We, at Brunch, don our vacation hats whenever we can. Read about some of our travel escapades:
My big fat wedding journeys
I love to travel. It can't be put in simpler words. The excitement of going to a place other than your own city, the curiosity of meeting new people and absorbing their culture, attitude, is enough for me to get going.
However, most of my recent travels have been for the purpose of attending weddings in the family. And dare I add that my upcoming holidays will also be for attending weddings?
Such vacations are full of fervour and frenetic activity. We're running from one corner to another, things get mixed up in the last minute (always!) and yet, all the 'creases' are ironed out and things finish on a lovely note.
Wherever you go, there will be mehendi in the shaadi
Weddings, if you happen to be part of the girl's side, are twice as taxing! My first wedding vacation was last July, when I travelled to Yavatmal and Nagpur for a very dear friend's wedding. As soon as I set foot in Yavatmal, the ceremonies had begun. The five-day long wedding included so many ceremonies that I can't even recall them! All I remember is, running from one corner of the house to the other, in Yavatmal, and then from one floor to another in Nagpur.
Being a part of each and every ceremony, bearing the jitteriness and pre-marriage tantrums of my friend can't be put down in words (honest!). And even though most of us were down with a sore throat by the end of the marriage, in my opinion, it was nothing compared to the fun that built up until the marriage!
My second marriage vacation was in the same year, to New York, where my cousin brother was getting married. Since not many elders were present at the wedding, the younger lot (which included me), yes I am young (!) did all the work. The traditional Iyer wedding, held in a temple was shortened to an amazing time frame, followed by a photo session at Central Park. If walking in heels in Central Park was not enough, we had to dance in the evening during the Western ceremonies. Of course, it was fun, but not without exhausting each and every member of our family, who were up from 6am (We wrapped by 10pm)!
I realised how taxing weddings are, after my brother got married. But I believe it's twice as taxing for the girl's side (I know I've said this already)! Having said that, weddings are absolute fun, and perhaps a stress buster, because you're not thinking about anything but the impending wedding.
And my other two holidays (oops!) will yet be for weddings. Another cousin brother, another dear girlfriend. Oh well, it's a vicious circle you see!
The Pondicherry diaries
When you're studying in Chennai (which I was for ten whole months) your idea of fun drastically changes. Fun becomes idlis for breakfast at the tapri's, substandard alcohol in the hostel and curling up with a good book in a tiny pair of shorts. And when you get used to the terrible booze, the humidity, the dust and the bullshit that comes with J-school, Pondicherry happens.
Bright hues are splashed here and there across the city. Photo credit: Shubhi Vijay
Pondy is a three-hour-long bus ride away from Chennai. The East Coast Road is gorgeous and green and lush, unlike the dusty, dirty roads of Chennai. Don't get me wrong, I thought Madras had its own charm but the ECR is a class apart. And Pondy, it takes your heart away.
I've never been to Paris, but this charming little city feels like the next best thing. It's Tamil, it's French, it's beautiful. There are temples, churches, autorickshaws, ellaneer (coconut water) and Tamil sign boards. The paved (sometimes pebbled) streets have French names (Rue this and Rue de that). And bright hues are splashed here and there across the city. The cops wear red caps, the gates of tall, white, colonial buildings are covered in pink bougainvillea vines. You'll see a door painted electric blue hiding under white bougainvillea, you'll see bright yellow houses with an old wooden door with Tamil carvings. It's a city you love to get lost in, chance upon little boutiques and cafes.
If you're there you must drink some wine at Satsunga, eat a hearty lunch at Rendevous, sip some coffee at Le Café and stare at the beach, then walk on the parapet in the promenade, cotton candy in hand.
We always stayed at the Auro beach (I love love love Auroville). There are these gorgeous shacks. Walk along the beach, you'll come across a bright yellow gate and a signboard that reads "Waves". It's a beautiful property, right at the beach. It's just sand and shacks. Ask for Tanya, I think she's Russian. It's a few hundred rupees per person per night, there are adorable cats all over the place, a community kitchen.
I always meant to thoroughly explore Pondy and Auroville, but I never could. There's so much to do, the odd weekend was never enough.
Now, I'm back in Delhi. But another trip to Pondy is long overdue. I'd love to rent a cottage and a bicycle for a month. It must be nice to be rich.
An evening in Paris
The mandatory visit to the Louvre over and Monalisa darshan done and dusted, I took some time off during a work visit to explore the City of Lights in April last year. The scribe in me was curious to walk to and have a coffee at the café where John Galliano had made anti-Semitic remarks and had been subsequently fired by Dior. A colleague had mentioned that the café was located on the Champs de Elysees.
A view of the Champs-Élysées
So there I was, braving the 5 degrees cold, wind-chill factor and unfamiliar terrain during an evening in Paris. Browsing through one of the most upscale fashion districts in the world, overcoat collars upturned, I saw a sea of Burberry and Hermes swish past me. The wish list for fashion labels turned into window shopping the moment one looked at the price tag on that Mango dress that the wife was hankering for, or the perfume that the sister-in-law fancied. "Aap Pakistan se hain?" came the question in a distinctly Urdu tongue albeit with a Punjabi twang. I turned around to be shaking hands with Abdul Majeed, a native of Lahore who mistook me for his country cousin. On learning that I was from Hindustan, the reaction was spontaneous and warm unlike the chilly Parisian wind poking into our faces like pin-pricks. Majeed said he was trawling the streets of Paris in the hope he would get lucky and find a French soul mate, with a sole objective: "Getting my immigration papers confirmed and getting French citizenship by marrying a gori. Ab aap se kya chupana," he said in a candid moment of subcontinental solidarity.
Majeed and I ended up chatting into the night like long-lost friends discussing everything from Sania Mirza, to Imran Khan, the IPL to Dubai's Burj Khalifa. Long after the showrooms had downed their shutters, we shared a pizza we went on to enjoy an impromptu Hip Hop performance outside a closed Mono Prix store.
Walking across a deserted park to take the underground Metro to reach my hotel, I was waylaid by a stunning looking ballerina from the erstwhile Soviet Union. Like an enterprising journo I listened to the story she narrated about falling into hard times after her ballet company downsized their troupe. After enquiring if I wasn't in too much of a hurry, she went on to offer me a 150 euro massage. "I don't do this every day," she announced. "And I can even give you a discount if you are from India," came the clincher. "Actually, I am Mexican," I said and excused myself.
As I walked to the train station, the line: "When the medium can't be the message," kept coming to my mind.
Off heart breaks and impulse travels
"Get another tattoo," exclaimed my friend after realising that I was still nursing a broken heart. Obviously my lack of response stirred her further to propose that I get a tongue piercing and party till I drop. As I sat in front of her unresponsive and staring into nothingness, something clicked. I leaped out of the tattered beanbag with a cry. No, I was not crying in despair, I was suddenly very happy. I knew I had to get out of that room full of clichés and do something exhilarating to get my mind off things. So I went into the other room, packed my rucksack in under three minutes and rushed out like lightening.
Now since I had done this - travelling alone that is - earlier as well, I wasn't too worried about it. The only thing different this time was that I didn't have much money - to be precise, I had Rs. 3600. So anyway, a quick Metro ride and an hour later, I was at Delhi's infamous Inter State Bus Terminus at Kashmiri Gate. The idea was to take a state bus to an obscure place on the map. So after rummaging through my sack for a map (in those days people were not armed with the smartness of smartphones), I decided to go to Kasol, a small town in Parvati Valley of Himachal Pradesh. But surprisingly, there are no direct buses to Kasol. So I hopped onto a bus to Buntar which is a hour's drive from Kasol. The bus journey was pretty eventless except the occasional stares from other passengers in the bus. I mostly slept through the journey and 10 hours later, I was at Bhunter. This is where my ordeal started.
For start, there were no buses to Kasol for the next four hours. So I wandered around the sleepy town only to realise that it isn't the most friendly town for a single female traveller - female being the operative word here. I was followed around by a bunch of adolescent boys and one even tried to sell some cheap 'maal' to me which I was certain was goat poop. After shooing them away, a middle-aged man with sinister eyes followed me for an hour in his ramshackle car and even offered to drive me to Kasol. 'Say-noo-reetaaaa' is how he addressed me in his peculiar Italian-ish accent. Even the little girls in that town tugged on my sack constantly and one managed to steal my water flask. And mind you, all this was happening at 10 in the morning. For those four hours, I felt a strong urge to call my estranged partner, who I used to travel with, and ask for advice but thankfully didn't. That would be catastrophic.
So, finally after battling for my belongings and life in Bhunter, I boarded a mini bus to Kasol. After being on the road for barely 10 minutes, the tyranny of that sleepy town simply vanished. Yes, the road was bumpy and the bus was over crowded, but the cool wind and serene surroundings soothed my frayed nerves. In the bus, I met Shanti - an Israeli woman who was also going to Kasol. We got chatting on the bus and realised we were travelling for similar reasons. So convinced we were about each other that, once in Kasol, we took a room together in one of the budget hotels overlooking river Parvati.
Kasol, which is the entry point into the mysterious Parvati Valley, is a typical backpacker destination. The languid pace of the town draws you in. It is infused with Israelis more than most other places. So much so that many restaurants don't even bother writing their names or menus in English and the local bookshops sell more books in Hebrew than in English. Thankfully since Shanti was an Israeli, I faced no such problems. I saw places that I had never heard off and for the sake of preservation (from the honeymooners and party seeking youth), shall not talk about it. But let me tell you something, wander around and you are sure to find a hidden secret the town is full of.
There's not much to do in Kasol and that is its beauty. The more religiously inclined can hop to Manikaran and stay there. I mostly trekked through the forest, found a quiet place by the river and read through the day only to return in the evening where I met Shanti for dinner with her friends. Shouts of 'Boom Shiva' resonated through the town and viscous rings filled the air. You can trek to Keerganga if you have the time and the a little more money in your pocket than I did.
Three days in Kasol and I was healed. Rid of the aching heart and ready to plunge into love and life again. Shanti too has managed to find love again.
From HT Brunch, May 6
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