Tag Archives: travelling

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!

 

Wanderlusting blind?

In my last blog post I asked you a question – do you prefer your travels to be meticulously planned or be a blind adventure?  I am still deciding which one suits me more – plucking out memories from earlier trips, deciding which lessons are worth being learnt and which were just flukes of the hour.

I recall a trip to Udupi, a quaint temple town, nestled by the beaches lining the Arabian Sea, in the Western Ghats – a trip I had researched, Googled about, interviewed earlier travellers and jotted down an itinerary to the extent of having even decided the breakfast to be ordered at Woody’s! Yeah, called me obsessed but I was really excited about that particular trip, not that I recall the reasons now, but it could have something to do with beaches! I am a beach baby who fears the seas, after all. Take that for irony! Guess where that led me? The moment I set foot on one of their islands, St. Mary’s, I began looking for that particular patch of lagoon where my friend said he’d played volleyball with his friends and how picturesque the location was. I set foot on the island with someone else’s idea of beauty rather than making up my own mind about what I felt about the island. I led myself to see through someone else’s eyes and thoughts. Not a moment of rest to the mind, not a pause to stand and absorb, feel and think, a constant rush to check the next sight off the list, not standing long enough to even breathe.

But. There’s a but.

Last month, I visited Hampi, known for its ruins of the Vijayangara empire, hippie style of living, a bed of rocks that transports you to an era a few hundred years ago – possibly the heat that plays with your mind. Circumstances made me procrastinate planning for a trip I had sincerely vowed to. Such desperate were the times, that despite three attempts to map out the route of our visits, technology failed to help us chart a plan. So we were left to hang dry with no map references, no lists of ‘Top 10 places to visit in Hampi’, ‘7 things you should do in Hampi’, ‘5 must-try restaurants in Hampi’ and so on! “Oh chuck it,” I thought when a man tried to sell me a ‘Tourist’s Guide to Hampi’. I’ll go in blind this time, I thought. And you know what I ended up missing?

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THIS! I MISSED THIS!

I walked away from this detailed, breathtaking, mind-blazing, still mostly intact ruin from within fifteen metres of it, after reading the sign that spelled out its presence! For freaking Heaven’s sake, this is the third image result that pops up when looking up Hampi and I did not visit it! Such a bummer. But well, we did manage to do a lot of other crazy stuff that cannot make it to the blog for want of keeping your faith in my sanity intact.

So what do you say? Guess I need to find a little balance? And pray, how do I do that?

Graciously Yours!

Rains and roads (3)

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Contd from…

  • Though we did find women who were wearing the most insensible footwear, involving heels, chances of twisting your foot, skidding on the water and of course, breaking them! We went flip flops all the way! And maybe a couple of us also chose to show our bathroom slippers the light of the world. After all, it is in water that they show their true colours and strength.
  • Though it was incorrect on our part to once suggest our driver drive at more than 80 kmph on an open highway, because speed limits, he retorted with an explanation about how that would break the rules set for safety. Fair point, right? Not so much. Because at his own will he had been driving rashly even at 40 kmph, overtaking vehicles dangerously, sometimes while on not one but two calls!

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  • Let’s talk about how phone calls. He was incessantly on calls, so much so that listening to music on the car speakers was almost a slam dunk attempt at trying to get him to shut up. But then he would be louder than the music then we’d tune up the volume, he’d tune up his and then we’d switch off the music while he still did some more talking. While he held one phone to his ear, the other in his hand which also controlled the steering, we held our heart in our mouth. Don’t ask me how he changed gears. I was too afraid to watch.
  • He’d rather we call him uncle or chachaji than Sir. Because he has grandkids our age. And he’d rather we sit in our hotel room, visit one place a day and let him be free for most of the time because hello, why should we have all the fun! He went to the extent of commenting when we directed him with Google maps to a temple off the main Mahabaleshwar Panchgani road, that we must be careful of the places we’re going to. After all, we are five single women traveling alone. So much for being five. And so much for calling him uncle.

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!

Unravel the Travel!

As promised (to no one in general), here’s a continued set of anecdotes from my trip to Gujarat!

Let’s begin right from the beginning of the trip, like is the norm unless I choose to write in reverse chronology. That’s a good idea but for another day!

Anyone who’s spent even a day on Bangalore roads would know how terrible a nightmare they can be, especially if you have a flight to catch. So  for my own mental peace and for all practical purposes, I left from home, four hours before my flight was to take off! And lo behold, I reached in just about an hour and a half, much to my annoyance and my cabbie’s surprise at my annoyance. The good people at the flight customer support counter however sent me off on an early flight as reward for my unacceptable promptness.

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That’s a long way to go! At Ahmedabad Airport.
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That’s a lot of lights! And white. At Mumbai Airport.

We came across not one or two but three locations where there were rubber band sellers – and when I say rubber band sellers, they were only selling rubber bands! A handcart full of crimson, kale, azure, gold, grey, fuchsia, violet, saffron, striped, polka dotted rubber bands! Out of curiosity, I asked one of those vendors what the price of the bands were and he said 1 rupee! Yes, you read it right – freaking 100 paise! 1 rupee! My first thought was how are they even surviving! My second thought was to buy a dozen or so of the bands. My third thought was exactly how much is the production cost of these bands if people are managing to sell these at such a nominal price!

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You get transported to the era of mutinies and sepoys with your first step in. At Diu Fort.

At one of the beaches, my sister was polite enough to do the human thing of clicking a picture for a couple of guys who requested her to. One of them started making small talk with her asking her if she was a resident of the town, did she know any good places to eat, et al. Having answered in monosyllables, we started walking away when one of them called out to her asking her, “I’m from the States. Would you want a picture with me?” Surprised, she refused. He insisted again asking, “Are you sure you don’t want  a picture with me?” While I was wondering if I could place his face to any of the Indian Americans I’d seen on the USA shows, my sister was muttering, “He’s freaking flirting with a 20 year old! He is almost double my age!”

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That’s vandalism, in modern times! At least something is changing with times. At Diu Fort.

We had visited a set of caves, to which there’s dispute about whether it was a geological formation or dug by the Portuguese for formation of the Diu Fort. Either ways, it was a beautiful maze of earth cut out in a variety of eerie and curiously un-human ways. There were stairs ending into nowhere, rocks hanging out precariously, cuts in the ceiling which didn’t seem to explain the purpose or history of its creation! And because it was so huge and devoid of many tourists, there were spaces where you couldn’t see another person as far as your sight and the maze allowed. The silence was harsh enough for you to hear your own breathing and each step you took creaked the twigs and dry grass below. I was thankful to have gone there during the day! In the midst of this little nowhere, was a bunch of DSLR equipped photographers capturing a to-be married couple’s shots. The pictures will turn out to be pretty, I tell you!

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Photoshoot, in progress. At Naida Caves.

When I recounted the saga of being stuck on the highway in a three hour traffic jam in the early hours of a new day, I did not mention a first I encountered! I managed to locate and confirm my first constellation sighting in the skies! It was the Big Dipper constellation, as confirmed by the StarTracker app I use, when I was very sure that it was Big Dipper! I wish I could have captured the night sky as pristine as I saw it, but technology has its limits and sometimes, what you see is too beautiful to be captured as is on camera. The camera just cannot do justice.

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Grainy, but memorable. At a resort in Gir.

Graciously Yours!