Just three days, three gorgeous days in South Goa, and I carry back a whole year’s supply of mirth. The ambience gets on to your skin, in preparation for a relaxed spa-like vacation coming up, in the warmest and most playful way possible. There’s no place like Goa to unwind they say, and it’s true […]
Just three days, three gorgeous days in South Goa, and I carry back a whole year’s supply of mirth. The ambience gets on to your skin, in preparation for a relaxed spa-like vacation coming up, in the warmest and most playful way possible. There’s no place like Goa to unwind they say, and it’s true to the hilt. There’s that something in the air, as the monsoons trail along, playing hide and seek with your senses. The tall palms swaying head downward, bushes bursting with petrichor, and innumerable waterways wearing a luxuriant look, glamorous after dry Gurgaon, embrace your every pore, even before you land. The drive to your hotel courses through languorous countryside bathed in warm sunlight, that seems to belong to Goa alone. We stayed in the Benaulim area, and for the length of our stay drifted along alleyways and gulleys, like two impoverished souls, soaking it all in. Some of what our beings absorbed is right here, in a feeble attempt to capture its blossoms, its seafarer robes, its very essence, as we strolled and biked around like two Junkie hipsters, high on Goa!
Hibiscus abounds and thrives in the landscape
a large Carp kinda fish couldn’t care less about the rest of the world
violet flowers smile along
The Road less Travelled, a rear seat view
Loving the paved tracks too
The sea and He
Redefining Travel- Knee by vagabond Knee
So I turned fifty and don’t ask me when. It was not without difficulty, because I’m just that kind of person who will not age. The signs have been coming at me, starting with knee ache, but, grace be upon me, only one of the two worthies; less than perfect digestion on over-eating- binge eating as it is fashionably called, way too much wine I am told, rising levels of impatience and the beginnings of spiritual leanings being the order of the day, most days, especially when the spirit is tried and tested, which no longer is as seldom as it used to be.
Be that as it may, the current year has been a good year, as it has been a year of tests and tribulations. International travel was thrown in for good measure, and I’ve had to pack those bags and run, from one airport to another. Then I’ve climbed the mountains, not once but twice over, and been over my head with creative themes, and such like. Overall, it could be called an unforgettable year of travelling; of being the bohemian I was born to be, of vagabonding around the globe; me and my ever-zealous, overfull bags. I flew by some atrociously zany airlines (Kuwait), and by some fairly decent ones (Emirates); I climbed in and out of trains (Shatabdi, Delhi-Doon express), catching them by a hair’s breadth, and drove in many an ill-equipped transporter vehicle across hills and dales, clutching at my belly for dear life lest I failed to contain bread pakoras eaten in utter gluttony along the mountain trail.
Did I enjoy every ride undertaken? Oh yes, I did, mostly during these escapades, if I may call them such; a little less after the vagrant gypsy in me had rested and caught a breath.
Vagabonded in New York
Visiting my daughter for her graduation was a great idea. Just the young lady and her not-so-young-anymore-but-refuses-to let-go mother, painting the town red. It was an enthralling thought, and I fell for it, hook line and sinker. After all, it’s only a twenty hour trip with my legs dangling for a fair portion of the journey 🙂
We did paint NYC in various hues in fact, but at a certain cost. New York has deep subways, and most from the pre-war era it would seem. So climbing up and down those stairwells certainly took a toll on my post-fifty knees. We were out and about every single day because for some reason, the daughter felt these were to be counted among my last few active years, and she must have me see it all, within a span of ten days. So we scoured, raced, gamboled, ambled (Central Park), went for a Broadway Show. We hit China or Korea town for a meal we had to wait for an hour to savour. We walked as one does when one doesn’t actually drive, and we talked, and lost track of the miles we covered. As we lumbered toward my last day, climbing up a rickety staircase, up to her 4th floor apartment had become an excruciating daily misadventure. I was satiated, and done with NYC for the next decade or so. My knees had suffered and shouted for respite. It all went unheeded. But I continued brave and unabated, lest my daughter feel guilty for giving me such a ‘good time’. She left before me to come to India to attend her cousin’s wedding, leaving me stranded with two very unwieldy suitcases, full to the brim of all the shopping at IKEA (yea, that too). Even the ordered cab played truant, and cancelled on me just as I had trundled my way down with those two heavies. I was done, and in tears. The ordeal had not bowed out just yet.
I ordered another who struggled to find the daughter’s apartment block, and the heavens began to pour on New York City. I stood on the pavement, flapping my arms like a mad woman with swollen knees, hailing down every passing car in desperate hope of being swooped up. Dame Luck had kicked me in that one knee, the bad one.
Finally my new cabbie waved me down from the other end of the road- Falling over my feet, with my two heavies and a backpack, soaked to the skin, I climbed in, both grateful and disgruntled. He smiled warmly at me, unaware of what seethed within me. He had not emerged from his car to help. Relieved to be under cover, and dry seats, I let him be. He then played the most divine Spanish songs from his country, the Dominican Republic, and very quickly my soul was reinstated in its rightful place, now speeding toward the airport, as I closed my eyes and allowed my feet to tap to the rhythm of a different land. On my return home, I was welcomed with cold and hot packs to relieve my body of its physical trauma.
Come February – MYSORE (band, bajaa, baraat)
The wedding of a sister’s daughter, how could I not participate with complete fanfare! Dared I complain and faff around? No! So I’m the only aunt, and within a week of the return from New York, I’m in business. I’m still in great pain, but by now skilled enough to conceal it, by hobbling, but only just.
A daily rise to the commotions and activities of a marriage…ah, smile, don’t worry, be happy. Don’t worry be happy. Keep up the momentum and only let go when you’re done. I maintain it, my sustenance being all the joy and mirth flying around. The niece’s beautiful and serene stance has me in its hold. She is on call every minute of the day, and plays her part to the hilt, without flinching (why would she!) in utter merriment, marrying, as she was, her childhood sweetheart. I admire her more and more. She is my inspiration. I put aside all the pain for another day.
At the end of the day, it was a fabulous event indeed, and everyone around seemed pain-free. I had to work double shift, and participated with more gusto than i can recall doing anything else at all.
Who does not don a pair of high heels at such events? I know no one. – I did too, and danced under the influence of many a thundering shot of Tequila, and became Auntyji who performed without missing a beat, along with other aunties. Needless to say, the following morning I was in numbing pain, all worth it I told myself. The marriage of two lovelies was performed, and I smiled and waved and blessed their union with all the love in my heart.
On our return to our Gurgaon home, I slowed down considerably, and allowed the healing process to begin. And as soon as the knees and feet were able to, they took off to the mountains of Kumaon.
Come March (Knee-ling before Shiva’s Abode)
Himalayan Writer’s Retreat – Sona Pani
A five-day writer’s retreat is all my soul needed, and ascertained the healing of my body. The hills were beckoning. In my mind’s eye all I imagined was the sublime beauty of the snow clad Himalayan views. And so it was, pretty and oh-so-sublime. However, along with the view, were hills to be ascended, and climbed down from, all part of the beauty package. The forgotten pain and swelling crept up rapidly, as I cruised up and downhill, with courage as my armour (to borrow a poetic phrase). The agony returned, with an unknown ecstasy- and sleeping with both as bedfellas, now that is worthy of a mention. As we shared the same space, we befriended one another and a bond was formed. I was over fifty and my knees had reminded me that a difference had to be accepted and to marry them all. Not every older person has a bad arthritic knee. They may have sore elbows, or bad digestion, or double chins, or a belly that says, go slow on them carbs/alcohol, nifty calves, bags under the eyes (I have that too) etc. I had been gifted a mean knee.
Come May – Germany / East Europe
The Vagabond had rested for the month of April.
May brought great European joys on the plains. Boats and buses allowed this bohemian freedom from pain and while I walked up to fifteen kilometers a day, my body kept up with external joys, internalizing all the pleasures of tourism, in the ways of the world, with beauty and gastronomic delights being the order the day.
By early June, I told myself, pain was now a thing of the past, and I could live out the rest of my days in great sportsman spirit.
Come June (Rocket-Celery-Tomatoes: death by overdose)
Daily swims and eating healthy food in the plains of Gurgaon
Yet another trek to the mountains, for another writing retreat. Swollen knees after a riotous night of drunken dancing, oops, I meant, overdriven, overly enthused writing within a matter of two and a half days. A major unburdening onto paper, and verbiage of the author-speak sort.
Come August (Summer Girl Scout)
Camping in Spain, in the desert clime of the south. Rising heat, swirling dust devils and crawling in and out of a tiny tent sounded the death knell on my not-so-healthy knee. I returned home after long and excruciating walks in the Madrid and Dubai airports. My homecoming was short of joyous, as I began the process of healing my knee all over again. Sitting now with a cold pack on my left knee, I’m just getting over an allergic sore throat, a sad lower back and an ugly knee. But the vagabond in me is alive and kicking, because she is not ever going to be trapped by an aging body. The Bohemian spirit survives every onslaught of every trip, be it on the plains, or the hills. What I do believe is that I need to outsmart an age and an era which says, slow down, I need to believe I am smarter than my body, and its deep-seated beliefs. Am I my body or is my body – me? I say, in this installment : hail the never-say-die spirited ladies in my league!
September, October, November, December to follow in my next Kneeful travelogue assortment .
‘Gud, rmmbr my msg – r dnnr- the pics? So tht’s de latest, in hngo’er state lol ’
‘Ya, I saw. Lovly n all. Wassup? ’
‘Uh, since last nite? Nthng yaar, tryin to catch sum sleeeeep- zzzzz. CYL. TTYL.’
And so on and so forth- a minute to minute catching up, sometimes less, sometimes with longer gaps. But what’s there to catch up with- we are in constant communication. There’s not much curiosity left, is there? What are we talking about anymore, where are we headed, what’s happening to us? These are some of the questions that assail me time and again, and I’m afraid of cutting myself off at the same time. I’ll miss out…but what is it exactly that I’ll miss out on? Unclear. The sad happy jokes? The woman-centric video-clips? And not just those, all the information-laden articles, and the wisdom being passed around every morning via a Good Morning! And a Rumi or a Shakespeare quote from the greats promptly accompanies the cheerful greeting. I like, and I smile back. And there are more wise folk out there, so often, the quotation is a simplistic one by an Anon. person. I like and I smile back with equal zeal.
And just by the way, I woke up at 6, had a cup of tea and made awesomely soft idlis with onion-tomato chutney. Served it up with a flourish, and then….but really now, do you need to know all this stuff about my daily routine? Nah. I suppose not. But I insist on telling you, coz I have this aching need to constantly share. Again, is it my need, or is it something I caught, you know, like a virus out there? Everyone’s sharing, be it on FB (‘I feel so tired today’- c’mon guys, some empathy please, or at least ask why), ‘The Metro sucks, and it hasn’t rained today’….yea, right, it sucks and it hasn’t rained, we all know it. It’s out there, all of it, and a lot of it sucks. One feels obliged to check the Like box, especially if it’s someone you want to have on your side to check your boxes too, haah!
Hang on, let me just put up a photograph of the road I traversed this morning, strewn with potholes and make a noteworthy statement of the rather ailing state of our state….it does make good copy.
Otherwise, honestly, there’s enough of enough that is quite all right. I love looking at photographs of scenaries and birds, trees and flowers, and see people enjoying their holidays, Oh I do. However, I don’t particularly like watching people in front of buildings, and in poor light especially. I enjoy poetry and writing, but not when it’s abysmally written, hankering for praise, accompanied by – well, let’s not go there shall we, not right now!
Surely should an anxiety get hold of me first thing in the morning –
“Shucks, I missed a wonderful quote today- how will I pass my day wisely now!” it would be frightfully wrong, would it not? This being besieged by a feeling of guilt and remorse, not okay. I haven’t wished back, what would my friends think of me?
So what’s it that drives us to constant communion? What’s this madness that has us in its hold? Why the need to be in the know of every movement of our friends, or non-friends and belong to a myriad groups that chatter incessantly. When there’s a quiet in-between this mindless chuckling, there’s a void felt- one is compelled to shake the mobile’s face – there’s something amiss, or we put it on and off, like a sparkling diamond, to verify that its shine is intact, and not fading with the passage of the hours. One wakes up to this faithful companion, having charged it to life, and then before shutting our eyes at night, we feel this craving to put in a last word- out there, so as to sleep in peace. But do we? In our sleep-state we are overcome by a myriad communications, said-unsaid. We are living in times that are overwrought with words, images, both moving and still. Can one safely conclude that we are over-communicating, over-reaching and over-dipping ourselves in the mire of ‘too much of a good thing’?
Benefits : we can be in touch with those far away from us, like our kids, our aging parents; we get to read some surprising thoughts & essays (seldom, but it is known to have happened), we are able to efficiently organize Ladies’ Night, and ensure that we don’t have to write the same message over and over; so far so good.
What else is good? Ah yes, the instant selfies and photographing…priceless.
Disadvantages : fewer surprises, less interesting stuff to share and an overriding need to outdo – be it in flavour, be it in humour, especially when it comes to reacting to whatever it is- fastest finger shows off a faster mind. And the emoticons- O lord, save my soul! I sit guilty of over-and mis-use of some very strange expressions and drawings. Many of us are. It replaces the word, and it sounds out the exclamation we would otherwise have used our vocal chords for. Wow! How does it get better than that!
It does, believe you me, it does. Not using them constantly will make them more meaningful and precious perhaps. I am yet to learn how not to. I am yet to understand how I got here, overzealously communicating day and night with people all over the world. I know I would save a few hours, were I to desist, and put them to far better use. Now what might that be, I do wonder, because, believe you me, I have this itch where I am fretting about how quickly I can finish this post, stick it on to my Blog, and share it via Facebook and Whatsapp and ….O all right, just these two for now. I’ve got to communicate my thoughts, and right about NOW! O the delicious tremor that seizes me as I imagine my world of people reading me and smiling, and shrugging their shoulders, saying, so what’s new? They will continue to ‘talk’ at a speed that both defies and defines time.
Is this going to change over the coming years? Are we going to embrace quietude and sometimes just go off the grid and become incommunicado? Do we really need to shed tears, or hair, or moods upon a screen- big or small? There are as many answers to these questions as there are people. Yet I have a sinking feeling that loneliness is on the rise, and the perils of communication are encouraging it, feeding it and permitting its dissemination like toxic weeds that grow unabated unless uprooted as quickly as they sprout.
Just saying :
Parthenium entered India with imported food grains in the mid-1950s. It is said to be one of the world’s seven most devastating and hazardous weeds and grows undeterred and wild left unchecked.
Facebook entered the world in 2004 and its invasion has transformed our world irretrievably.
Whatsapp was actively created in 2009, but it is in 2013 that it became really popular and had about 200 million active users and 50 staff members.
Some significant members of the Social Media Society :
There’s Snapchat- microblogging, Twitter (instant gratification via handles- what you write is instantly swallowed by the world and gregariously opined about), Instagram (more photographs anyone- photo-blog away!), Youtube (show off your own videos, – you name it, and watch short or long movies!), Pinterest (visual pinning of pictures/videos and follow others’ Pins), Tumblr (posts are living documents) etc. ….and social media is kept alive in its myriad forms by we the People.
And there we were, my man and I, ready to hit the road. Have car, will race, was the motto of my companion on our tour of Czech Republic – Prague, Bratislava (Slovakia), Budapest (Hungary) and Zagreb (Croatia). We were both raring to go, no doubt about that, after ten delightful days in Germany, we wanted to explore what lay on the east side of things. Needless to say, we did race at a 120 miles per hour as often as we could, stopping just once between countries to fill up.
Driving is charming when you have the quiet and exploring, curious mind. It wasn’t a charm though on our first leg, from Hochholzen, Germany, to Prague as we ended up encountering many road-works on the highway that carried us forth. It did put a spoke in our wheels, in a manner of speaking, eager as we were to reach our destination, but we were quick to remind ourselves that oftentimes it is the journey that’s the thrill, not simply the arrival at a given goal. That said, we did race every time the path cleared up. Signs were all good.
I could barely hold my breath when we crossed the toll booth, the entry point to Czech Republic, where we purchase a card for a certain amount to be brandished, whenever asked, to prove that we were legal entrants. The cloudy weather made it all seem very drab and uninteresting after the golden rapeseed fields of Germany. Yet we were exhilarated at crossing over.
The Air-bnb we arrived at without much ado thanks to our efficient GPS. Our host, Peter, was a kindly gentleman with a beautiful mansion boasting off a large garden and a cosy apartment meant for us. A fabulous welcome. I, for one, just couldn’t get my head around the fact that the entire apartment was all ours for our two-night stay. I ran around like a headless chicken into the garden, back into the apartment, scouring every nook and corner. It felt great, it felt right. The air was cool, and we headed out the moment my hubby found me trying to catch a breath.
We were in Prague- east Europe, and everywhere we looked, people smiled back at us. Our first evening was spent walking around the castle and just taking in all the sounds that fell upon our ears. No English. There was a language in the air that we were not accustomed to, adding an allure to the experience. We stood agape at the top of the hill that gave over the city- boasting a wide vista of steeples and thick clusters of homes and roofs that seemed to belong to another era. It took painful hunger pangs to draw us away and back downhill to search and ultimately find a restaurant that would satisfy both the meat-eater, me, and my vegetarian partner. We were the only ones in that eatery, and we discovered that the food on our plates was less than satisfactory. I decided that cooking might be the more palatable option.
The following morning we reluctantly left the confines of this beautiful ground floor apartment with a garden, armed with a map of both the metro lines and the city to take on our roles as tourists.
With help in broken English from a mother and her toddler, we found our way, quite easily to the town-centre which was teeming with holiday-makers from around the world, and we joined them – to be entertained and to enjoy whatever Prague offered in terms of history and beauty- both wrapped up in each other quite seamlessly. A hop on-hop off bus gave us the ride of our lives, allowing us to get a peek of all of Prague, or so it seemed. The fresh air, the continuous chatter in our ears, of the guide via headphones, and a blue sky above, rolling along with the bus- was perfect. The sun shone brightly. We were two content people. Our ride ended at the quay, where we descended into a motor boat that swayed, just so, and we were blown away, by the sights of innumerable steeples, and verdant hills that bowed to us. We barely heard the guide, as the waters of the Danube splashed about, beating relentlessly, the body of our boat.
Later we had a far more sumptuous meal at our temp home. Prague had hosted us generously enough, and we were not about to ruin our evening with yet another struggle for a good meal for two very hungry tourists.
Slovakia – Bratislava
The ride to Bratislava was an uneventful one, but we rode fast and arrived by lunchtime at another lovely apartment, which was fitted with both expensive and modern equipment, sporting the look of a designer home. We did not meet the owner, but were handed over the key by a friend, who left us in peace for the days to follow. It was quite a contrast to Peter’s home in Prague. We felt we needed to keep it as ‘delicately perfect’ as it was, and me being me, I feared soiling anything I touched. The centre room had designer sofas and a rather ‘cool’ centre table, and aesthetically lined porcelain vases adorned the corners. It was like walking into a magazine that displayed homes for the rich and famous. Being neither rich nor famous, it took all of my energy and self-belief to roam unfettered in this apartment.
Our evening was spent in the local quarter, shopping and eating ice-cream cones, and just roaming around, taking in the feel of the people and the land. We felt we were being watched, since we happened to be the only Asians in that area. It was ok, and truth be told, I felt a bit of a celebrity who hadn’t quite made it in the big league. Back in the apartment we gorged on local fare, which was a bag of Bratislavan chips and local wine. We ended this high caloried dine-in with grapes and apples. Not so bad eh!
The following day we did visit the Castle, whose gardens were more attractive to us, sprawling as they were. They immediately drew our attention away from the lofty castle itself, as they gave over the city’s riverside, and its skyline. We wandered around like two lost souls, soaking in the greens, the large number of couples that lounged on the benches, taking in the sun’s warmth – just allowing it to wash over them, even as we deftly marched on the shaded areas. We marveled yet again at the rising steeples, the hanging bridge across the vast Danube, and gorged on a delicious Italian meal- playing it safe paid off, and we were richly rewarded by some excellent service and tickled tastebuds. A strong double expresso rounded off the meal quite impeccably.
We ambled along and found our way to the Slavin memorial after losing track of both time and tracks. However, it afforded us quite an insight into other areas of the city, which proved to be the best part of our day yet. Later, on the insistence of the partner, we drove out of the city to visit the Devin Castle, dating back to the 13th century, which definitely stands out as the highlight of our tour of Bratislava.
This ancient stone castle, stands just inside Slovak territory on the frontier between Slovakia and Austria.
It is quietly positioned upon a hill and casts its vision upon undulating prairies and quaint villages. I reminded myself that this was one rare occasion when I felt not an ounce of regret at having listened to my partner’s obsessive persistence to drive all the way out of town.
On learning more about Devín : since the 19th century its history inspired several romantic poets. It became an important national symbol for the Slovaks. It featured on the reverse of the former 500 Czechoslovak koruna banknote. Now that’s something!
This was heaven- we stood agape on the side of a broken castle wall and watched the sunset. The sight of the confluence of two wide and strong rivers wormed its way into our hearts, forever more. Two water bodies- the Danube and the Morava rivers flowing into one another to form a third wholesome body. In the mellow light of the setting sun, what met our eyes was nothing short of mystic. We had to tear ourselves away on being told that time had run out and we might miss our boat back to town. A half an hour later, we were aboard a humming boat-bound to arrive at Bratislava port in an hour, celebrating the union of Morava and Danube then and now. We were naturally quiet as cold winds whirled around us, and allowed us the time to absorb recent images we now carried.
Gaping at what shone in the light of the setting sun
Grand old Budapest where we spent time shopping, eating gourmet food and riding the river. This time though, the air-bnb quarters were neat but windowless, and our bed had a strange blue light that it emitted ceaselessly. It was eery and exceedingly claustrophic. We managed to survive the night, and rushed off to Zagreb thereafter.
Buda-Pest – two sides of the same coin bespeak history, much like most east European countries, and has clearly lived through many a war to claim and stake its place in the scheme of things. It is a bustling city and there were a large number of tourists combing the city by any means at their disposal. We walked, well mostly, until we embarked on a water cruise. It is a truly lovely city, with hills, waterways and yes, steeples meaning church-goers aplenty. But from what I understood from our Hop-on, Hop-off (yep, best way to rush through a city to pick and choose for later, that which is more attractive), only thirty percent of the country is a regular God-fearer. Surprise, surprise, yet no surprise there! With so much bloodshed and war upon war, what would you have one believe, that God’s all love and kindness? I suppose not.
People here were exceedingly helpful and kind. Walking permitted us to really observe them, their behavior in general up close, and grab a bite – falafel wrap, on the way. There is much to buy in this city, including handcrafted crystal-ware, which we dared not- delicate and heavy as it is.
ZAGREB – Croatia
The following day, was clearly distinct in its ethos. How, you might ask- it was the air, its folk, so much simpler and that much more curious. We spent two luxurious days at Screcko’s home, and were given a small but well-appointed apartment. It overlooked a large park abundantly lined with trees and the cheery patter of happy feet. On our first evening we just hung out in the local marketplace, which reminded me of Gurgaon’s Vyapar Kendra, minus the discomfort of it being likened to a maze. It had all sorts, and we were instantly made comfortable on entering a sandwich shop (imagine a rather large Pita stuffed with chunky tomatoes and goat cheese, sprinkled with salt and pepper) and being told that ‘India does gooood cinema!’ English is rarely spoken apart from this young person who had started with English at school as a third language; as for the rest, ‘No inglis’. We managed just fine- charming information out of unsuspecting Croatians. The weather was glorious, and we wistfully observed a large variety of dogs being walked on leash. It is our favoured domestic pet, so the delight was all ours, remembering ours back home, now gone.
Zagreb is a very pretty town- with great places to eat and shop. Its air is clean as are its people. For us the highlight was both shopping at Müller, a large department store, and spending over two hours at the Musuem of Broken Relationships. The latter displayed items that held deep significance in a narrative that recounted the fabric of a broken relationship. It was not just deeply moving, it also told us how a common thread binds all relationships – be their tying or their untying. Some items on display included a hammer, a high heel shoe, a gum wrapper and even a little bottlette that once carried drugs like Ecstasy. Even as I read the accompanying tale, I felt a tremor rise within me. Each one left me either with a teardrop, or a quickened pace, on to the next one.
Zagreb to me, was the best part of our four city tour. I would have liked to stay for another two days- not so much to see anymore on offer, but just to be. We both, hubby and i, felt similarly, and we both will continue to feel the need to return to Croatia, inshallah we shall!
This trip was unique in many ways for us, but that would require another post. So long for now!