All posts tagged: Stories from the road

Varkala: The Dying ‘Benares’ Of South

Despite being an avid traveler myself, I often find myself writing a story, almost innocently, trying to discourage the idea of frenzied and mass tourism. I’ve seen local cultures turning into commodities when religious rituals and traditional ethnic tires reduce and sanitize, to conform to tourist expectations – as so was the case with Varkala, a coastal town in India’s southernmost state of Kerala. Once a destination is sold as a tourism product, it starts losing its originality – which, with time, brings about nothing but yet another modern tourist destination, providing us with perfectly staged, not so authentic, experiences. Varkala is a calm and quiet hamlet, having its presence on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram district. It has one of those ideal places, which has a perfect beach and a great crowd. The only thing, however, that differs Varkala among its other tropical Indian counterparts is its rich history. It was only about less than 20 years ago when Varkala, which today, has become an ideal spot to amble, for tanned westerners – was always found …

Kanyakumari: A Place Constantly Inviting Us For A Secular Sabbath

When you visit a place what is that one thing that you look out for, the most? The experience that makes that particular place unique. Sure you want to have a good time and follow your own way of travel. Those, who are all into leisure, for example, are always looking for a place to relax, which makes them hungry for beaches, when traveling around places like South India. When I came to Kanyakumari, I was expecting the same. Though I am not claiming that I travel for leisure and that I was expecting fancy beaches. But the picture I had crafted in my head was of a place, much tranquil, surrounded by sea, leaving almost no trace back to India’s much confused and muddled mainland. After all, this is where India concludes and finds itself gracefully surrounded by the mighty and the endless Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Bay of Bengal – from almost all directions. But when you’re in Kanyakumari you don’t feel that tranquillity in its air. Nor do you get to …

Life In The Backwaters Of Alleppey, Kerala

Tourists in their fancy houseboats seemed high in spirit, with their impressive camera doing most of the work. But in the local ferry, the atmosphere was rather regular. Here, no one appeared to be in hurry or amazed by the arresting beauty of the backwaters in Alleppey – one of the prime highlights of tourism in Kerala. I heard a lot about the backwaters of Kerala. I heard that tourists here hire a floating houseboat and wander through its maze of interconnected lagoons, canals, lakes and inlets – home to a dazzling assortment of flora and fauna, and local villages. I heard that they spend days sitting on the deck, experiencing the tranquility of this place, with a book in their hand, while swiftly sailing through one village to the other. I wanted to explore this place too, but my own way. And here I was, in a government ferry, surrounded by a bunch of locals who were heading back from the mainland of Alleppey, with all the ration they needed, and a newspaper that they’d …

Indian Railways: Always Having The Best Stories To Tell

Train journeys in India have always fascinated me. A 24 hour drive on any route, in any direction, and you feel the entire India. From bucolic country-sides to sedative garbage dumps – you get to see it all. Not to mention, a variety of interesting people, you meet on the way who challenge the ambiguity of an Indian mind, and its awkwardness, or better put, its ludicrously confusing state. Iam writing this as I struggle to grab myself from an arresting view of open farmlands, perfectly beautified by a group of silent, comely hills in the backdrop (near Mumbai) – something far more magical than the open skies of an airplane’s window. And only a few seconds later the landscape changes into an almost dried, soundless river, with a couple of fishermen in their boats – battling to acquire their routine dinner. I was almost spellbound, when I realised that I’ve still got a lot more to see and a plenty more to experience – as in the next few hours I will enter into the …

Rishikesh – From Being A Land Of Yogis To A Hub Of Tourism

If you turn off the main road that leads to Shivpuri – the starting point of River Rafting into the holy Ganges – and walk about the small alleys of Rishikesh, you’d find that the place is swirling with all kind of adventure sport and tour companies – alluring tourists to partake into its cultural destruction, by making Rishikesh nothing but just another weekend getaway around us. For those who can see its invisible forces and read all the unseen currents in the air, Rishikesh is a magical world. It is one of those places where you come to regain your inner consciousness and learn about maintaining a harmony with the world – by staying close to the Ganges and under the undiluted purity of Himalayas. Yet for many, the town has become a place for enchantment, for having a few pints of beer, and enjoy the aggression of Ganges, rafting and kayaking. But that’s not what Rishikesh’s real charm, at least not in its real sense. I’ve some personal attachment to this place, some affection – …

Srinagar, Kashmir: A Gathering Around The Perplexity

The many houseboats around Dal Lake seemed to be blissfully relaxing, allowing tourists to amicably enjoy the utopian state of Sriangar – a place which once stood with dignity and pride, and was only known for its beauty, or for being a ‘paradise on earth’, as locals still call it. But today, Srinagar can hardly breathe on its own. It seems – as you walk around its confusing and mystifying streets – that its very sustenance, now depends upon those wearing Green Camouflage Jackets and Army Track Pants. After more than two decades of cold war and raw politics, and with Indian army taking affairs in its hands, does the future of tourism in Kashmir and its capital Srinagar look bright? To me, at least, it doesn’t! In the summer of 2015, this ill-famous tourist hotspot of India – appeared to me as a biblical wasteland, where army check-posts and AK47s still rule the day. Even if the town, at large, is declared safe, there’s always this fear and trepidation in your heart that suppresses …

McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala: A Land That Speaks The Language Of Friendliness And Peace

I feel that a trip has been successful when I come back sounding strange, even to myself. When I know that in some sense I’ve lost a part of me and I remain unsettled, upon my return, with what I’ve seen or experienced. We travel the most when we learn something new. And we learn when we come to a place full of stories and inspiration. What we find in such places is that it is the sadness that makes the sun-shine brighter, and it is the spirit of people that makes this world more beautiful. This applies to McLeod Ganj – a nondescript sleepy hamlet in the foothills of the Himalayas – in an absolute and unconditional sense. The smell of butter tea in the peewee lanes of McLeod Ganj in the chilly mornings, the sound of Buddhist prayers in Namygal Monastery and the many friendly faces that I frequently stumbled upon, often filled me with a sudden unanswerable sense – that I’ve been to this place before. I decided to visit McLeod Ganj to experience Tibetan Buddhist culture, …

Kamakhya Temple: All A Little Less Sombre Than A Stock Market

It was six in the morning, too early for the rest of the city to wake up and resume their daily chores. But those who came to visit the temple seemed all dedicated and staunched. Rising early and reserving a good place in its long, never ending queues was the only solution to pay the ‘goddess of Desire’ a visit. The many souvenir and prasad shops, spread as far as 400 metres outside its premises, were already up and running – bidding hard for yet another business day. Inside, many devotees indulged in their challenging gamut with pujaris, trying to negotiate a price for a personalised puja. Once they’re done with it, what awaits is yet another task of buying an express entry ticket which guarantees a quick tour inside Kamakhya Temple – one of India’s most sacred sites.   This is how I found Kamakhya Temple – dedicatedly staring into a financial abyss, experimenting with the country’s admirable religious tolerance every minute. And yet it lures the devotees from as far afield as southern India or the far west: the …

Hitchhiking From Leh To Srinagar

Hitchhiking has always remained an intriguing travel option to me. This is because of two fair reasons: one, it makes your journeys cheaper; second, it opens the possibilities to meet all the interesting people out there whom you otherwise miss by travelling in a bus, or far worse, in a private car. I’ve hitchhiked almost everywhere I’ve traveled in the world –  from Indian Himalayan roads to Bangkok’s highways. And no, I don’t find it risky. In my belief, the fact that hitchhiking is dangerous has only been overplayed by the fear-mongering society. So let’s not even go there! The idea to hitchhike all the way from Leh to Srinagar – a 420 km long and isolated road with some of the most popular towns in between, including Kargil and Dras (second coldest inhabited place on earth) – initiated when I met David and Marion on a chilly evening in Leh. And we teamed up to see if that’s even possible. Our shabby and hopeless scheme – as it seemed at first – started in Leh, and …

Why Are We Always So Uninterested To See Our Own Country?

If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with” Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz Their names have escaped me now but I vividly remember that interesting, yet stupendous conversation I had with a young Indian couple from south of India. I was waiting for my appointment with an immigration officer in Thimpu – to extend my tourist permit in Bhutan. It started with one of those moments when you meet another traveller from your home country and you find yourself excited to exchange the usual banalities about how amazing this place is, followed by the ubiquitous gamut of ‘where are you from in India’ and ‘where you’re going next’. As we finished that, I asked them about their favorite places in south India. I had long desired to travel south of India. [Update Oct’16: But Now I’ve Been To South. Read About Why I Loved Kerala So Much Here] That was their home after all, I thought, no …