The Sixth Continent – Quest and Questions

Here we are, in the sixth continent, in a strange little place with stranger stories engraved in its history. A place which echoes with tales of rulers, who came from near and far, to possess this land of extraordinary natural beauty! My eyes are yet to see this, as the world outside is still clothed in dark. But my senses are filled with the richness of it all. The breath of life, which dances its way up my nostrils, echoes of an ecologically diverse world. There’s a silence – Not the still-heartbeat-echoing kind I felt in a country in Europe, but one reverberating with the silent submission of human voices before the subtle sounds of nature. The deep and piercing sounds of insects filled the air the night last. Now, it’s the gentlest chirping of birds. I imagine little feathered creatures, shaking their head left and light. The sky is dressed in deep blue, waiting to welcome the sun. There’s the fragrance of leaves and flowers whose names I do not know and smells of foods that my tongue has tasted not.

A cockerel coos loudly at intervals. It may have been brought here by one of the invaders or it could be native fowl. The distinctness of its voice makes me think that it’s the latter. Its note does not blend with the notes of the other birds here, which seem to be in symphony with nature. This cooing sounds like a shocking interlude. It’s the same story of conquest everywhere, isn’t it? Foreigners invade and push the indigenous people to extreme pockets. As I read about the various indigenous people and their practices, it was an amazing insight into the world of the past. Here were a group of humans, who first arrived and found ways to coexist with nature. But then, another invader arrives. First it’s the Incas and they rule for a hundred years. Another, who comes from a faraway world, defeats this invader. And then the indigenous is made ashamed of his practices and his way of life. What if theirs is the right way of seeing this world, the way they naturally evolved with the land and did not let man and his follies dictate their transformation?

The world around me is slowly coming alive. The blue is turning an indigo and lady dawn will smile, any moment. The trees are perfectly still. Not a single leaf moves. There is no breeze or if he is there, he is hiding, slithering about quietly, without touching a thing. The chorus of little birds grows a little louder and the hens too. Through the tree, I can see the city’s lights glimmering. This place evokes a sense of being in the Tamil countryside, where I used to go as a child, a time when I had the privilege of looking at starlit skies in the night. The terracotta roof outside this balcony is the cue for my inner magician to pull those bunny memories out. “Any moment now” – Chirping birds seem to whisper to one another and they get ready to ride the sun. So do I.

This is a new sun I’m welcoming. A sun that ancestors long, long ago saw. How did man arrive here? The migration of the entire human race that took thousands of years to happen, we did it, in a span of 2 days. 27 hours of flight time, yes. But a mere dot in the scale of things. Millions of years, evolution took to happen and tens of thousands of years, man took to come to this continent. I’m remembering the first family, which moved from known shores to explore a new land and call it their own. The entire human race, save a handful of people in Africa, is a family of immigrants. Did life really start at one place and then move on to different regions or did evolution make its mark at all places independently? A fascinating question to ask. I believe in one world. These strange faces that I smile at are long-lost cousins and nephews and nieces. They are me, as much as I am them.

As I sit in this little spot on a faraway corner from the place I call home, I still feel at home only because it was a long-lost ancestor who walked into this land. One who was brave enough to wander and see the beauty of a new land, letting go known faces. This is in tribute to that ancestor who brought man to these shores. Our species will survive only if we learn to hold hands with the ways of nature rather than trying to change nature for one’s own benefits. How can we move away from practices that scar mother nature and how can we lay garlands of love on her body?

DARWIN’S INSPIRATION – IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

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A day has gone by. The sights along the way, the unique forests that seemed like out of an alien landscape, with white tentacles extending skyward. Little birds everywhere! Wonder how Darwin’s finches are evolving with all the tourists around. There is plentiful supply of food now. How are they, who are used to fighting a hard battle to procure food, coping with the pain of this abundance? Life’s interesting puzzle! Will they too create art now that their food is guaranteed? Or will they lose the drive to thrive?

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Wonderful laughing with a little Ecuadorian boy who would not stop talking, the barrier of language notwithstanding! Spanish met English and Tamil. The walls of unknown languages were scaled with the able limbs of curiosity and universal affection.

CREATURES OF LAND AND SEA – PLAZA ISLAND AND PUNTA CARRION

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A memorable day. Red and blue would be the essence of it – The turquoise blue of the Pacific at its shallowest and the red of the Plaza island. The darkness-clad marine iguanas and the sun-clad land iguanas, both magnificent in their evolution in this arid landscape.

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The walk of the iguana is something to sit and stare at. The way it moves sends echoes in the air, tom-tomming the long-gone dinosaurs. Playing that ‘stare till you dare’ game, it locks eyes with you now and then and does not move away until it has won.

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Birds were moving flowers in the skies. The magnificent frigate birds whose shape when in flight resembles an M, with their giant yet delicate wings spread in air. Seemingly, these are pirates that do not dive deep for that might break the wings. They steal food from other birds that dive deep to fish. There was the exquisite red-billed tropicbird that had such delicate and slender tail feathers, disappearing in a wisp behind it. Then, there was the bright white bird with brown webbed feet – The Nazca booby. And birds that rested in the day and hunted in the night. I stood like a student hungrily devouring all the fascinating things about these bird friends.

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To tell you more about the life beneath the land, we went to Punta Carrion in the morning. I was a little scared owing to a lack of extensive snorkeling experience. But then, the guide, gauging my attempts as I was snorkeling, hanging on to the boat, told me that I could possibly try it and that I shouldn’t be scared. So after some practice sessions, I got the hang of it and dared to let go of the boat I was holding on to, to snorkel along the corners of the reef, all the way to the end. I saw a fish with a toothy grin that kept hammering the rocks to peck away its food with a smile. Other members of the underwater movie cast were brilliantly coloured purple fish and dozens of Nemos and Dories. Trailing behind were synchronised schools of fish and a harmless little shark, which was dancing around the reef. When I took a moment to pause and take in everything, it took me to different world entirely. The gentle movements of the creatures beneath, living with the sensuous sea all their life, reminded me of the clumsiness of us, the humans. The way they bend and dance to the waves forever and we, keep fighting the tide of life!

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Eating my fear, led by my excited eyes, I kept reaching out to the farther corner of the reef. Snorkeling – This is the thing people come here for. Seeing life underwater! There are many, many pictures and videos of life on land. It’s easy and accessible but to catch a glimpse of the life that thrives and throbs underwater is a special treat for the eyes and mind. It reminded me of the diver we met in Australia who was relating about his many dives and remarking how after too many dives some people lose their senses. It’s the pressure of the sea that lightens you, perhaps a little too much. But snorkeling and being on the surface makes it a little more comfortable. Being close to land that makes us feel safe, whilst exploring our ancient, ancient past. The fish that I saw walking on the rocks could easily be the descendant of the first fish that walked on land and became those magnificent reptiles.

At the Finch Bay hotel where we stayed, I hear the sweet sounds of the eponymous finches that proclaim to the world their story of survival in this arid land. Some with pointed beaks, some with sharp ones and every kind there is. Darwin’s finches flew about, autographing Darwin’s theory of evolution and adaptation. Yesterday I saw a black finch pecking away at the abundant breakfast spread. I again wondered what we humans are doing to the creatures around. A thousand years from now, will our successors consider our actions and nod in disbelief, as we frown upon the actions of those who came before us, who rode the giant tortoises here and ate their meat. What actions of ours will be abhorrent to them, as the supposedly harmless acts of our predecessors appear to us now?

When we were at the Plaza Island, I asked our guide Fabian about why the waters were a turquoise blue on one side of the island and a grey on the other? He replied that where the water is shallow, it’s that colour of blue. I turned to Madhan and said, seems like shallow is pretty and he came back with, ‘pretty and beautiful’ are just what we have trained our eyes to see. It could be the other way. That made me think, how we like to project our lives as beautiful and magnificent to the world but perhaps we are being shallow and the deep sea with its vague grey contains so much mystery and life beneath, that perhaps the world needs to understand our common humanity. That’s what writing is about, I suppose, plumbing into the greys of the mind to show the life hiding there.

THE GOOD OLD LIFE – GIANT TORTOISES FARM AND TORTUGA BAY

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Watching giant tortoises so close was a mystical experience. To look at their gentle movements and their take-it-easy life, it was like looking at a wise old person. The eyes seemed to be all knowing. Just like how a good-natured granny’s eyes would crinkle and smile at you. The way they extend their neck and the way they retreat into the shell, pushing out the air within.

Lunch at the farm was sumptuous. Saw what farm life could be at the Manzanillo Ranch. By the way, Manzanillo is a plant endemic to Galapagos, poisonous to humans but tasty to tortoises. Such is life!

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The visit to Tortuga Bay started with a half-hour walk ending in a rewarding experience of wildlife. Strolling with marine iguanas; Gazing at the sky to catch a glimpse of the frigate birds; Walking with a yellow eyed cormorant, which at first ran away from me and then kept following me; Smiling at pelicans that kept swooshing and pouncing into the water; Admiring red-throated lava lizards scampering about. The place was teeming with life. On an island born of raging fire, how has so much life bloomed?

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Once the wave retreated, holes in the sand spewed out water like lava. I glanced at schools of tiny silvery transparent fish barely a couple of steps from the shore. I have never ever seen this sight in any other beach. True proof that life abounds and thrives here. Perhaps, human footprint is a minimum in a relative scale. Humans have not been here for millennia but just a few hundred years past. Not enough to affect life yet, perhaps. A liberating experience to watch animals in the wild and walk along, smile at them and lock eyes with them.

HARDSHIP AND HEART – FLOREANA

The thing was the two-hour boat ride from Santa Cruz to the island of Floreana was a little too much for Haiku. He kept throwing up. It made him feel sick and angry. But once we landed on the island, he enjoyed the place, running around the maze and climbing the banks. He was his usual self. But, then another two hours of boat ride back to Santa Cruz made him sick for quite some time afterwards. I’m amazed that I was able to face all this without getting pulled down. This was not who I used to be. When even a minor thing went a little awry, I used to feel that everything was a disaster. Now I see it as an opportunity to understand our strength. Yes, it was a difficult crossing but he made it. He showed his spirit in his enjoyment of Floreana. He asked not for mobile phones when in the presence of these creatures of awe, and that’s the best gift we could give him.

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The colorful marine iguanas of Floreana were gorgeous models of nature. So dazzling in their red and blue. Reminded me of the moments in Plaza Island – the red algae and the blue Pacific. There’s a pattern weaving itself over and over. I’m glad to be a dot in this pattern – A dot that sees and reflects this pattern.

This island that was first inhabited has the least population. They are descendants of some German immigrants, I heard. Why did these people arrive here? Why did they choose this harsh land? The animals had no other go. They did not choose to arrive here. They were swept by winds and they rode the winds of time and became masters of this land. Millions of years of evolution, of staying still and changing what needs to be changed slowly, steadily and then, passing on the imprints of these lessons to their sons and daughters, they have thrived and flourished here. But, humans?

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Why do humans seek out such harsh territories out of their own volition? Why do they move away from the known world and try to settle down in remote corners of the world? That’s not the norm though. Perhaps early men were also pushed to the unknown by changing forces of nature. What is life? Just a game of chance?

CULTURE AND ART – QUITO

Today, we want to soak in Quito. Still trees stand all around me. Not a leaf is fluttering. This is a lot different after the fluttering breeze that was omnipresent in the Galapagos – On Plaza island or Floreana or Santa Cruz, the breeze was always there. Here, not so. Everything is still and calm. Everything echoes with a different feeling.

The day started with a visit to the Intinan Museum. Learnt that ‘Inti’ means ‘Sun’ in Kichwa, the language of the indigenous. It’s a museum located not at the geographic centre but actually 250 m off it. The original 0 degree is on the opposite side of the road, on a hill across the highway. Turns out it was a sacred indigenous site. How did the natives know about the importance of the place without any of the measuring devices and precise scientific equipment of this century? Turns out that reality is not just about measuring and seeing. It’s about feeling, as indigenous cultures have proved time and again.

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The museum was great in that, it gave a bird’s eye view of the entire Ecuadorian country. The guides there spoke about the practices of the many tribes such as the skull shrinking tradition of the Shaur, the strength of the Wuarani and stories of an entire house being built in three days. This was the most fascinating part of the day. Must appreciate them for the importance they accord to the indigenous tribes, who have been treated poorly in every part of the world traditionally. The different have always been considered inferior. Have we stopped to ask ourselves why? How can the majority or the powerful dictate the scale of human capability? How much have we lost because we believed that one conquering group was superior to the rest? What human treasures have been lost irrecoverably? How can we recover the knowledge of our ancestors, living this cubicle life? I salute this country for it is recognising the value of indigenous knowledge and culture and making it an integral part of their country.

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Then, we went on to the Basilica to be blown away by the architecture and coloured glass paintings. So extraordinary, but bringing to memory the work we found in some Rajasthan forts. Art seems to weave bridges across time. Taking a view of the old town and a walk by the roads, I caught a glimpse of a lot of people lining up to get their nails done. A big queue ran out into the street from the shop. Apparently, a crucial thing here!

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All over the streets, the Ecuadorians were getting ready to welcome the new year. Apparently, they have a tradition of burning paper mache dolls of various fictional characters, signifying the burning away of the old and welcoming the new. For fire signifies purity, explained our guide. It is their metaphor for clearing away all the blemishes of the past for a new beginning. Here again, perhaps these cultures draw inspiration from the many volcanoes that abound the land. The fury of which now gives them the rich land they feast on.

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Talking about a feast, the fruits here must have dropped straight from heaven! Mangos and bananas make you mesmerised in the richness of flavour. Their mangoes, unlike ours, happen only in one month, that of December and we were so lucky to be there then. Juice of the fruit called banyavana, which looks like wild custard apple, blew our minds with its uniqueness.

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As the day coasted to a close, we headed to the La Compania church. The thing I liked about the La Compania Church was what I heard about the Quito school of art. In this form, indigenous artists hide elements of their land in these seemingly distant depictions of another culture. The suppressed express through art!

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Be it in the wild of the Galapagos or the art of Quito, this place has taught me to understand a little something of the world. We are victims of our times. The world around seems to force a certain behaviour out of us. And we, like the colourful marine iguanas and the ingenious Quito artists, adapt to the emphasis of that specific brush on the canvas of our life. Still, traces of who we are, tries to shine through it all.

Thus ended a journey that revealed a living lesson on retaining one’s essence whilst surviving the changing tides of time.

[Travelogue] To the heart of a city!

“One of the very nicest things about life is the way 
we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing 
and devote our attention to eating.” 
― Luciano Pavarotti

With that quote, you must have already guessed the theme of this piece! On our last day in Mumbai before getting back to Chennai, we decided to get a taste of the native Marathi cuisine. Our friendly driver took us to a Marathi restaurant, Shree Datta Boarding House in Lalbaug. It was quite a small place but ‘Good food’, as our driver remarked enthusiastically. While we were poring over the menu, he made some helpful suggestions – one ‘Jhinga’ (Prawn) fry and one of fry ‘Surmai’ (Indian King Mackerel). The thing is whenever you order some dish and say the magic word ‘Vade’, it instantly becomes a thali, which is a collection of 5 Vades, a Vade being a thicker and richer version of the ‘puri’. Along with this, comes the main gravy, be it chicken or veg or fish and two little cups, one of which contains ‘rassa’, meaning the essence, sort of like a thin but spicy curry  and in the other, ‘Solkadhi’, being a pink coloured tangy- tasting coconut-milk based drink with a unique personality. Tearing a piece of the Vade and dipping it into the gravy or rassa, as your mind dictates, you should let it reign over your taste buds. Delicious though it was, I was not ‘gutsy’ enough to do five Vades. I stopped with four and decided to taste a little with rice and it was a yum combo too. The driver suggested a fry of ‘Bombil’ (Bombay Duck fish), another specialty of Marathi cuisine. The thing is all these items were deep fried but magically, not a bit of oil stuck to your fingers. It had minute pieces of coconut fused all along the surface of the fried meat as if one with the soul of it. After the sumptuous meal, took a walk along the markets of the area, glancing at colourful Rangoli powders and breathing in the wafting scents of hot chillies. 

We decided to pause at the Haji Ali Dargah, the quaint old mosque on an islet connected to the mainland by a half a kilometre walkable path. But it was so densely crowded this Sunday that we decided to do it another time. In searching for offbeat things to do, happened to learn of a place called Samovar Cafe. As it was close to an art gallery and museum, which we anyway love, we decided to go towards the place. Only then, checking it on Google, we found the place to be permanently closed just in the March of this year, despite its popular demand and patronage by some of the most-famous celebrities of Mumbai. Still, as we had started the journey, we decided to continue onward and the rest of the day turned out to be a delicious surprise of another kind. Food for the soul and mind! I didn’t think much of museums here, after having seen the well-planned ones abroad but that’s only until I saw the ‘Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum’, previously the ‘Prince of Wales Museum of Western India’. Intelligently organized and well maintained, with professional and friendly staff. If not for the overwhelming number of Indian faces around you, you might believe that you were standing in Chicago or Brisbane. These collections take you to the splendour of the past elegantly. Just those two glass cupboards with neatly arranged colourful, intricately designed snuff bottles from all over China is worth the visit to this Museum. We had but one hour and it was an hour well spent. Paused to reflect how generously the business tycoons of the city such as the Tatas had generously donated to the art and aesthetic scene. Even while on the roads, I couldn’t help but notice the Godrej sponsored pots neatly tied to the walls, containing flowering plants all along a flyover. This sense of giving back and making the city rise to the heights it has taken them to, is something to be lauded. 

In the absence of Samovar Cafe, went in search of another one and Zomato recommended ‘The Nut Cracker’. Taking a short walk from the museum along ‘Gandhi Marg’, we came upon this quaint old place tucked away in a little corner, like those shops you see along London’s streets. Very Brit in its style! I owe the quote on this blog to the one of their Menu card. Ordered a ‘Bombay Local’ sandwich in the spirit of our trip while Haiku’s choice was the molten chocolate. Both turned out to be fabulously fantastic. The ‘molten chocolate with vanilla ice-cream’ being the sinner and the Bombay Local sandwich being the priest. To tell you more about the Bombay local, it was a grilled sandwich with tomatoes, potatoes, onions and green chutney, made in Mumbai style. With that lingering taste of Bombay, bid farewell to this charismatic and confident city. Bye, Mumbai… Hope we meet again!

[Travelogue] A Rendezvous with Nature and Culture!

After a late and laid-back start, we reach Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali, Mumbai. How fortunate are the people of this crowded city to be blessed with 100 Sq. km national park within their municipal limits. In a city, where the only growth seems vertical and buildings dot every nook and corner of Mumbai, it’s great to gaze upon this green cover. In the past couple of days,I had glanced at the most expensive private building in the world, situated in Mumbai, seen many glass floor upon floor of dazzling multi-storeyed apartments and even heard of huts in a particular area costing 40 lakhs. Still, to me, the epitome of the wealth of this city, is this forest area. Taking a short trip on the tiger safari caught a few glimpses of tigers sauntering in the afternoon, glancing left and right, seemingly well fed and satisfied with their lot. Exotic monkeys with black faces and tails, and with beards look at the visitors, some shyly and some cheekily. Still, amidst all this beauty, had to encounter the painful scene of a deer gobbling up plastic, as if it were a rare delicacy. Man, you are strangling nature with your bare hands!

Where you only expected to find nature, there’s culture, in the form of Kanheri Caves within this park. I read that this forest used to lie on an ancient trade route and Buddhist monks have been busy creating art out of stone for 1000 years, between 1st century BC and 11th century AD. The serenity of those gigantic Buddhas is seen to be believed! Even after all these years, the magic of that smile calms you. There seems to be more 109 caves in all, of which, there are monasteries, rock-cut benches, engineering marvels storing water for the summer and halls portraying Buddha in various forms. One could spend an entire day being awed by the magic of this work of men of long ago. This made me wonder why in spite of all the technology we have today men don’t go carving mountains and creating art. To see it an opportunity of art seems to be a thing of the past. When I wondered out aloud to Madhan, he responded saying maybe it’s because mountains belonged to no one then and also that, perhaps now, man sees mountains as quarries of stone, the source of boring but useful things like roads. Pragmatic materialism seems to be at odds with spiritualistic creativity!

After relishing the evening breeze with windows open and breathing in through the lungs of Mumbai, we returned to the urban desert. Dinner was at a place called ‘The Tasting Room’ within Raghuvanshi Mills, an old textile mill transformed into a new age shopping centre. In the ruins of materialistic industry, there is art, blooming once again. The restaurant had left the walls as is, in the old dilapidated state with minimal retouching but a clean look, with faded, rusting mirrors dotting the wall. Here was proof that man is constantly reinventing. Thousands of years ago, those Buddhist monks saw rocks and created art. Now, men see ruins and create art again. In the days of yore, religion was the fountainhead of those artistic pursuits and now, wealth is the goal of these artistic reinventions. Whatever, as long as art lives on!

[Travelogue] Exquisite Elephanta!

On our second day in Mumbai, drove through extra-heavy traffic to the historic Gateway of India to sail onward to Elephanta Caves, an island off the mainland of Mumbai. The thing is, neither does Elephanta have elephants nor does it have natural caves. Elephanta was called so because when the British landed on the island, a huge stone elephant welcomed them and they decided to give that name. Perhaps, they fell so much in love with the statue that they decided to appropriate it for the mainland!

The caves were carved out of a single stone by the hand of man to proclaim the glory of his God. In such a cave here, as I observed panel after panel of the stories of Lord Shiva, I was immediately transported to the Chola temples of Tanjore. Both were celebrations of this same God on stone! The story of Shiva was depicted with such elaborate detail. I could touch the nails of the guardians of Shiva in the central temple of the Lingam and appreciate the delicately nuanced design on the necklaces and crowns of the gods therein.

The moods of quirky Siva were well captured. No doubt, he was an interesting chap to anyone from any age. And no wonder, so many kings that lived on this land were enamored by the charisma of this God. Be it his ferocious anger, artistic sublimation, yogic meditation or playful teasing, no one could express it like this God. Still, I saw the true God in the hands of those artisans who had patiently carved out panel after panel of such beauty out of a single Basalt rock. The emotions speak to you, as if it’s a movie playing on stone. There are so many interwoven stories in each panel, the expression of each character in the panel saying something fascinating.

What shocked me was how Portuguese soldiers had mindlessly destroyed many of these sculptures. Some of their bullets are still wedged within the stone. An arm gone, a face disfigured, a form distorted! In spite of this atrocity, the supremeness of art triumphs over this petty minded vandalism. How could any one not see the extraordinary beauty in this work? There is no need for belief in any God to appreciate art.

The moment reminded me of the present time when these same atrocities are being committed in Syria. If such men could somehow be made to see that their own children and children’s children would shudder in disbelief that their forefathers could even think of something like this, then perhaps the world has hope. In art, there is God or at least, man seeking to come closer to the notion of God. What does it matter what’s the name of that God?

From gazing at this piece of art, my reflections seemed to have travelled in directions, both local and global. That indeed is the power of art to inspire, to enthuse and to give human beings, the intuition to connect the seemingly disconnected and to realize, in the end, we are all but one.

[Travelogue] Coast to Coast: A journey in India

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous

Chennai says bye to departing travellers, with three billboards, one of Apollo hospital, one of Maruti’s car, S-Cross and the last of MRF Treader, as if to say ‘Thanks for coming. Don’t forget our hospitals and automobiles!’ My eyes fall on a long panel of artwork on the wall facing the runway. If you delve into the source, it’s nothing but a few wire cables twisted into forms and lo behold! there is a story revealed. It’s a procession. After a Holmes-worthy investigation, Haiku and I decide it’s a religious procession because the figure in the palanquin has one of his palms in the ‘blessing mudra’. Then, ahead of this Very.Important.God, there’s his Godly bodyguard on another palanquin, the ferocious God known as ‘Ayannar Samy’ in villages, the one with blood-shot eyes and blood-stained weapons, mounted on a horse. Men carry these two palanquins, while other men play on the drums, harmonium and other assorted Indian musical instruments. Two men with painted masks dance ahead of the procession, which Haiku interpreted as ‘Puli aatam(The dance of the tiger)’.  At the beginning and end of the procession, stand two men holding a spherical firebrand, shedding light on the entire procession. This is great work, ingenious in its simplicity! Although one question is, where are the women? Chennai Airport, you must work on an artwork doing justice to the women of Chennai!

One such, a cleaning lady in the ladies restroom, when asked about the flood situation in her place, answered that she lived in Thirusulam, which was on high ground. Besides, there was a godown and so she was pretty much secure. She commented gravely about some of her other colleagues caught in the disaster. As I was leaving, she thanked me for enquiring about her experiences, with a warm smile that went straight to my heart. We often think conversations with strangers make us vulnerable. In truth, they make us safe and whole, another step closer to being connected to all of humanity. 

Riding the clouds, I catch the first glimpse of Mumbai’s vicinity. Some stunning studs of mountains, these Western Ghats sure are. Down below, nature’s creation, a winding and curving river, with a mind of its own, runs intertwining with man’s creation, a purposeful road, seeming to have many cities to go to, travels focused with no distractions. Sort of like the interplay of emotion and logic in one’s mind. 
Through the densely-packed huts near the airport onward to the sprawling Juhu, where I hear, Amitabh comes out on the streets to greet people there, at times. One has to love the geniality of the man. Heard too, that people wait for hours together, as for a ‘God Darshan’. Moving on, Haiku and I get a little taste of Bollywood in a recording studio listening to a Hindi movie turning trilingual. Reaching out to the regions is of crucial importance in this nation of more than two-dozen languages.

The day is winding to a close and it’s time to catch the famous superstar of a sunset on Juhu beach! Deliciousness rises to its peak in the fall of this crimson globe. The sun seems to leave the room glowing with a blush, shyly as if she’s out to romance the night. In the waning luminescence of this celestial lady, awaits an old man selling pink cotton candy tied to a post; An elderly couple walk together, shining in the intimacy of their years together, sharing their sunset years and the setting sun; Energetic youngsters do cartwheels in the sand, an infectious display of their strength and flexibility; A maid multi-tasks talking on the phone as she baby-sits a toddler; Joggers, walkers, runners on their own tracks, within and without; Haiku and I run towards the ocean. Pausing at the edge, he reflects that the sand is a mix of white and black and that the imprints of shoes seem like flower prints in the sand. 

Vada Pav, the essential Mumbai ka food, we savour on our way to Bandra. Hot n’ Hot! Heat of the vada, hot off the oven and the heat of the paprika compete to take siege of your taste buds. Here we find a snack, in Mumbai style, which fills your tummy without emptying your pocket. Hearty meal for twenty bucks! Driving through the streets of Mumbai, looking at branded shops and thrift shops, a stone’s throw away from each other. Like a quintessential metro, Mumbai seems to have something for everyone. Even chic and fashionable ladies are seen buying and bargaining with the sellers on the street.

We visit the Mount Mary church in Bandra. Looking at the paintings depicting the life of Christ, it can’t escape one’s notice how the faces look very human and like those of people in Mumbai. Ahead of us, there’s a man on his knees, intent in prayer, his posture making you want to believe that God is listening. There are also other Gods living in the same area with names like Shah Rukh Khan & Salman Khan, I’m told. 

A walk on Bandstand by the beach, holding hands with my beloved ones, ending a rich day, in which I travelled from a bustling city on one coast to a bustling city on another coast and saw with my own eyes, how these cities are both similar and different, in many ways. Lucky are Indians to savour the flavour of new cultures without even leaving their country!

[Travelogue] To the Center of Europe and Oneself

Why on earth would anyone travel? It’s tiring. It’s hectic. It takes you away from the cosy comfort of your home. It often takes you from where you are a king, to a place where you are a pauper in many metaphorical ways. With all that non-stop moving, running between planes, trains and automobiles and getting lost in places that you know nothing about, how amazing is that you find that restful peace and silent meaning, preached by philosophers of yore.

Two years since we had ventured from Indian shores. We were thinking about going to South America, when we finished our last trip, that being a continent both of us hadn’t visited. We didn’t consider Europe as Madhan had already breathed the European air in Denmark in his student days. But whatever be our plans, life will have other quirky designs and the best way forward is to go with the flow. It so happened that Madhan had to attend an audio launch in Geneva and after the event, we decided to extend it as our vacation.

Till then, every trip I had embarked upon was clearly researched and planned out. I would list and buy all the things needed for the trip, a month back and have the suitcases ready, a week back. But this was a first in that I was shopping and packing just hours before take-off. This was because I had a subtitling assignment that I had to complete, just before I took off on the long vacation. Still, first times always do happen and as I was running in a mad rush from one shop to another and packing stuff, I stepped out of myself and was standing there, laughing at this scattered, ‘last-minute’ person, I had turned into.

Geneva, Switzerland
I had the shivers thinking of how Haiku would behave in the plane, remembering our last trip and how he cried, “Please no plane. Let’s go home”, in his baby words all through the flight journey to South Africa. Ahem, didn’t realize he’s a grown man now! He was enthusiastically entertaining strangers in the airport at 2 in the morning and the instant the flight was up in the air, he fell asleep and it was a peaceful journey all through. We landed in the afternoon with many other artists from the industry and media in Geneva’s airport. The room was the best thing I could ask for, not because of its comfort but the view. Looking out, I saw people walking, cycling, coming out of the metro station, waiting for the bus. In short, you could see the people of Geneva travelling by all forms of transport right before your eyes. All those people going many, many places and I could see them from a high place. One of my favorite things in the world. To observe the emotions and actions of random people unnoticed.

Right opposite the hotel was a burger shop with a cute name ‘Holy cow’! We had our first European dinner there and retired early to bed. The next day, we got a little glimpse of Geneva. The weather was quite chilly for us, coming from boiling Chennai. Took a walk to the popular jet fountain and watched ducks and assorted birds with Haiku. Then a toy train ride around the parks and residences. Here we got an opportunity to bond with a few people from the industry such as director Nandhini, singer Balram Iyer and his wife Radha and singer Shalini, her husband Balaji and the cute little Aditya.

Decided to have lunch at a French restaurant nearby. Madhan is one for never having Indian food when abroad and wants to try the different local cuisines, wherever he is. In his culinary research, he had found out that a fondue was a must in Swiss food. To tell you how a fondue looked to me – it was a quicksand of cheese, cheese and some more. Madhan and some others fell in love and into it, but I found it a bit sour to my taste. But surely an interesting meal in all. But the seeds of the first disaster was perhaps sown there.

After the flavorful meal, we parted to get ready for the evening event. Got Haiku all dressed up. Kid was looking a bit sick for sometime now and while lying on the bed, he threw up, just minutes before we were planning to take an adventurous bus ride to the event. At first, I just wanted to stay back with Haiku but he cried and made a scene that he wanted to be with his dad. So, we all left in the car arranged for the people at the hotel, reeking faintly of vomit. Thankfully he was alright in the car and we got seated in that beautiful and ancient Victoria Hall built in the late 1800s and dedicated to classical music. In a place where works of Mozart and Beethoven had been performed and where stirring operas must have been sung, the music from Tamil film industry was to be launched.

As we were waiting for the event to begin, Haiku had other plans and threw up on me. Just me, thankfully. Calmed him down and decided to take him back to the hotel by myself. Walking with the stain of vomit on your attire, through a crowd with people dressed in their best, takes some confidence and poise, I found. The cab driver, on the trip back to the hotel, was continuously mumbling something in French. If he was complaining of the smell, having forgotten the little French I had learnt long ago, I was blissfully happy. Haiku and I found some time together but it was a very upset stomach and evening for Haiku. I thought the trip was gone. Thankfully, the next day, we had to leave to Netherlands to see my friends, Raji and Madhu, people who had lived in Europe for sometime now with little kids of their own. At that moment, I was really glad to have the support of friends, who knew what to do, in that unknown place.

Den Haag, Netherlands
While in the flight, whenever the pilot was addressing us, Madhan made up a story about it to Haiku. One thing he said was, “Pilot uncle is saying that whoever is sick, when they land in Amsterdam, they will become alright”. To which Haiku replied, “Pilot uncle is talking too much”. While the interpretation was funny, I hoped Madhan’s words would come true. Landed in Amsterdam airport and got on the train to Den Haag. Watched plump sheep overflowing with wool and prosperous cows on the way. When you travel by flight, you hardly get to see a country. The more remote the transport is, the more you know a place. So, while by walk is the very best, it would take ages to get to know the entire country. Road and rail give you the option of covering the extra miles and when public transport system is good and available, no better way than to explore a place by that means. Landed at my friend’s. With known food and the company of a kid exactly his size and his little brother, Haiku seemed to start to recover. Made a visit to the Den Haag beach and had a warm dinner by the fire.

Our friends had chosen a dutch apartment close to their place to spend our three nights in Netherlands. When living in hotels, we get the same feeling world over but in a home, you get to savor the real taste of living in the place. The thing that struck us there was the silence. I finally understood what ‘deafening silence’ meant. My ears seemed to be so full of ‘no noise’. It was almost eerie. The only sound you could hear was your minutest movements and your heartbeat. Coming from a screaming Chennai, with never a moment of utter silence, at first it was an ‘acoustic shock’ but soon turned out to be a meditative experience. After a calm night of deep sleep, the next day began enthusiastically.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Took a train to Amsterdam city, the city of Dutch sailors of the age-old days, venturing into the new world, establishing colonies and bringing back the essence and character of cities far off. The air reeked of a lot of history. But our second disaster struck just then. Madhan fell ill with an upset stomach. But the sturdy minded one he is, he wouldn’t let us turn back. He managed like a warrior and saint, two in one and stayed with us, suffering the whole day. While in this disaster state, we were walking by and our eyes fell on ‘2TheLoo’, a ‘restroom shop’ with toilet accessories and more! Guess we see what we want to see. Laughed that like a ‘situation song’ Madhan pens, here was a ‘situation shop’!

Walked through the city, tasted some dutch pancakes, ate a curious tasting ‘drop’ and bought some cheese, very good for an upset stomach, not! Later in the afternoon, took a boat ride through the many canals of Amsterdam, while interesting facts about this city by the river was narrated in the audio system. Learnt about the severe housing shortage in Amsterdam, making the layout of houses very narrow, resulting in some very steep and narrow staircases, that would in no way allow furniture to be moved up to the higher floors.

So all these houses have hooks at the top and a rope hanging down and this contraption was used to pull furniture and other heavy stuff. As house upon house fell on our eyes, in this story of Amsterdam, these houses were pointed out to us like characters in a book, with names like ‘Father and Son’, ‘Twin sisters’, etc. It made me think the human mind will try to find a story even in the oddest of places.

Madurodam, Netherlands 
Felt like our trip was getting really jinxed with two down already. Still, we tried to cheer ourselves and hoped we would cross this fine. We started the next day late and as our first stop, visited Madurodam, a place where they have represented all the best of Netherlands as miniatures, giving you a bird’s eye view of the entire country.

Haiku was like Gulliver amidst those mini palaces and castles. The best part about this place was the one minute animated videos, they had placed near each attraction. Just a minute or less, but you got the essence of that place, related in such a light-hearted manner that you would never forget the details. I learnt curious things like the fact that the Dutch eat a herring raw with just onions, about their ‘drop’ and the habit of sloshing the french fries with sauce and many more. It’s the land of so much art and discoveries through the ages. But the people seem to brush it all, in a very self-deprecating manner. They are amused by everything and don’t take themselves seriously at all. The mark of an interesting nation.

Haarlem, Netherlands
After the taste of Netherlands through its places, now it was time to meet a son of that soil, Bartho Kriek. He is founder and owner of Subtitling Worldwide and he taught me something that has finally made me find my career after going in diverse directions. After hundred of emails communicating on subtitling, I was finally meeting Bartho with my family. He took us into his lovely home and treated Haiku to many curious things.

Madhan and I had many interesting moments, conversing with him. All three of us are alike in some ways, our careers started with numbers as in with an engineering background. Bartho was initially trained to be a mechanical engineer. But all three of us found our calling in words. So there was so much in common and so much to learn from his rich experience of writing, translating and subtitling. Shared stories about his life in Netherlands, our life here and ended with a Dutch dinner at the picturesque dunes in Haarlem, which is the only slightly hilly-region in all of low-lying Netherlands. Haiku found many curious things on the way. Father and son bonded while giving me the time to learn from my teacher and mentor.

Came home late, bid farewell to my friends and made plans to do interesting things when they were in Chennai, we came to spend the last night at the Dutch home. Had loads of packing to do and again with the same ‘three hours of sleep’ that kept following me like a ghost from the beginning to the end, started our second sojourn into Switzerland.

Back to Switzerland 
Landed in Basel Airport and as advised took a ‘Swiss pass’ for 4 days. The beauty of this pass is that it lets you take any form of public transport, be it bus, train or boat to go anywhere within the country. It seemed so packed with potential and I intended to make the most of it. Grabbed a detailed map of Switzerland and started the journey by bus to the train station. Now, to tell you, a little more of Switzerland, they have four different divisions based on the language spoken. Regions of German, French, Italian and Romansh speaking people. Of this, the German Swiss regions comprise of 65% of Switzerland. These divisions based on languages are nothing new to us, Indians having 30 or more of the same in our vast country. But this was different in a sense because unlike us, these languages are those of the neighboring countries and being in these different linguistic regions, gave you a tinge of the taste of Germany, France and Italy for I believe the essence of a people lives in its words, in language. I resolved to have a taste of each of these countries in our journey through Switzerland.

Our intention was to take the train to Lucern from Basel and set-up base there for the rest of our explorations. So, Madhan asked a person at the station, how to get to Lucern. Now, with an Indian accent, we normally would pronounce Lucern with a ‘s’ sound. So he did too. The help desk person asked him to repeat the name twice and then she gave some directions for the next train. Looking at the map, I wondered why we are going in the opposite direction. Still, I thought maybe there was no direct train to Lucern and we had to do this in a roundabout way. The very few hours of sleep was already taking its toll. Scattered lunch of some random sandwiches wasn’t helping either. Then as we got down at the station where we were supposed to catch a connecting train to Lucern, we realized the person had directed us to ‘Lausanne’, which was in the French speaking part of Switzerland and quite the other end. I was starting to lose it. On another day, with good sleep and proper food, I might have enjoyed the detour. For what is a detour, but more exposure and more experience in an unknown country. But given the sequence of jinxed events, my mind was in a fragile and vulnerable state. Quarrels popped up such “you should have pointed to the place in the map”, “you should have asked for directions”, “you should have minded the baby” and what-not. Silly, when I think of it now but crazy things often happen without proper sleep.

Lucern, Switzerland
Finally, we got the proper directions by pointing to the place in the map. Apparently, Lucern must be pronounced with a ‘Z’. With a lot of ‘Danke’, we were finally on our way to Lucern and landed in this beautiful city by the river. We put our bags down but the flames of the quarrel wouldn’t settle so easily. It was a paradise of a place. A place just out of wallpapers and screen savers. A city on the banks of a gushing river, with swans and ducks and a lot of history. The quintessential tourist place of even Mark Twain’s times. But my mind was elsewhere.

Just goes to tell you, you may be in heaven but if you can’t make your mind be there, then it wouldn’t matter where you were. We ended the night in silence and I thought, last man down and the trip has collapsed entirely.

Jungfraujoch, Switzerland
I woke up the next morning, with a hollow feeling and felt I was at the lowest point within. First, the disasters of the body and then the fall of my mind, now we all had been afflicted. How to ever get over this? What is the point in going on like this? My solution to everything is talking. I let Madhan sleep for a long time and then when he woke, we talked and talked. At a point, Madhan said “Let’s move”. Calmed by the discussion and armed with a plan in hand, things began to change within. Our plan was to visit ‘Jungfraujoch’, the highest point in Europe, taking the scenic ‘Lucern-Interlaken’ express and then the mountain rails to the highest railway station in Europe, a mountain engineering marvel.

There was very little time to catch the hourly train, but we made it. Once you decide to change your mind and do something about unfortunate circumstances, the universe will favor you with seemingly lucky coincidences. Things went smoothly after that. We met a SriLankan Tamil working in the Panaromic ‘Lucern-Interlaken’ express. He takes the scenic ride by the lakes, almost 5 times a day. Looking at me, he said he recognized my ‘Tamil face’ and felt a bond with us. He narrated his life-story and his experience working for the Swiss for 25 years and related about Switzerland from his experiences. It was good to hear such high praises of a country from an immigrant.

We decided to pause at Lauterbrunnen, a German Swiss village and savor a local meal before we climbed to the top. A fantastic and heavy meal of Rosti(a dish, sort of like Hashbrown potatoes) and fried egg. It was a filling meal, to which we were later very thankful for. After a 2 hour climb and 2 changes of mountain trains, we reached the very top of Jungfrau. Looking at the time, we barely had 1.5 hours to see the various attractions there and to catch the last train back to the plains. We were not even adequately prepared with gloves. But tremendously excited we were, to be seeing and touching snow.

I was seeing and feeling this pristine wonder of nature after five years while Madhan and Haiku for the first time in their lives at 33 and 3, respectively. Though freezing and shivering, we were at the top of our spirits, throwing fists full of snow at each other. From the lowest point in my mind, I had come to the highest point in this place, by just changing the way I looked at things and moving from where I was, within and without.

Train Conversations 
On the way back, in the first descend to Kleine Scheideigg, we met a Dutch couple. Had so much fun connecting to them and talking about Netherlands. We shared our recent Netherlands experiences and they jokingly asked if we had tried the raw herring, laughing at our shocked ‘No’s. At one point, the lady remarked, (pointing to Haiku sleeping in my arms), “How is he taking it?”. To which I replied, “I think he’s doing very well. Already he’s been to South Africa when he was 1. He is an interesting companion to have around”. To which she said, “You must love travelling a lot”. An acute observation from this person and I sensed the pregnant thought in her mind of how hard it must be to go places with a kid.

On the next train to Grindelwald, we met a lot of Chinese youth. Apparently, they were student interns, working at the Tissot shop at the top of the mountain. Everyday for six months, they take the journey to the top. With them, was a Swiss national, originally from Mongolia, sharing her experiences of settling in this country and the difficulties in learning new languages. To my pride, Madhan conversed to the Chinese students in Chinese and they were much impressed. No quicker way to someone’s heart than to speak their tongue. In my conversations, a Chinese student remarked of how these trains rarely had any Europeans but was always full of Asians – Chinese and Indians. We joked about it saying, “Perhaps, it’s us Asians fascinated with the largest, biggest, highest… still”.

Talking to strangers can be the most revealing experiences of all. You are gifted new eyes, making you throw away those myopic, culture-centered glasses and see yourself and the world, just a bit differently.

Goldau, Switzerland 
Madhan set me the task of planning for the next days. Rubbing my hands in glee at something I loved to do, after they both went to sleep, I perused many websites, connected the Swiss travel system and the things we wanted to see. Sticking to my initial goal of savoring the regions speaking different languages, decided we must travel to Lugano in the heart of the Italian side of Switzerland. That was a travel goal for us adults but before that, we had to do something for our little travel companion, Haiku. We had promised him a zoo. But I had to search a lot for this one. The Swiss have it hidden away from tourist eyes. Luckily, I found one on our path to Lugano and found that if we could stop at Goldau, we could catch the zoo for him.

At the station, the next day, a lot of Swiss kids, the age of Haiku were playing around and I was thinking how good it would be if they all came to the same place. Voila! they took the same train and got off at the same place. Madhan and I were so excited to be having so many children for Haiku to see and play with. What fun he had, chasing furred hens that looked like they were wearing sweaters, feeding the deer and walking on a trekking track for kids, jumping on ropes and playing with Swiss children.

On a huge tree swing, as he sat, little Swiss boys gave him a push. They understood not what each other spoke but connected with abandon, like only kids can do. All the trouble we took to have him with us made sense, seeing his joy. After sometime, when Haiku got tired and it was also time to catch the train to Lugano. Running through the streets of Goldau, we made it just in time and when we took our seats, Haiku had already dozed off his his stroller. Made him comfortable and started our 2 and a half hour journey to Lugano, at the very corner of Switzerland, bordering Italy. I saw the landscape change, the weather becoming sunny and whiffed the scent of olives in the air.

Lugano, Switzerland



A quaint little city full of highs and lows. Streets had very steep slopes and it was fun, running with Haiku in a stroller, down those sloes. After a sumptuous lunch of pizza and pasta, close to the land of their origin, we decided to stop over at Parco Civico, a park by the lake. Some lovely music on the way, a walk through pretty flowers and chat with cute kids ensued on the way.

Haiku had some more fun playing in the kids area, while we both took a stroll nearby the beautiful lake, bordering magnificent peaks. Then, on the way back, we decided to stop for some time on a scenic spot under a tree. That was a beautiful moment for me, lying on a low bench, caring not about who was staring. As I lifted my hands and moved them, I had a never before sensation of holding the air in my hands as though it were a very light but tangible thing.

As I moved my hands, the mediterranean wind seemed to whisper beautiful things to my hand. It was an unforgettable moment, as though touched and caressed by a strange breeze. With a glowing happiness and peace of experiencing a novel moment, caught the train back to Lucern.

Menziken, Switzerland
After our long and lovely trip to Lugano, the day still didn’t end for the tireless travellers. We set on a journey by bus to the Menziken, a little town in the suburbs of Lucern to visit Sathish and Usha, our family friends and to have Haiku meet some people his age. It was almost 9 at night when we took this one hour bus ride and watched the sun set as we drove through fields and sparsely populated villages. Surprisingly, I smelt the same smells when travelling through the countryside here in Tamilnadu. Perhaps freshly cultivated land has the same fragrant smell of beginnings, the world over. The splash of colors in the twilight sky made a memorable journey to Menziken.

There we had a lovely Srilankan dinner and Haiku could not have enough of the food, kept asking for more and more, as though I had starved him all the while! He bonded with the kids there and we came back to the hotel, half-asleep in a dream-state, post midnight.

Verkehrshaus Museum, Lucern



Although I had planned a trip by boat, aerial cableway and gondolas to Mount Pilatus, because we had too much of travel, we decided in favor of visiting a museum, something which we wanted to do and which hadn’t done since the start of our trip. So, the Transport museum it was and although something I’m not that into, Haiku just loved the place. He found some stones and a spade in the Roadways section of the museum and did not want to move from that place. We gave him almost an hour to play there but that wasn’t enough. I had the enviable experience of calming a storm in the restroom. Here he was kicking and crying for 20 minutes flat that he wanted to be in that place only. I bolted the room from inside and let him cry while softly telling him that sometimes we like some things a lot and it’s hard to let go but we have to. We will find it again another day, another place in another form. In words he would understand, of course. He calmed down, hugged me very tightly and finally let us leave the museum.

Lausanne, Switzerland
Our next and last stop before we went back to Geneva was Lausanne, the very same place we were misguided to, on the first day of our journey here. It was the French speaking part of Switzerland. Deposited our suitcases at the lockers and decided to explore Lausanne for what was left of the day. We took the metro to Lausanne but the people at the help desk said both the famous Olympic Museum and the Museum of Photography too was about to be closed.

There was just enough time to have a picnic and relish the atmosphere. Haiku had his fun in the kids area and the merry-go-round, while Madhan had fun clicking candid shots of splendid moments around and I was watching them both, satisfied that we had made the best of the rest of this journey.

On the way back, in the crowded metro, you could see people of all shades around. People of African, European, East Asian and South Asian origin. The blacks, whites, yellows and browns of our race. Haiku was in his stroller and there was a pretty little African girl, with many plaits on her hair, struggling to stand near her mother. At every stop, she was stumbling and rocking. At one point, Haiku gave his hand to the girl and she held it for a brief moment. That was a moment that took the breath away of all those adults around, no matter who they were or where they came from. To me, it was the micro-sample of what children can show the world, if given a chance – Just a hand to a stumbling another, be it a person or a nation, the very essence of humanity.

Returned to Geneva, where we had started and ended our trip the next day by taking the flight back to India. A journey, tiring the body but rejuvenating the mind, showing how little we know of this world and how much, how much beautiful more is there to be savored, around every corner.

[Travelogue] Nagalapuram – Trek or Treat!

Sometimes we think we make journeys harder than they are meant to be. But everything was meant to be… beautifully be!

For months now, we were planning a trek to Nagalapuram. Work and routine often makes dreams distant. Still, inspired by the tales of those who have been there, decided it’s a do-or-die, this weekend. Food, essentials, why even shoes were shopped just the day before and all the shopping before the night of the trek, seemed a trek by itself! With barely a few hours of sleep under the belt, we woke to a glorious morning. Journeyed by car through the concrete jungles of Chennai towards the real thing! The blushing dawn seemed to me, a bride’s smile. With random games and a juke-box, the detours were brushed aside. Finally reached Nagalapuram, helped by the directions of assorted men-in-lungis and old-women-with-vadais!

Through super-bumpy roads we sailed to the huge mango tree, that seemed like the base-camp described in blogs. After breaking the fast, pretty fast, we took a path. Why do we go in a certain direction? We could have easily turned either left or right. But we turned left and that made all the difference to the journey. Seeing a few bikes near a path got us excited that we were on the right track.

On difficult paths, amidst thorny bushes, we went on searching, wanting to scale the peak. On the way, we encountered a group of guys, presumably the bike-owners. Bad news! They said they were lost and were searching this side of the hill, for nearly 45 minutes and couldn’t find the stream. They ambled along with us, for sometime and then decided to give up the trek. After nearly 2 hours of walking, all roads seemed to lead nowhere and finally, we stopped near the dam. 

Dejection was creeping in. But then, a sensible thing, we did. Call the experts at the Chennai Trekking Club. There are good souls in this world. They didn’t chide us, for not taking a guide. They just gave us the directions, no questions asked.

For what seemed like forever on the wrong-road trail, we were back to the point we started. Although our bodies were crying “enough is enough”, thank goodness for the indomitable spirit, that steers and surprises us! Onward we marched in the opposite direction, worn out, scorched, cut by thorns and hurt by rocks. Kudos to those two kids, who were still trudging along with us. After more sun, more walk, there the sweetest sound on earth, the gurgling stream nearby. Once the eyes caught a look of the flowing water, the fire in the heart seemed to burn bright.

Through dense trees, amidst the unpolluted cries of the birds, we walked to, to finally what seemed like that place… you dream every dream of. Where everything is alright with the world. When your nature is one with mother nature! Imagine being a one-year-old, after having a sharp fall, when tears are pouring from your eyes, your mother takes you in her able warms, hugs you tightly, wipes your tears and removes your fears. The exact same feeling. The flowing, clear water, the pure notes of the birds, the swishing tress, the rushing waterfall, all doing that magical thing!

After all that strain and pain, to see the unbounded joy and wide smiles of the two kids who came along, made it all worthwhile. I believe we gave them a gift for life, about the truth, that no matter how hard the journey, in the end, there is more beauty, more peace and more happiness than you could have ever imagined. Just, if you walk on…