I still remember quite vividly how I would lock myself up in my room tucked in the mountains amongst the constant rains and clouds floating right outside my window for days together and just be – be with myself, thinking, feeling my loner existence. I had just discovered this song from Coldplay called ‘Fly on’. I would listen to it on loop and reach a deep state of trance without closing my eyes just sitting there relaxed on my cozy bed, sometimes on the wooden floor, sometimes not taking shower, sometimes not brushing my teeth, sometimes skipping my two meals. I’d in rush of blood then go out for a walk under my umbrella, feeling utterly alone but not awkward. No, my aloneness was not awkward for sure. I’d just keep walking, feeling my state of being each second of the walk.
Boarding the very first random bus from the very first random bus stop and going on a random round-trip across a section of Bombay at the most random hour of the day. I’ve never felt so safe and ecstatic both at the same time ever in my life. Strolling through the city feels like time-travelling through an ancient city where only the clothes people wear are contemporary and the vehicles static or moving are modern. All rest is just a piece of good old time. Even the new skyscraping structures don’t fade away the olden-day charm of the city. The air is full of fragrance of the ocean blue. The nights are sans fear.
I’m in love!
With this city.
With the people.
With the Bombay boy.
Photo Credits: Wajid Ansari
My love for words & captioning photos has led me to start this series. The first series had to begin with Mumbai – my most beloved place in the whole wide world. Mumbai is nothing less than magic to me & my friend & travel-companion, Yash has helped me materialize this new beginning tremendously.
The name itself sounds lush. When my friend & chef told me to try one of these at his Restaurant, I was a little puzzled as I had never in my life come across something like a ‘Chocolate Salami’. That was triggering to my taste-buds. On the spur of the moment I felt the urge to try it.
The plating was simple, neat & to the point; very eye-appealing. Ah! The sophistication of simple things.
The chocolate salami was accompanied by a pretty-looking, perfectly-made, not-too-sweet and upto-the-mark custard. The chef might have made a log and then cut it into roundels while preparing the serving.
When it was served before me on the table, I took a good look at it. As I took the first bite, my mind started decoding the varient ingredients one by one; chocolate mixed with condensed milk, walnuts & flaky pistachio infused in a nice portion of rum mostly the legandary Old Monk.
I tried the second bite with the custard and I must say that the combination was commendable. Ever tried chocolate with beer? If not, I insist you do!
For all those who are curious to know, this dish was served at Barrels & Bones Restaurant in Panjim City, Goa.
Captured by: Yash Rane, my travel companion on this visit.
This city never ceases to amaze me. Like a witch it has cast its spell on me. Even when I’m hiding inside my den, completely underground in absolute dark, it finds me & shows me signs of magic. It’s like I’m living in a magic land. This city is truly BOLLYWOOD, truly CINEMATIC. All the things I had ever imagined about this city ever since I was a kid, are all REAL. My imagination wasn’t lunatic. It’s all true. The more I follow my heart and the more I see more of the world, my will-power reach a new high every single time. My wings of imagination get stronger, perspective wider & ambitions grander.
Ah! The little things that are nothing less than pure magic.
“Bombay” – the magic word.
WELCOME TO MUMBAI NAGARIYAA! 🙂
Captured by: Vineet Pal
When I stand near the sea and the waves come towards my feet, it feels like the vastness is coming towards me to engulf me. And when I continuously keep looking at my feet while being submerged in the waves, I feel like I have been engraved in a liquid black hole. Its shit scary! It is like my childhood dreams of getting lost floating in open black universe for eternity has come true.
It is like standing in front of your rival fear and confronting it.. confronting fear with fear and courage both intermingled in my state of mind.
Captured by: Yash Rane
Continuing the next chapter after about 6 months..
I was kind of late. After about 15 minutes of waiting time (for a local bus) and another 15 reaching Police Bazaar, I was now trying to find the bus stand. After about half an hour of ‘bus stand locating operation’, I found what I was looking for. The local state transport bus was in an unexpectedly bad shape. I anyway seated myself with my luggage tucked in really close like an overprotective mother (window seat it was. Yay!). There were no direct buses to Darjeeling. This one was going to take me to Siliguri. The bus kick-started at 3:30 PM.
Passing through the roads of Shillong, I was now leaving the town behind. The bus continued to intersect the clouds. It felt like being a part of a fantasy film. The sight outside was par excellence. I was apparently more or less being taken on a drive through heaven in my mind. The way the mountains and the clouds were intermingling with each other can be compared to the beauty of love-making. If you’ve ever dreamt of sitting at lake side with mountains in the background (super close) and clouds being the only separating entity between the lake and the mountains, you got to visit Umiam/Barapani lake. I don’t know about the other months of the year, but for me, June end was just perfect. Watching a tiny cloud raining on a nearby mountain is bliss. I soon realized, I was going back to Guwahati.
The bus stopped at the exact spot where my shared taxi while going to Shillong from Guwahati did. I could apprehend that I was alone on this journey with absolutely nobody to share my thoughts & feelings with. Even my smartphone’s network range would mysteriously vanish at most of the times. Amongst all those passengers, I could feel that I was alone. It was a weird feeling – a neutral one with slight inclination towards melancholy. The bus moved after about half an hour. I bought some packets of biscuits and chips. The next stop was supposed to be a small town somewhere in Assam at 10 o’ clock in the night for dinner. I was well-aware of the fact that I was a “companion-less” woman travelling on my own thousand of miles away from my hometown in a long journey inter-state bus in a fairly conservative country where travelling long distance alone as a woman isn’t a very common sight. I also knew that it could have proved to be very vulnerable for me. I did not want to invite any unwanted danger for myself. I was in fact showing gratitude to God for seating a ‘decent very old’ uncle next to me as fellow-passenger. Why the heck was I even travelling in a local state transport bus if I had so much going on in my head? I yearn to travel to as many places as I can. But being a woman has its disadvantages. No matter how free your own circle makes you feel, you will always end up feeling vulnerable and unsafe at some if not all points in time and places. A relentless feminist that I am, I still sometimes tend to think – ‘I wish I were a guy’. The fear of my mind was as if innate at that time, and even after convincingly noticing that the passengers were least bothered about my existence in that craggy bus and nobody seemed to really care or pay attention to me, I was still trying my best to ensure my personal safety by disguising and trying to act like a ‘regular commuter’ rather than a ‘first-timer single woman traveller’.
It rained cats and dogs most of the time on the way to Siliguri. The roads reminded me of Jungle book, the old Indian mythical stories of dacoits, the infamous mass-murderer Angulimala and the likes while passing through Assam in the night; and of Malgudi Days when the bus passed by the beautiful clean Bengali small towns and adjoining railway tracks during early morning. The bus’s headlights were the only lights visible during night time. It was pitch dark. I kept awake the whole night. In the pursuit of keeping myself “safe”, I decided not to get down at the pit stop for dinner as I did not want to come in notice of the people around. I decided to eat whatever titbits I had with me. The bus moved in another half an hour. I had never in my life seen the night sky so dark and the stars so dazzling and prominently visible. The jungle’s were scary dark, the rain drops super thick. The bus often stopped at random dark places in the middle of nowhere and picked up passengers from random places. These places were so dark and deserted that I would often feel terrified thinking what if somebody came up from my window and cut my throat and take away my luggage. The window refused to close properly which made the rain come in. It was slightly cold. I took my stole out and tucked myself in to keep myself protected from rain and cold. I soon fell asleep and kept waking up in-between. I was glad to have dozed off well for a few hours. It was almost morning when I finally decided to wake up. I saw outside. I was in Bengal now. It was breath-takingly beautiful. The roads were smooth with no pot-holes at all unlike the weary roads of Assam. The India I was now witnessing was the one that should ideally be popularized by Indian tourism or maybe it’s better not. The plight of popular Indian tourist places is well-known to all. It broke my heart a little seeing no enthusiasm and aww-inspiring reactions amongst my fellow-commuters while witnessing these gorgeous non-touristisized sights. There were no signs of any excitement or sense of discovery on their faces. They were all behaving like normal localites which they were no doubt. And then I would think to myself would they feel the same if they got a chance to visit the part of country I belonged to or may be any other place where they had never been to before? This is what travel does to you. It shows you, makes you experience what you never imagined in your life ever before and changes your perspective for a lifetime or maybe at least till the time you are not again used to the usual life/routine life that you’ve always lived. One thing is sure. I am never letting go off my wanderlust. It fulfils me and enriches me, makes me feel like there’s something, if not a lot of things, that I know I can do like a pro. Travel is my peace of mind.
The fragrance of incense was everywhere I went. There was a pleasant energy in the air. The people, the places, the sounds, the sights, everything seemed to be warmly welcoming me. I felt like I had found a long lost home. A smile enveloped my face and my jawline expanded into a new geography as a consequence of it. It was only June, but the wind gave me the feeling of time travelling to the month of February, my most favourite month in the whole year. My lifeblood could sense the heights I was at. My heart jumped with joy and heartbeats danced to the tune of it’s music. That’s what Shillong did to me at first sight.
Aunty picked me up from the taxi stand and we started walking towards home. It was a pleasant 5 minutes walk uptill home. I settled my luggage down and was welcomed by Naani with an eloquent smile. I had the time of my life at Pritamjit’s place. This was my first ever elaborated interaction with a Bong family. The home-stay was pure bliss and this was one of the very rare times that I had felt being at home. Home is where you can look like an ugly duckling, even smell like a raw fish sometimes and be not judged for it. This was home! I had the best home-made Bong food ever. By the time I was leaving, I had become so habitual and fond of Bengali food, that it started feeling like ‘Maa ke haath kaa khaana‘ to me. It was the football season going on and the whole family being fond of football would sit glued to the TV during dinner time. I watched football matches, Bengali soap-operas and Tarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma with the family. I learnt that sometimes doing what you’re not interested in doing ‘can be’ a pleasant experience. Naani was very fond of me. She loved my long hair. She even made a beautiful plait out of my hair one day and called me ‘Shoondor‘ – the best compliment I’ve ever received in another language. Living with a Bong family and interacting with the locals influenced my hindi to a large extent and converted my Delhite accent into a mix of Bong-Khasi kind of a hindi accent. Khasi is the local language spoken in Shillong.
Most of the time, it rained. Some days, I would just sit around, watch it rain, read, have chai and sleep like a lazy bum, not caring about going out at all. And on some others, I’d go strolling in the streets, people watching, window shopping, nature-gauging, sit on random pavements & watch the world in movement. And then there’d also be days when I would just get out in the rain with my umbrella and sit at the gate of Buddhist temple with a Bhutta to eat and witness the clouds make out with the mountains. I wandered around relentlessly trying to find myself, quenching my wander-thirst. I roamed around on random streets just for the fun of it and to enjoy the simple pleasure of lonely strolls. How magnificent it feels to be amongst people you know nothing about, at places you’ve never been to before. It’s ironical how people we already know make us feel more conscious about our self-image and tend to judge us inevitably. Whereas, at a place like this, where I was a total stranger, there were no judgmental thoughts about each other. The happiness of being oneself can best be found or lost at a place like this. Oh what fun it was to be on my own. Freedom tastes so good!
The train reached Guwahati on time at exact 7 PM. The sun had already set and there was hustle and bustle at the railway station. I took my luggage, bid adieu to everyone and got off the train. That feeling when I first set foot on the land of Assam can’t be described in words. I for the first time in my life felt like a dream had come true, like it was a déjà-vu moment, as if I was experiencing something that I had already planned to experience long before I was born. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was in a foreign land, though it was my very own country. For the first time in my life, I felt how I had always thought it would have felt when I used to read and hear people describe their travel experiences.
I got off the train, called my friend Pritamjit and told him about my arrival in Guwahati. He instructed me on how to get out of the station step by step like a careful guardian. I was amused. I got out of the exit gate and noticed that it was drizzling outside. It was kind of pleasant. I could hear the crowd noises. There were people hustling outside the station as well. Pritamjit told me about a hotel nearby, which was about 10 minutes rickshaw ride away from the railway station. I took a look around & decided to reach out to the police-guys nearby to ask how to reach the hotel. The policemen themselves seemed confused. They gave me weird instructions which I couldn’t really interpret. So I decided to follow my own instinct and went on road to find a rickshaw or auto. I was finally able to convince a rickshaw-waala uncle to take me to the hotel in 50 bucks (Pritamjit clearly instructed me not to pay more than 50). There was traffic jam on the main road. I could see a hanumaan mandir and an adjoining Shiv mandir along the road. There was a Bengali poetry recitation function going on on the other side of the road. A little ahead, I could hear Bengali songs being played. I loved the rain. I loved the traffic. I was enticed by the amalgamation of feelings happening inside my heart. I was excited, scared, thrilled, curious, happy, liberated and what not all at once. I had a good 15 minutes delightful conversation with the rickshaw-waala uncle about the rains, the monsoon, the music, the people, the traffic, the railway station and what not; all about the city. While crossing a flyover, I saw a few hotels on the way, about which I had read on TripAdviser, HolidayIQ, MakeMyTrip and some other such websites during my internet research about affordable accommodation in Guwahati. In another 5 minutes, I was outside the hotel. I got down, gave rickshaw-waala uncle his bucks and went straight in. I checked in the hotel (for the very first time on my own! Still love the feeling!), took my luggage to the room and had a good look around and found nothing that would breach my privacy. Hidden cameras was what I was looking for. Ya right! I then changed and took out my laptop to check if the internet was working. It wasn’t! I later realized that bringing my laptop along was a total waste. I was super lazy and hence decided not to go out for dinner & eat whatever titbits I had in my bag. I called Pritamjit and told him about my ‘safe’ check-in at the hotel. I spent some quality time contemplating about what was happening at that point in time, obsessing about how thrilled I was to be where I was and how if it had to it could also prove really fatal to roam around thousands of kilometers away from home, all alone. I chatted with some friends on WhatsApp, told my best friend about my whereabouts, put an exciting status update on WhatsApp and an even more exciting one on Facebook and then decided to go to sleep, so as to wake up early next morning. The last thought that I possibly remember crossing my mind before sleeping was; “I love it when people don’t stare at you like you’re an alien.” I was already in love with the journey that had just kick-started.
Next morning, I woke up fresh. It was one of those mornings, when you’re happy waking up, which apparently never happens, but I was fortunate enough to have had witnessed such mornings during my trip. Each morning was refreshing and each night I had the best good night sleep ever. I did a rough estimated division of time into things I was going to do starting from pooping till reaching Shillong. I called Pritamjit and asked him about how to reach Shillong. He gave me some basic instuctions (in detail) step by step from taking a shared taxi to reaching Shillong. I checked-out of the hotel and asked the manager about where I could possibly find a shared taxi/cab to Shillong. He indicated towards the taxis standing right outside the hotel. I thanked him and started walking out. In the meanwhile, one of the guys who I noticed in the hotel lift while coming down, passed me by in blazing speed, whispering “Is taxi mein mat jaana.” in my ear. I was stunned for a few seconds, not being able to comprehend what had just happened. He turned back in a slow motion while continuously walking fast like a dramatic secret agent. I was unable to make out anything out of this encounter. I postponed the idea of taking taxi from outside the hotel as an instant follow-up action to my gut feeling. I kept walking. A regular weekday chaos ruled the roads. I was scanning everything that came in the way of my eyes like a mindful observer. After a 2 minutes walk from the hotel, I finally found the taxi stand I was looking for. I had my favourite breakfast (omlette & chai) in a dhaaba accompanied by a 15 minutes chit chat with Pavitra on the phone. I noticed all men sitting in the dhaaba constantly watching me. I later realized there were no women there. I was the only one talking in my usual loud, shrill punjabi accent and laughing like a maniac over our crazy non-sense conversation on the phone. I finished my naashta and went out to take a taxi, which I instantly found right outside the dhaaba across the road with regular people already seated. I seated myself in the taxi, adjusted my luggage accordingly, & had a good look at all the people sitting in the taxi. They all seemed quite ‘genuine’ and the taxi ride quite ‘safe’ as per my mind’s conclusion after a good ‘rational calculation’. It was a 2 hour taxi ride till Shillong. I plugged in my earphones and seated comfortably enjoying the views outside. It was drizzling pleasantly. When we reached the breath-taking Umiam lake also known as Barapani, I called Pritamjit. His mom was about to reach the spot where I was supposed to be picked up by her. It was at the Umiam lake that I had my very first most intimate encounter with the clouds. I was thrilled to know that I was actually, literally passing through the clouds. I sneaked a peak at my fellow passengers and saw no signs of excitement on their faces. That was a spoiler for a few seconds. I thought to myself, routine makes the human mind dull & monotonous. I was drunk in beauty all through till I reached Shillong. My body was in the taxi but my spirit was flying outside amongst the clouds. I felt like I could almost touch them and it was kind of heart-breaking to know that the clouds were nothing but just some equivalent of fog. I looked at the clouds floating and flirting with the mountains right in front of me, like a freshly fallen in love teenager. I remember how as a kid I would fantasize and imagine myself riding the clouds.
It was chilly. We were in Shillong now. The taxi was passing through little streets and fascinatingly green & clean roads. I had never in my life seen so many north-eastern faces in one go. It almost felt like I was in a different state altogether (which I was for that matter). I was awestruck thinking about the existence of so many diverse sections of people in a single country. For the very first time in my life, I felt like I was an outlander. I got off the taxi and the first thing I witnessed was a local rock performance going on. I took another taxi and reached Buddha temple, near Polo Bazar, where aunty, Pritamjit’s mom was waiting to pick me up. 🙂
I could now breath. I looked around and scanned all the people around me. There were people from variant walks of life; Bihari families, two middle aged men from Assam, a beautiful old Marwari couple going to visit their hometown in rural Bengal, an army man going to be posted at a new place across Brahmaputra again after 9 years and a lot of North-eastern young friendly faces and the most interesting one – this intriguing Bengali woman (who seemed to be an eunuch in first look). She caught my attention mainly because of that beautiful red bright sindoor tika on her forehead, stunning kaajal clad eyes and thick dark long hair tied into a braid which instantly gave me an impression of her being a Bengali woman, which I later discovered she was. I was almost bewitched by her charm. There was something about her aura that was quite intriguing and enticing. The train was moving now. I was a little low-spirited because there was no empty seat on the lower berth and no window on my upper berth. That made me feel a little caged, as I had day-dreamt about constant doses of visual delight throughout my train-journey to Guwahati. I decided to take my diary out and write something. I had brought this dairy with me, so that I could write whenever and whatever I felt all through my trip. I took a look around and caught a few pairs of eyes trying to have a peak into what I was doing. I discarded the idea of writing and simply sat there – people watching. There was this group of cute North-eastern college students, who were perhaps going to visit their homes. They were gossiping about life in Delhi and sharing jokes about their Delhite counterparts. Their tone was soft and puns hard-hitting.
I noticed a lot of curious eyes trying to figure out where I was heading to (alone). It was only later that I thought to myself that these people must have conspired to get friendly and eventually ask me about my whereabouts so as to satiate their curiosity. As time passed by, the fellow passengers became more friendly with each other and I for the first time in my life I felt that strangers can open up while commuting without really knowing each other or having certain pre-defined motives to fulfill. There was this hyperactive kid on the train, who continuously kept jumping around, laughing & asking cute silly questions. He made me think that kids are the only creatures who have the courage to honestly be themselves anywhere without fail. There were no curtains in the train. I felt privacy-deprived. Urgh! I thought to myself how can an express train not have curtains in 3rd AC. My fellow passengers, the ones who were like me, travelling for the first time in that train shared same thoughts. The food was bearable. In fact, for the first time in my life I traveled without falling sick because of food.
There were gorgeous views outside, especially the moment we entered Bengal. I had never in my life imagined Bengal the way I saw it from that train window. I thought to myself, how beautiful these unseen places in India are. The greenery was unmatched. The views were like those straight out of photographs of professional photographers. It was like being a part of a perfectly captured photographic view of dreamy gorgeous rustic India. It was drizzling in-betweens and the weather was changing every 5 minutes. I had never seen clouds floating so nearby that it felt like I could touch them easily if I could just get on the roof of the train and put up a ladder stand on. I giggled like an excited kid who had experienced something for the first time. The sky was super deep sky-blue in colour. I had never in my life seen sky so gorgeously sky-blue. The colours of anything and everything I saw were so happily bright that it was not funny. I could see each and every object in precise colours and shapes, as if there were no impurities or disguises anywhere. The houses, the structures, the mountains, the plains, the clouds, the rains, the rustic Bengali people, the railway tracks, everything was picturesque beyond imagination. My spirit was almost jumping with joy while I kept sitting calmly amongst the constant chatter of my fellow passengers, trying not to be too conspicuous and shady. I did it intentionally so as to not let anyone around me get free access to strike a conversation with me at their convenience. At the same time I was doing my best to remain calm and approachable in appearance. And I must say, I was quite successful in keeping everybody around me confused.