Tag Archives: travel

Turkey! (4)

Day 4.

Did I not tell you about undulating landscapes and fairy chimneys? Add some, actually a lot of, hot air balloons in the foreground. Well, as it happens, with the craze of Instagram, travel bloggers and better-than-ever-before cameras, most hotels in Goreme set up “Instagram worthy shot spots” on their terraces with rugs, mattresses, cushions, food and billowing curtains around diwaans – so was with our hotel. What I had not anticipated was the attire of the guests at sunrise! I woke my family up at 6 AM to catch a glimpse of the hot air balloons and the Sun from the terrace – we walked in on women wearing strappy dresses, flowing gowns, tiaras and a barrage of cargo-pants-clad-photographer boyfriends clicking them. We looked at each other, in attires we’d slept in overnight, hair barely done, no trace of makeup and eyes that looked more sleepy than awake. Well done, us!

We’d signed up for a full day tour in and around Goreme but unlike Istanbul, the group here was a 20 member troop, out of which 16 were Chinese! But they don’t kid when they say that the Chinese click pictures of nearly every-damned-thing! In fact, it’s considered easy to take on Chinese tourists, among guides, because they barely listen, only click pictures. And that’s guide speak, not me speaking. We ventured to the Pigeon Valley where man-made birdhouses have been made for the pigeons – because man and our needs – pigeon droppings help fertilise the soil of the valley. We also saw the Uchisar rock formation, considered the highest in this part of the town, the Kaymakli underground city, yes, you read it right, underground city, the mind-boggling mystery that has been unearthed but not entirely understood yet. Kaymakli isn’t a city that got buried over time, but one which was chiselled under the ground, around 2500 years ago, to escape invaders, both religious and state. Replete with a church, wineries, storage spaces and cattle sheds, it is 8 floors under the ground, enough to house at least 20,000 people and cattle!

At one of the shops I came across, they were playing songs from Bollywood films and I was so surprised to find myself humming the words before I realised where I was at – and no the owner of the shop wasn’t Indian, he was a Turk. Another shop owner I’d come across ran a cafe, shop and his home (of 70 years where he’d been born and brought up) out of a fairy chimney, up the slopes. A flag hung out of the window of one of his rooms, visible from the road, probably a sign of his occupancy or just his patriotism? I didn’t ask. By the time, the end of the tour approached, my sister was undergoing a crisis, tired of looking at everything volcanic and listening to everything Chinese and our guide was undergoing his own bit of crisis, trying to grasp that I wasn’t 18 and I had actually put in an effort to learn the numbers of the Turkish language. Not many put in the effort, he said, a history teacher who’d learnt too many languages to not become a tour guide. Night came and so did a light drizzle, scaring us that the hot air balloon tour next morning might be washed out. We decided to brave the weather while we could, pulling out our hoodies and umbrellas to walk into the town, under amber street lights, on cobbled streets, the warmth of the indoors luring people off the roads and the four of us sauntering silently, letting the magic seep in. Also, we were very hungry, hence angry and irritable.

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The hammock I fell off from thirty seconds after the picture was clicked! Real hot air balloons is the backdrop.
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Mah family straight outta bed – so much for living in 2019 with Instagram. #MomentsToCherish.
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In the backdrop a tree with the Turkish evil eye beads, also called nazar boncuk, traditionally believed to ward off the evil eye.
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After my visit to the 70 year old cafe owner – up there in one of the chimneys is his house.
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Goreme, under the spell of a light shower, revealing parts of its’ magic to us…

Graciously Yours!

Turkey! (3)

Day 3.

Oh, my poor throat! I finally did step into a hospital, Haseki Hospital, at 6:30 AM, having woken up at 3 AM to a throat that refused to even swallow saliva. They say it gets better after the worst. I disagree. Bless the soul of the cabbie who offered to help us through the super-efficient, extremely clean and swift medical checkup process (well, government hospitals in India are not really a place you’d want to step in, so). But paranoia overtook me while we were on our way back to the hotel at 7, the Sun not having risen yet, and our cabbie driving us back through alleys and off the main road he’d driven by earlier – they obviously treasure their tourists considering my paranoia was unfounded. Surprisingly though, we couldn’t find any pharmacy or Eczane, as they call it, open at 7 in the morning – what happened to the 24X7 emergency medical access concept?

Well, plopping a few pills down my closed throat, we were on our way to Goreme village in Cappadocia, in Central Anatolia region. When I’d read about the landscape of Goreme village, words like psychedelic, otherworldly and mesmerizing, popped out – I couldn’t quite picture it because no matter how good a camera, what the eye sees, can’t be captured well enough. But as soon as we started on our way to Goreme from the Nevsehir airport, I knew we were in for a treat! Undulating landscapes, interspersed with small towns, pretty houses and wide, clean roads. Goreme was a village with a population of 2,000 and possibly as many tourists there! The village is placed smack in between the fairy chimney rock formations, houses, shops, restaurants, hotels all carved out of the same rocks – soft enough to be chiselled at but strong enough to live in. Go figure! The first question my mother posed to me after checking in to the hotel room was, “How long are we staying here?” I was taken aback and dished my usual sarcasm at her. It was only after we were back in India and discussing the highs and lows of the trip that she told me why she asked that question. As Indians, we’re so used to seeing people around us all the time that in my Mom’s words “when I barely saw a soul over the hour-long drive I wondered if you kids had made the right choice of location in a country we barely knew anything about.” And I thought I was paranoid.

Also, God bless medical science. I was able to slide rice and veggies down my throat by evening – pottery kebab style! ❤️ Turks and their soups are something of a tradition, so we figured why not. To our parents’ surprise and our dismay, the ‘lentil soup’ we’d ordered was basically, ‘ghar ki daal‘. Guess what was ordered with every meal for the next four days?

 

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That’s kaynak suyu in the package and musluk suyu in the glass – courtesy Turkish Airlines.
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Kolay Sudoku completed! Kept me occupied for the most part of my one hour flight to Nevsehir. The medium Sudoku was already that way when I picked up the mag.
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That’s a pottery and ceramic kiln on our way to Goreme – families over the generations have been in this business, knowing very well how much their products can be in demand. Prices are competitive enough compared to Istanbul, at least on the gorgeous larger pieces. Turkish blue is obviously the colour in favour.
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The foyer outside our rooms – so pretty was the place that while our parents settled in their room, we made the foyer our resting area.
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That mirror! And the reflection.

 

Graciously Yours!

 

 

 

Turkey! (2)

Day 2.

Waking up to the call of azaan for fajr, (last count put Istanbul being home to 3,000 mosques, approximately) the realisation dawned that I was starting to lose my voice – the lump in the throat on the flight couldn’t be diagnosed as misplaced nerves anymore. Turkish Kreps and their fantastic version of paneer in my tummy, we went in search of a doctor using Google Translate to explain to the security guard that Google Maps was telling me there was a doctor inside. Five attempts later, he understood what we were trying to tell him, only to be turned away by the lady doctor because ‘foreign nationals’! Lesson 1 learnt!

Downing the throat soothers a pharmacist provided me, (cuz antibiotics require prescription, damn Turkey, OTCs are real here!) we set foot into the Grand Bazaar – via the local tram network, my fascination for which I’ll explain in future posts – the overwhelming desire to just sit and stare at people bustling, trying to sell their wares, the sea of beauty gushing about in waves, myriad nationalities under one roof created over 550 years ago, still serving the purpose of drawing awe and helping trade. Ceramicware with handpainted patterns, stunning pieces of silver, mirrors of all kinds and for all walls, the ostentatious display of Turkish delights and teas were spread around all over, with the narrow less bustling lanes ending into storerooms and open spaces for the shopkeepers to unwind and sip on Turkish tea! The shopkeepers correctly recognise Indians as hard bargainers, but walk around with a few packets in hand and a lovely smile – you might land discounts and even a couple of phone numbers.

Lunch was followed by a long walk on a group tour (two Americans, one Brit, a couple from Phillipines, Chile and four Spaniards!) around the Sultanahmet area, the tombs, Hagia Sophia, Sultanahmet (also, Blue) mosque and the Topkapi Palace – I was glad for the sports shoes I had on, because any other choice of footwear would have been disastrous. Evening came and so did the fancy clothes and high heels because we were going to cruise on the Bosphorus, Europe on one side, Asia on the other, the jewels of Istanbul lit up, the bridges shining bright red and the biting cold wind, which couldn’t tame the squeals of delight or the snapping of mobile phone cameras! The three-hour cruise was worth the money with folk dances, belly dancing, 25 nationalities and sharing the table with a shy but lovely couple from Kazakhastan. I wonder if they felt the same about me, considering I was mostly grunting responses to my family, or silently trying to gulp down parts of the four-course dinner that had been laid out for us.

Oh yes, the throat was now worse.

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A sweetshop at Grand Bazaar – not sure if the sweets on display were more eye-catching or the chandelier!
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Ceramics and mirrors – the famed Turkish blue on display in full splendor.
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Istanbul is full of cats – and they’re so comfortable around human presence that don’t be surprised if a couple of them plop themselves into your lap of their own accord. Here’s my mother playing with a kitten.
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Crowds clicking Hagia Sophia in the backdrop – from basilica to mosque to museum over 1500 years.
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Atop the cruise, wind rushing through our hair – if the picture had audio, you could hear me cursing the wind through in between my chattering teeth.
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Moonlit Bosphorus clicked off the cruise, the Asian side of Istanbul by the riverbank.
Graciously Yours!

Turkey! (1)

Day 1.

Three months of persuasion, three months of planning and touchdown into Turkey a week after Prez Erdogan declared support for Pakistan was putting me through the jitters because to assume Indian passports would be unaffected would be naivety! A six-hour Indigo flight while revising our itinerary, recalling all the phrases in Turkish that I’d managed to cram in my head in the last one week, checking up on what else my parents wanted to see, re-checking our documents for the third time and pushing away that lump in my throat, we finally landed in Istanbul.

And I was prepared for everything but the wave of white skin that hit me! My sister and I stole glances at each other first and then openly started giggling because the grass doesn’t always look greener on the other side – sometimes it actually is greener! Before I sound more racist than I just did, we don’t have preferences in skin colour – we felt like we’d walked into a Hollywood film and that takes some time getting used to. When the time came to show off my Turkish skills to my family, I fumbled and forgot all of it, ending up using sign language to ask our chauffeur how long it’ll take to the hotel. The drive to the hotel was mesmerising, to say the least, new Istanbul’s tunnels, apartment blocks and wide roads giving way, across the Bosphorus, to the bustle of the Asian side with its’ street graffiti and event and movie posters! For an Indian, spending an average 90 minutes of the day travelling, the streets of Istanbul were bliss to the ears, the entire city seemingly a no-honking zone.

Like most wives in India, my mother was keeping the famed karwa chauth fast too and it was a delight watching her break her fast in the hotel room with a Turkish vegetable casserole, mushrooms carefully removed and eaten by me, and bread! While she rested, my father, sister and I decided to roam the alleys near Sultanahmet, cobbled hilly roads, deserted and dark, no directions to follow, no people to ask until we traced our steps back and settled for the cozy little pizza place we’d walked past earlier. Fatigue was dawning upon us all, our first night in a strange place where we didn’t know the religion, the language, the culture but the excitement of the exploration kept all fears at bay!

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The first glimpse of Istanbul – a pretty sight, the open air parking and lined cars.
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Enroute the hotel we were put up at, driving by the Bosphorus, one of the many mosques of Istanbul in the backdrop, seagulls all over the sky. 
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Being introduced to a few famous Turkish pottery pieces – the wine jug, glasses, bowls and the coat! At the lobby of the hotel we were put up at.
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Mother breaking her fast.
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The cobbled streets lit at night, cold breeze caressing our cheeks and the silence of the city peaceful and inviting.
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Rounding up our meal with a Turkish tea, courtesy of our host at Ozzie’s Pizza!

Graciously Yours!

 

Setting Sun.

I looked up from my Kindle and out the window. The air turbulence was distracting. I wanted to stretch my legs that were getting cramped in the narrow leg space provided these days by airlines. Just a few minutes ago, the view from the window had been drab – blues of the lightest kind with fluffs of white cloud in the foreground. Or was it more than a few minutes ago? I wouldn’t know. My phone was on flight mode and my mind grappling with an Agatha Christie whodunit. Keener observation of the clouds would allow the brain to identify patterns. Sometimes it would be a horse’s head, other times a trophy and then a flock of sheep. But right now? Right now provided a view that would make it to Instagram stories, photography contests and lure amateurs towards professional photography. But I sat there watching unperturbed, unhurried. I was flight bound to home. The Sun was going home for the day too – home being the horizon. My eyes went in and out of focus, the portrait mode some call it, others name it bokeh. In an expanse of white, to the far right, soft hues of orange meshed with lighter yellows which faded into whites of the clouds. The mixed streaks seemed painted, with the flourish of pulled brush strokes. The center was a deeper, brighter, concentrated shade of orange, like the Sun itself was shining out – but you knew this was an illusion – more science than mere fabrication. The Sun was closer it to its home than it let on – this was simply a delayed telecast you were viewing. Closer to my window, making way for the scene were the clouds – bigger clouds, fog-like, misty, as if dewy-eyed at the beauty out my window. And then came the window – double paned, corners curved, waiting to be flapped down; a hole at the bottom edge of the outer window, scratches on the outer pane, whether flying bird wings or key marks, no one knows. And then I return to my Kindle, back to Christie, because I know, no matter how good the camera, it wouldn’t capture the scene my bare eyes saw. But I hope my words did.

Graciously Yours!

Rains and roads (2)

Contd from…

  • Raincoats, contrary to popular belief, can serve dual purposes – it shields you from the rains when you’re outside the car, and from the air conditioner or the winds from the rolled down windows when you are inside the car. Maybe that is what led to the invention of the windcheater. And here I thought I’d just come up with a startling idea! So disappointing that by the time you’re in the 21st century, all ideas seem to have been implemented already.

“Race! Race! Race!”

“Yayyy!”

“Who do you think is going to win?”

Wait, what do you think I am talking about? Raindrop races! Roll up your windows, let the raindrops whip against You get to race raindrops and make clouds on breath steamed mirrors.

  • Umbrellas were shown their true position. Because the two exact times we brought it out to protect us from the water and winds, it got possessed! The canopy was thrown backward by the wind, the rims got entangled and the handle had to be held on to by three pairs of hands so that the umbrella didn’t fly away. We then decided to let it stay in the boot of the car.

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  • One of the main reasons waking up early on group trips is a mandate because people end up taking lots of time to get ready – after all, you should look fresh and Insta ready! How else will you have your throwback moments to show? But for us, getting ready was the least of your worries, no accessories, no touch of lip colour or kohl, because how does it all even matter? It would all run amok, any which ways.

To be contd…

Graciously Yours!

 

Rains and roads (1)

Henry Miller once said,

“One’s destination is never a place, but always a new way of seeing things.”

Every trip I go on, firms this belief for me. And here’s a new way of looking at roads and rains!

  • I recently went to Pune and surrounding areas – Google weather forecasts and the news channels had informed us well in advance of rains during my travel days. But when you say rains to a Calcuttan who’s staying in Bangalore, we think half an hour of rain. Who knew we would have to expect twenty-three and a half hours of rain and downpour?!

 

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  • Thanks to the incessant rain and wind speeds high enough to make your teeth rattle, all five of us are now proud owners of a raincoat! The last time we had one was when we were toddlers rushing to montessories and jumping into every puddle we found with our mothers or fathers or both running behind us to make sure we don’t create a splash we can’t save ourselves from! Sigh. If only they still ran after us. At least some of our mistakes could have been eliminated. If only.

 

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  • Talking about puddles, we are used to seeing them in the potholes on our roads but it’s a rare sight to wake up to a puddle in your hotel room! Our clothes and bags were so wet, despite the raincoats, that the process of drying them under the fan resulted in more of a watery mess than an evaporation exercise.

To be contd…

Graciously Yours!

Of trails and travails.

Every once in a while, the city closes in upon you and you choose to run after the sereneness of the outskirts, the hill stations, the backwaters, the mountains, don’t you? I almost managed to do the same. I say managed because we had failed to acknowledge how many more would also be looking for sereneness there! I visited Dehradun and Mussoorie recently, and if you think this post is about how pretty the landscape is and quiet the hills are, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Ruskin Bond’s books were my mates while growing up and the writer is famed for basing his stories around these few towns in Uttarakhand. I was obviously excited about the trip on that account too – to find myself facing those shops, houses, to walk in the trails of woods and the warmth of the people he’s written about. But I’d forgotten about the two big words – commercialisation and globalisation. With the ease of access to the towns, better roads and influx of tourists, Dehradun no longer is the regular hill station – there’s nothing hilly about it, all flat land and roads marked by McDonald’s and Bengali sweet shops, malls and Park Avenue stores. We picked up drinks from a Tibetan township thinking it’s a concoction they’d brewed at their place only to find it spread all across shops later on. So much for trying to experience something local. Well, at least, I sort of learnt to use chopsticks from one of the diner owners in the Tibetan township. Sort of.

Mussoorie has a dual face though! It’s got the ups and downs of a hill station, the roads which allow vehicles but has no space to fit two of them side by side, a mall road – typical of hill stations, which seemed commercially successful and now stretches for almost 3 km with people flocking it all times, even as late as 10:30 pm at night. The mall road boasts of eateries, brands, shops selling insignia for surrounding hill stations to be carried back as mementos of the visit and countless shops selling the same clothes! But if you take a diversion from the mall road, you’ll find the cobbled roads intact, men and women silently going about their lives, no tourists in sight and the clamour of the mall road light years away! The peace, though short-lived, I was hoping for. I also found the quaint coffee shops that take you back 50 years ago at Landour, where Bond is supposed to reside currently. On further observation, I realise the town was being redecorated to capture the old world charm by Dharma Productions for a film. Well, at least this commercialisation is pleasant to the eye!

Oh and don’t even get me started on the waterfalls! They’re no longer natural. They’ve been cemented and structured to flow the way man wants them to, with water rides, fun activities, shops, tea stalls, changing rooms set close to the rock bed of the fall. Ain’t saying it’s bad, au contraire, it’s brilliant for the people who live there. It’s just not what Ruskin Bond had written about. And no longer the spot for a getaway for me.

I came away from the hills renewed, of course, but disappointed with what we had done to places remote and almost preserved naturally till a few years ago. The human touch, we should call it.

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While trekking in Mussoorie – away from Mall Road. The irony is that the trail led us to shops at the top of the trail.
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Dharma Productions crew at work.
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Yes, that’s a waterfall. It ain’t a swimming pool.
Graciously Yours!

From home to away.

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A week off from work means going home and then away from home again. Home always is special but the day, when thanks to tech advancement, you are in both cities on the same day, when you leave home in the morning and are away by evening in another city, is the day the stark contrast between both hits you hard.

Back at home, I stayed 100 metres away from the kitchen and Mother was more than happy to feed me! Our domestic help whipped up my favourites, bringing food to the table for me every couple of hours. Her sole motto was to not let me feel even the slightest pang of hunger. Even on insistence to cook, Mother refused to let me enter the kitchen. Away though was a different scene altogether! Within two hours of stepping into our rented flat, I was cleaning the refrigerator with soap water and then stocking freshly bought vegetables in them. Our cook wasn’t turning up for the night and my flatmate, S and I were too tired to bother about even cooking Maggi!

Back home, well fed and humidity affected, we were ready to sleep by 9:30 PM itself, though I never did, because when else do you get to have late night chats snuggled beside the younger sister? On two occasions though, she’d slept off while I was recounting my stories! Wake up time was 7 AM, thanks to the Sun, Father, and my favourite radio jockey, RJ Praveen’s morning show. Away though, by 9:30 PM, dinner isn’t even ready, let alone thinking of sleep! Oh, but wake up time still is at 7 AM because someone’s gotta let the cook into the house.

Back at home, Dad knows I love fruits. So fruits are myriad and spread across the table to be eaten at different times of the day – sometimes even freshly cut. Fruits, here, however mean apples and bananas, which are few and far between, that too if we buy them on a one-off day. Oh and avocado on some days!

And considering I went home for Diwali, the spring cleaning time for the whole of India, there was a lot of cleaning, fixing and repairing to do, obviously! My mother made me a handyman, or a handywoman to be politically correct, where I sandpapered, primered and painted to complete pending repair on walls. Whereas here, even dusting once in a fortnight seems so tedious that we learn to live with the dust!

Back home, there’s family and friends too. Here, away from home, there’re friends who became family. Home or away – there’s none which is better or worse.

Graciously Yours!

Idea Courtesy : Ishita.

Valparai Tales! Part 2.

Contd from…

As I sweat in the Bangalore heat, while doing absolutely nothing apart from just breathing, which you would all acknowledge is a very crucial, and from what I know the most important factor for our existence, I think back of the vacation I recently took. And promised a second post on.

In my mind, as I say the word, Valparai, I close my eyes to be welcomed to memories of our four wheeler rushing through the short winding roads through hills, while green stems and young branches fell out of line by the side of the road, swaying to greet us. We are rushing past them, honking at each hairpin bend, serpent turns, waking us out of the slumber of hill travel every now and then, fascinated by the depths which greeted us to our right and the heights which beckoned us to our left.

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Oh the twists and turns! More than a Jodi Picoult book.

I see a kaleidoscope of butterflies pass us, yellow this one. My reflexes are too slow to brandish the phone camera for a shot of them. I simply close my eyes to capture the moment. Sometimes, I wish I had a pensieve to keep these memories untouched. But in its absence, National Geographic will have to do. The Sun, which at the base of the hills was unforgiving, seemed to be playing hide and seek with us as we travelled upwards closer. The clouds ran helter skelter, giving us a peak a boo of the scorch every now and then. It was almost lunch hour when we reached the outskirts of Valparai and unbelievable as it may sound, or read, there was rain, just like Google weather had predicted! Bless technology and the genius minds that worked behind it.

Valparai is so untouched by commercialization, that it was difficult to find a place to stay. We ended up finding a place that seemed like it had been vacated after its occupants had packed bags and moved to the city for better earnings. They offered us a single room for ten people when actually advertising as a home stay! I wondered how the others would react for I was already prepared for a little adventure. Standing at the crossroads of the little town, I sighed audibly with relief when I looked up at the three storeyed building, catching the occupants of the top floor room, my friends, look out at the tea estates as far as the horizon permit, with enthusiasm and unwavering excitement.

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If there was audio, you could have heard us singing too!

The evening that we spent there has to be my most memorable in quite a while. Walking through tea estates, and (this time) long winding roads, with no vehicles to honk at us, no bikes to rush past us, no traffic at all, paradise was not even on my wishlist then. We sang as the sun set, clicked photographs of trees that formed patterns different to each of our eyes, posed by the side of the road wanting  to post pictures online but never doing so, because we knew words would fail to describe the serenity we felt then. And we also didn’t want to lose those minutes buried in the phone. That says a lot about the place, doesn’t it? We saw people though. Some smiled at us knowingly, others gave us a pass, ignoring us as a brief little intrusion in their small town. A shopkeeper asked us our religion, offering a temple, mosque or a church to visit around accordingly. He chatted with us for over five minutes, but did not once try to sell his wares to us. So much for calling it a small town.

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Bouquet of flowers, a friend calls it. Anyone knows what these are called?

Graciously Yours!