April 04, 2018

Musafir diaries: the travels of a gypsy heart

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page."

~ St Augustine 

I was bitten by the travel bug rather early on in life. As a child, I recall looking forward to the end of every academic year. Vacations not just meant freedom from exams and school but also meant adventure and travel. Come summer and I'd already be dreaming of the trip that lay ahead. This triggered in me an irresistible wanderlust that with time only grew stronger.

Cut to present day, I am always up to venture and explore new places. However, the meaning of travel for me has evolved over the years. Traveling, to me, is no more only about the destination. It has become more about the people I meet, the experiences I share, and the lessons I learn along the way. It has become more about the stereotypes it helps me break, the conclusions it helps me draw, the roads it helps me pave for the journeys ahead, an exploration of the deeper nuances of other cultures and customs.

In a way, I can say travel has shaped my personality to a large extent as well. Then again, it could also be just an extension of my personality. Either way, I'm not complaining.

Those who know me will know about my fascination for nostalgia. I like to think of myself as a memory keeper, someone who carefully procures, polishes and preserves these precious nuggets of reminiscence, only to render them sacrosanct. And travel caters well to this habit of mine.

However, holidays cannot be always organised well in advance. But some of my best holidays have been spontaneous decisions. And why not? Haven't you ever felt the need to disconnect from the busy humdrum of life and break free from the monotony and madness of a mundane existence? I know I have. At times, we need to desperately fall back in love with the universe, and life always presents us with a choice---continue living the same tasteless documentary or turn it into a commercial feature film replete with new people, new cuisines, new environs and more importantly, new possibilities.
With travel being the perfect recipe for a delicious cocktail of adventure and therapy, all we need is good timing, and VOILA! There we are, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to love the world by embracing it with open arms.

So when Indiblogger with Lufthansa organised this contest, my mind immediately started playing the feature film of my travel experiences, urging me to present a collage of memories for the occasion.

Accordingly, I have jotted down my travel inspiration and experiences; particularly the ones that made me reconsider my opinion, revise my outlook, broaden my horizons, and open my eyes to a whole new world. So here goes...

**insert flashback mode with dreamy effects and soft music**

  • In Nuremberg Germany, when I was introduced to this car pooling service called Mitfahrzentrale...
I was thoroughly impressed by the States initiative to conserve energy. Mitfahrzentrale are facilitation centers that provide unique, low cost, car pooling services that provide those traveling cross country or cross continent travel (with shared fuel resources) at a nominal fee. These centers also serve as pick up and drop off points to help avoid delay, confusion and further expenses. I liked the idea, and silently wished for similar safety standards back in India that allowed strangers to commute together without worry. Being Indian, I was slightly wary of traveling like that. I recall thinking of all kinds of misadventure and mishaps that I could have met with. But the pleasant company put me at ease. And although I didn't get a chance to share food or drink with them, we shared our travel experiences and regaled each other with stories. By the time we reached our destination, my irrational fear had dissipated by the incessant chatter in the car, and I bid a warm adieu to my co-travelers, happy to have connected with them and brushed off a bias.

This experience taught me something.
  1. The most interesting encounters are sometimes the briefest.
  2. Geographical distance doesn't make us any different from each other. At the end of the day, we are all story tellers living the same life, just different stories.

  • My first encounter with Durian in Singapore.
I was wandering through the local fruit market, when a strange intense odour caught my breath. I was about to run away from the place when I realized the odour was coming from the direction of the local fruit called Durian. Curiosity got the better of me, and I asked the vendor to pack me a slice. I had to give it a try. Pinching my nose shut, I bit into the fruit and immediately regretted it. It was only much later that I realized it was an acquired taste, and I was glad I hadn't given up on it.
That day, I decided that I would not hold bias against any kind of food. And although I still have my priorities, I am of the belief that if someone somewhere is eating it, you can eat it too!

  • In Sri Lanka when I realised the real meaning of meditation and inner peace...
We were visiting this Stupa when I saw a monk immersed deep in meditation. Eyes closed, glowing visage. Just looking at him made me happy. There was a lot of commotion around him. Tourists clicking pictures, talking among themselves, discussing itineraries. But the monk stayed undisturbed. On finishing his meditation, I went up to him and asked him why he hadn't instructed them to maintain silence.
His words will always stay with me. 'I cannot ask the world to shut up,' he said, smiling calmly at me, 'But I can listen better to myself.'

  • In Amsterdam, when I visited Anne frank house and Van Gogh museum...
It was heartwarming to witness in front of you what you'd only read in books and seen in pictures. I could feel the overwhelming presence of Anne and her family. How they must have sought shelter in that cramped little secret annexe was beyond me. The pieces of furniture, the notches they made in the wall (to mark heights of family members during the incarceration) were all a reminder of how terrifying the experience must have been. I'd read the diary of Anne Frank multiple times, but standing there, breathing the air she once had breathed, touching the things she once had touched felt like an emotional holocaust in itself. There was an eerie silence amongst us tourists who had traveled back in time to pay homage to the place. But somewhere we knew there was a silent bond being shared between each one of us. The bond of empathy. Of feeling a common love for a girl long gone, someone we had all read and heard about. Of respect to all those who struggled to fight the holocaust. Of hatred for the dastardly Fuhrer who was responsible for the inhuman concentration camps

The Van Gogh museum presented us with a similar experience. Here we were all linked by the love of art and empathy for the disturbed life of a genius who had left us all a legacy of paintings to reminisce and admire.

  • In London, when I witnessed the overview of the entire city in the London eye...
London Eye
I also had a wonderful time at Madame Tussaud's wax museum, and despite the teeming crowd of over enthusiastic tourists, I did manage to get a few hasty clicks with Mahatma Gandhi and the Queen.

Lesson I learned in London
  1.  No matter where you go, you will always find friendly Indians smiling at you, making you feel comfortable in foreign land.
  2.  The British might not miss much from India. But they surely love the butter chicken.
  3.  The Brits couldn't get heaven on earth. So they opened Thorntons instead.

  • In Kovalam, Kerala when we bargained a fantastic boat ride through the marshy back waters...
    View from the boat
A beautiful opportunity to explore the aquatic life and birds there-the abundant flora and fauna God's own country is blessed with. There was a young couple accompanying us on the ride, and the man turned out to be an ornithologist who was only too happy to identify and explain about the varied species of birds we saw. However, this did rob the local boatman of his share of attention as all doubts and queries were now directed towards the young specialist instead of him.

  • In Brussels, we were only too happy to reach in time for the annual 'flower carpet' festival...

Grande Place - Brussels
It was a beautiful sight to behold, with the whole of Grande Place carpeted with brightly coloured flowers in full bloom. The mannequin piss and other tourist attractions faded in comparison, hence proving that nature has its own way of impressing mankind. Be it  the wonders of weather or the sights of Spring, we can never beat it at its game. The magnificent experience of the 'flower carpet' festival only accentuated the feeling of comfort as I sunk my teeth into fresh, hot, made-to-order waffles and crepes, reinforcing my belief that food forms the deepest connections in the most wonderful ways. From butter chicken to waffles to scones and cream. From the simple to the complex. We are bound to each other by the tips of our taste buds. And as scientifically improbable as it may sound, I still think there must surely be a special undiscovered relation between our taste buds and our heart strings.

  • When we visited the artisans of Dandasahi...
The Pattachitra I bought--- 'Dasha Avatar'
Located 12 kms from Puri, Dandasahi is a small village in Odisha renowned for its craftsmanship and artistic talent. I visited 'Ananta Maharana Gurukul' and was left mesmerized by its famous art of 'Pattachitra' paintings. The canvas for these paintings is mostly cloth, and the colors used are natural made from seashells, powdered stone, soot, leaves etc. Stone carving, papier mache, mask making are other dying arts that need to be preserved as a part of our heritage. Interacting with these craftsmen in Dandasahi made me realize that talent does not discriminate or differentiate. It is distributed without any bias. These craftsmen may be financially backward but are blessed by Goddess Saraswati. They were only too happy to showcase their work and talk to me about it. Their work was their passion. So much so that even though it may not make their pockets jingle, it surely made their faces beam. I bought a couple of paintings and left the place feeling positively inspired.

With that, I come to the end of this post. I have loads of stories to regale, myriad more experiences to reminisce about, but I think we will keep them for another day. Globe trotting has invariably taught me countless lessons, thus showing me how much I still have to learn. It has made me far more open minded...about things, people, and their opinions. It has taught me to approach new people, embrace their thoughts, listen to their views, and understand them better. I have met and conversed with various people during my trips. But each person, each place has its own unique quality and something special to share, making me believe that the world is such a colossal sea of experiences and knowledge, and I am but a mere speck.

However, every journey till date has inadvertently made me understand one thing about life---we are all in this together; working towards a common goal, exploring the world, discovering one another, and perhaps leaving a small part of ourselves wherever we go, with whomever we meet along the way. That way, we are all connected, each bearing a piece of each other within ourselves---each a part of that one big story.
So be gentle to everyone you meet along the way. Walk a few steps together. Share some smiles. And make lots of memories...

Life is this huge unpredictable adventure, part beautiful, part scary. We are all travelers on the same road, heading towards the same destination, with no one road map. We are all fighting the same battles, nursing similar wounds, and hiding matching scars. Sometimes we stumble and fall. The trick is to learn...always learn. Making notes may feel exhausting at times.
But never forget; Adventure is out there! 
And with the right balance of compassion, positive attitude, and will to explore, we can unravel all the mysteries of the world.

In the famous words of Mark Twain, 

"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the things you did. So throw off the bow lines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, discover. 

So let's pack our bags, flip open the camera of our mind, and say yes to the world...
As cohorts....
As co-passengers...
As friends!


Arun Dash said...

It's wonderful to know about your experiences.

Pri said...

Thank you, Arun. It feels wonderful to share them. Nostalgia has always been a faithful friend :)