. I’ll come around later, I tell her and continue walking.

Row houses on stilts face each other, women squat and wash their utensils. Tiny shrines with Chinese idols – smiling baby faced Buddhas and monks with flowing beards – are painted red and incense sticks burn in front of them. I walk to the end of the road and find a Chinese temple without doors. The pagoda like structure has dark green paint and the wooden benches are cool and inviting. Chinese workers mill about in the workshop opposite. The humidity in the air hangs heavy.

I sit around, inhaling the incense, taking notes and listening to birds screech in the mangroves. I spend the better part of the day thus and wander around some more in search of lunch. Amid the din of fiercely competitive restaurants soliciting business from tourists, I settle in a eatery and ordered Seafood Mee Hoon with a bottle of Guinness.

On return though, in the boat, this time there was a bad Chinese movie. And it was about a woman who owns a cobra for her pet. If the movie was any realistic, I think, the girl would’ve had something the Chinese consider unpalatable for a pet. I dunno, say, a dog?

Some pictures from the trip.

the dock
the dock
Houses on stilts
Houses on stilts
inside the chinese fishing village
inside the chinese fishing village
a temple on stilts
a temple on stilts
a chinese temple
a chinese temple
the village square
the village square
a chinese idol
a chinese idol
sea food mee hoon
sea food mee hoon

Have you been to the Crab Island? Leave a comment.

Contest alert: Win a souvenir from Myanmar!

Have you been enjoying the blog? If only you guys talked (or left a comment, as it were), but it’s okay. I might have something to start the conversation. Or at least show some activity on these pages. I am travelling to Malaysia and Myanmar starting Oct 15th and I thought I would bring a souvenir for you. You like?

Myanmar countryside - pic: backroads.com
Myanmar countryside – pic: backroads.com

Here is what you need to do:

All you have to do to win this souvenir is very simple. Go and ‘like’ The Sunlit Window’s page on Facebook. Leave a comment here saying so. I will randomly select one winner and announce it on these pages.

You’re nice and you already like my page. Now what? Share it on your wall and let me know in the comment section here.

I will bring you the souvenir when I get back from my travels in the last week of November. Sounds good?

Ancient temple ruins in Myanmar - Pic: backroads.com
Ancient temple ruins in Myanmar – Pic: backroads.com

Watch out for the updates about Malaysia and Myanmar until then.