The peRFect Goan Adventure

This was a vacation long time coming. I hadn’t been to Goa in 8 years; and I hadn’t gone on a real vacation in more than 2 years. I had traveled several times in these 2 years but I can’t really count them as vacations. I am a half Goan and had been there twice before. Almost everyone I know had been traveling there but not me, I just did not get that chance, that is up until now. My friend suggested going there and I jumped at the chance. I love Goa a lot, it’s my happy place. It always gets me euphoric.

I was traveling with one of my closest friends and two of her friends. We had an early morning flight but since we had some issues with transport to the airport, we decided to spend the night there. We kept awake all night, talking and reminiscing about our days when we worked together. Since we were only 4 girls traveling, our parents had given us a thousand instructions. The flight was only an hour’s duration. We mostly kept awake. My friend was incredibly sweet as she let me lean on to her to catch some beautiful sights outside. We felt so excited when we saw the plane was flying over a beach!

We had booked a service apartment in Goa, which worked out much cheaper than a hotel. Once we checked in, we slept off for quite a while since we were so sleep deprived. When we woke up, it was about 4 in the evening. We were discussing where we could go; I suggested the beach. It felt like the beach was beckoning me, so I just googled the nearest one and decided to go there. Baga Beach was the nearest. The sun was just setting when we reached, I was so excited! As soon as the waves touched my feet, I was in heaven. I just stood there in the water and the waves kept crashing into me. It was high tide time, so the waves were quite high and intense. Two of my friends are national level swimmers, so I held their hands to keep myself stable. We sat down on the beach after a while. I felt at peace after such a long time. Beach is my happy place and I loved every bit of it. Breathing in that fresh air and listening to the sound of the waves; it just gave me what I had needed in a long time; peace and quiet. I did not give a single moment of thought to any of my worries back home. I wanted to live in the moment. I just took it all in.

20170217_185640
Baga Beach
20170217_185723
Baga Beach

Next day we went to the Calangute beach for the water sports and some shopping. It’s an extremely crowded beach, so there is not much tranquility.  First we went for parasailing. I have done parasailing on land when I was 13 years old, at my uncle’s army cantonment.  People often ask me if I felt scared; but I didn’t. I have never had a fear of heights. In fact I have plans to do skydiving someday.  First we climbed onto a small boat where we wore our life vests and we were taken to another boat which would be used for parasailing, quite far out into the sea. There were about 10 people on the boat, a group of guys and us girls. First the guys had their turn.  When our turn came, I recorded the video on my phone while the other one clicked pictures on my digital camera. When my friend was up sailing, the instructor put the harness on me; I was so excited.  I was then tied to the parachute. As the boat began accelerating, I began ascending. After just little bit of ascension, I was dipped in the water for a few seconds. Then I ascended again. I could see the vast expanse of the sea widening as I went higher and higher. The view was incredibly breath-taking! As cliched as it may sound, I really felt like I could fly. I could feel the wind on my face. I was screaming all the while, not because of fear, but because of the excitement. I felt so free. I could see the boat as a tiny speck. I was gliding in the air; soaring in the sky. And then suddenly I felt like I was descending; before I knew it, I was approaching the water. They dipped me in the water again. I felt the water suddenly hit my legs and a bit of salty water splashed my face. The water felt so cool. And then again, I was yanked up a little. This time I could see the beach as well and the people looked like tiny ants. I was again descending; they dipped me again as my legs were flailing in the water. After the third dip, as the boat turned around once more, I was ascending again, one last time; I took in the sights which would be etched forever in my memory. I saw the limitless sea and felt so happy. I began descending slowly and I landed softly on the boat. It was so exhilarating and thrilling, I felt like I could be on a high. It was really beautiful!

DSC02427
View from the boat

DSC02436

DSC02461
So high…
DSC02462
About to be dipped

We had plans to do other water sports but nothing could top parasailing, so we decided not to do them. We just had lunch and went back to the hotel for a rest. In the evening we were contemplating where to go when we decided to go the Chapora Fort. Vagator beach is close to this fort. It was quite a climb up. The problem was that I wasn’t wearing my shoes; I was wearing the beach worthy rubber flip-flops. So climbing was a huge challenge. But somehow we climbed up and went inside. It’s in ruins; it has a beautiful view of the beach and the sea. We left from there once it got way too dark, we had to use our phone torch to climb down.

20170218_184900.jpg

For dinner, we went to a famous place called Curlies, a beach shack on Anjuna Beach. But it did not live up to our expectations; in fact it was horrible! We regretted going there. Somehow we ate and left quickly to reach back to the apartment.

The following day we had plans to visit three beaches and then an evening party. First we went to Arambole Beach. During daytime, it is one of the most peaceful beaches in Goa, there is hardly any crowd and it’s a really beautiful beach. We just stood in the water, clicked pictures and again felt the waves hit us. My elation knew no bounds. I was ecstatic just being there in the water. The heat did not get to me, it was really breezy and amazing! One thing I really love to do is collect shells, fossils and stones on the beach; it’s been a hobby I have indulged in all my life. I have an enormous collection of them at home and I have displayed many of them in my room. I picked up a few nice ones. My friends helped me out too. It was so serene. When we got hungry, we went to one of the shacks and had an amazing lunch. We couldn’t have enough of the water, so we again went out to the water and stood there feeling the waves and serenity gripping us once again.

Next up was Ashwem Beach, which was nice but not that great. And there was a lot of crowd. The third in the line was Morjim beach. We had heard the sunset there looks really beautiful! So we spent quite a lot of time there. I took a picture there, posing with a V sign, as a celebration of Roger Federer’s Australian Open win, his 18th slam which came after a long time. While one my friends sat down, the three of us walked down towards one stretch of the beach. We kept on walking for quite a while, it was so beautiful. A little ahead, we saw a flock of seagulls sitting. I clicked a picture of them while they had just begun flying from there.It was a beautiful sight.

DSC02499.JPG

When we came back to where my friend was sitting, it was almost sunset time. We sat on the beach and waited. As the sun began setting, it truly looked beautiful.  It was a mesmerizing sight; it was absolutely worth the wait. Since it was our last day on the beach, I didn’t feel like leaving from there. But as we had a dinner celebration to get to, we reluctantly left from there.

20170219_172959

20170219_182458

For dinner we went to a very famous Goan pub called Tito’s. One of the girls is getting married, so this was like a mini bachelorette party for her. The food was good and the ambience was really nice. There were some fire acrobatics as well.

20170219_213742.jpg

Next day was our last day in Goa, we had a few hours before boarding the train. So we visited the famous Fort Aguada. I had seen it before on my last trip there, but no one else in my group had. I love that place so I was happily ready. It was built by the Portuguese and it is famous for its water aqueducts and the lighthouse. I love the architecture there, it’s so incredibly beautiful! There were two sets of stairs near the edge of the fort. They looked like they led to some kind of dungeons below. My friend and I felt like maybe we were in an Indiana Jones movie, or even National Treasure. We were contemplating climbing down to check but then we decided against it.

Once we reached the railway station, we had lunch first and then we boarded the train. During our journey, we played Uno, a fun card game. I am not that great with card games but I won a few of them. It was really funny! We wanted to see the Dudhsagar falls but we could only catch a glimpse as the train sped past it. Two of us took the lower berths; I kept myself awake for half the night to be vigilant about our luggage and my friend kept awake after that. We reached back early morning; I took the metro to reach to the nearest station near my home and my dad was there to pick me up.

Thus ended my beautiful, 4 day, all girls trip to Goa. I wish I could have stayed longer. I had great company and I had loads of fun and my stress was so much lower than before. Next time I shall definitely plan a longer vacation, for I know Goa will always beckon me to its shores and I shall keep going.

Advertisements

Railfanning: My Passion for Railways and Trains

I can hear the sound of the train chugging along and I can see the sparks flying out as each metal wheel makes contact with the iron tracks. I can hear the horn tooting. I look out the windows and I can see numerous train carriages chugging along; I can see the beautiful countryside rolling by. It doesn’t matter where my destination is or why I am traveling, but when I am in the train, I can feel a rush and tranquility gripping me at the same time. When the train stops at a station, I can see the legendary Wheeler’s book stall, I can see various vendors selling tea and fruits and many delicious snacks. I can see people waiting for their trains to arrive. I can see people embarking and disembarking the train. I can hear the coolies trying to negotiate the charges for lifting and transporting the heavy luggage for the people. All the sights and sounds make me very happy.

Since my childhood, I have had an intense love towards anything that is even remotely related to the railways; trains, tracks, railway stations etc. A few months back, I had read an article about railfanning; a term that’s fairly new I suppose, but one that has a Wikipedia page dedicated to it.

Wikipedia defines a Railfan as:

A railfan, rail buff or train buff (American English), railway enthusiast or railway buff (Australian/British English), trainspotter or anorak (British English), or foamer (pejorative for American railroaders), is a person interested in a recreational capacity in rail transport. Railfans of many ages can be found worldwide. Railfans often combine their interest with other hobbies, especially photography and videography, radio scanning, model railroading, studying railroad history and participating in train station and rolling stock preservation efforts. Magazines dedicated to railfanning include Trains and Railfan & Railroad.

I am indeed a railfan; I usually don’t have enough time to indulge myself in all the activities but I do love traveling in a train; I also end up capturing a lot of photographs of tracks, trains and the stations as well. If I am the one waiting for the train, I always observe all the other trains coming and going. I always stand on the platform and lean in to see the train approaching, getting ready to board it. I love to watch the train moving towards me, slowing down to stop. I love observing how those heavy metal wheels turn.

I never sleep in trains. I love to sit by the window and observe the scenery outside the window. I always love to click pictures whenever I can. Sometimes when I feel like it, I read a book. I always carry a book with me. After it gets dark and there is nothing to see outside, I read my book till people start switching off the lights to sleep. That’s when I listen to music and enjoy the movements of the train. Funnily enough, despite having motion sickness, the train never ever makes me sick. And I love listening to Robert Miles on the train, his EDM music perfectly matches the movement of the train. Especially his very famous song called, “Children”, which I generally play on a loop.

Many people don’t understand it, I have often been asked why I click pictures of train tracks. My answer does not satisfy their curiosity; they may even think I am off my rockers. But I know why I am so passionate. Very recently, I found out I have quite many friends who are railfans too. It surprised me a bit, but I was happy too; I can share my passion with them. My recent conversations with them prompted me to write about it. We shared our pictures and their pictures were spectacular.

I took these pictures at Ooty. A narrow gauge train runs between the Southern Hill Stations Ooty and Cunnoor via Mettupalayam.

20160922_005346_1474917258689
A narrow gauge train carriage
20160922_005241_1474917258334
A real preserved steam locomotive of a narrow gauge train

 

I took these pictures at Bangalore Cantonment Railway Station in 2011:

image0132image0133image0135image0137image0131

This picture was taken just last week at the Baiyapanahalli metro Station, which is right next to the railway station.

20160924_172410_1474917258854

I am very lucky that I live right next to a railway track and I find it very peaceful to listen to and occasionally watch the trains go by. Again, many people ask us how we never feel disturbed by all the noise and we tell them that for us it’s not noise. It’s music to the ears. The Baiyapannahalli station is just 3 and a half kilometers from my apartment.Even when I was in Nagpur, we used to live just a few kilometers away from a railway station. So on early mornings and late nights, we could hear the train chugging and the horn tooting quite clearly. Though we did not buy our apartment here in Bangalore just for that reason, but it did present itself as an added advantage.

I would have loved the experience of traveling in a train with a steam engine locomotive; my parents have traveled in it in their childhoods and they often talk about it very fondly and how amazing it was. The steam locomotives had a certain charm. Sure they produced a lot of smoke, but the way they were designed, they were more artistic than mechanical.

If the metro line had been completed to the area my workplace is in, I’d have been the happiest person; commuting in a metro is so much more peaceful. In spite of the crowds, there is no traffic, there is no incessant honking and the commute time would have reduced to 30 minutes instead of an hour or more. It would be cheaper too.

Someday I would love to travel Europe via Euro Rail (TGV); its a bucket list item for me. I would love to travel in the bullet trains and monorails as well. I want to experience traveling in all the types of trains.

I always consider the rail transport system as being one of the greatest inventions; it began as a way of trade and it did so much more.  I would love to collect different kinds of models of trains and locomotives; if I find something amazing, I would definitely buy it. I would love to tour around the country in trains; it would make for an excellent series of blogs. Maybe someday when I get tired of the corporate life and I end up saving enough money, I would do just that. Till then, I intend to enjoy every train trip I take and live those moments of pure serenity and passion and of course, click as many pictures as possible.

 

The Key to Unlock My Serenity: the Beach

Everyone has a place that gives them a lot of tranquility and unlocks their serenity and rejuvenates them. For some its the mountains, for some its scuba diving deep underwater, for some it could even be para-sailing; for me, its the beach. I love beaches. I  a half Goan, its probably in my DNA to love beaches. Though I am slightly allergic to the coastal weather, I can definitely spend a peaceful vacation on a beach. May be my body and my heart knows that I go to the beach only for a little bit of time, so it doesn’t react. And if I were to live there forever my body would begin reacting.

Ever since I was a baby, I have been to beaches. My maternal grand-parents and many other relatives used to live in Mumbai. My grand-uncle’s house was right at the Chowpatty beach, I have so many memories being there. I remember My brother Indranil and I taking walks on the beach, playing around in the sand and in the waves and looking out at the boats passing by. From my Grand-Uncle’s house windows, we would stare out almost all the time, taking in the amazing view. It is one of the most cherished memories I have of Mumbai.

20160121_205444
Indranil and me at the Chowpatty Beach, Mumbai

Then there are the two Goa visits I have made. Since I have no relatives there now, its very rare that I get to go there. I hope I can visit Goa very soon, I love it there. The moment I enter the Goan border, I begin feeling really happy. There’s just something quite magical about that place. The first time I visited Goa was for my late cousin Advait’s “Munj” ceremony. It is the Hindu ceremony to mark the rites of passage for a boy and his formal transition into the Hinduism faith. After the ceremony, my parents and I went onto tour Goa.

First we went to Panaji, the capital of Goa. We visited many of the landmarks and many famous places. But the most fun I had was on Miramar Beach. Luckily for us that day, it was an India vs. Pakistan cricket match that kept everyone indoors. Whenever there is a India vs. Pakistan match, its a 100 percent guarantee that the roads and all such heavily crowded places will be deserted. And so, that day there were no crowds, everything was almost deserted. We got to enjoy the entire day in absolute peace! We even spotted a few dolphins playing around at some distance. I played in the waves and lied down on the sand. Closing my eyes and just listening to the waves was so soothing!

The next visit to Goa was during Christmas a few years later, when my Dad had an exhibition at the Chitrakala Parishad (Art Institute of India) in Panaji. This time around we got to explore Goa even more. One of my Dad’s students’ gave us her car and her chauffeur to go around sightseeing. It was incredibly sweet of her and we went to the most non-tourist-y places that again gave us a lot of peace. But again, its the beach that gave me the most tranquility.

Right behind the Chitrakala Parishad is the jetty towards mandovi River, which a little further mixes into the sea. Its a beautiful place!

Picture 047DSC00995a

In 2014, exactly two years ago, I went to Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu, for a friend’s wedding. A group of us went for 4 days and had an amazing time. The first day we went to the Promenade and the third day, we went to Mahabalipuram beach, which was again something that calmed my soul.

My favorite thing to do at the beach is collecting shells. I love collecting various kinds of shells and fossils and I have quite a collection at home now. It takes my mind off of stress and helps me focus.

DSC02008
The shells I collected at Mahabalipuram Beach

Another thing I love is the feeling of the waves rolling on my feet. The water flowing in a lot of force and then receding into the sea leaving behind the wet sand, it makes me incredibly happy for some reason.I even clicked a picture of it at Mahabalipuram. The feeling is indescribable and incredibly soul stirring.

DSC02002

The beach is my Fortress-of-Solitude. The waves that roll back and forth, the sound of the waves that resonate in the ears like a piece of instrumental music, the soft sand that touches the feet, the cool breeze that blows over; Everything just makes me happy and harmonious. I forget all my worries and I feel one with nature. Lying on the sand or just sitting and digging for shells, reinvigorate me beyond belief. Hopefully soon enough I will be able to plan a nice beach trip; Till then these pictures will give me some amazing nostalgia moments.

IMG_20140901_170346

My Fascination with Lost Treasures and the Unresolved Mysteries of the Sea

Treasure hunt adventures and the unresolved mysteries of the sea, these are the two areas that fascinate me a lot. I love reading about them whenever I have time. They fire up my imagination and give me something to think about. There are many mysteries since the longest of times that have piqued my interest.

The MH370 search will end soon. Recently it was announced that unless new evidence that points its location is discovered, the search will end. The media even said that with time most people will forget about it and it will be a cold case and it will go down in the history books as the greatest unsolved mystery ever. But personally, I will never be able to forget it. And that’s not just because of my sadness at the families not getting a closure, but it is also because I am deeply fascinated by the unresolved mysteries of the seas.

Having grown up on the gripping novels by Clive Cussler, the unsolved marine mysteries are an area of interest for me. I am so deeply interested in getting to know how a particular shipwreck happened and how it was discovered. Cussler’s most famous novel was about the Titanic, called, “Raise the Titanic”. The protagonist, Dirk Pitt raises the wreck of Titanic for finding something that got buried under water on that fateful night in April in 1912. After the discovery of the wreck in the 1980s, and while there being no mystery to the sinking since the very beginning, everyone knows what happened to it, and it still fires up our imagination and still stokes the embers of shipwreck enthusiasts. Sadly, RMS Carpathia, which was the first ship to respond to the SOS of Titanic and the first one that came to the rescue of the many survivors, sank in 1918 as it was torpedoed by a U-55, a German submarine.

Titanic-Cobh-Harbour-1912
RMS Titanic
Carpathia-54
RMS Carpathia

Cussler went onto write about many real and fictional shipwrecks in his many novels; he usually writes about such ancient shipwreck incidents and ties them up to the story set in modern times. He also ties in a lot of science into the mixture. His novels are an amalgamation of history, science, mysteries, treasure hunts, action and adventure. They are very fast paced and they can leave you breathless. That is what made me so fascinated about such unresolved mysteries.

MH370 is really a huge mystery. So many theories have been floating around. Though the investigators are now almost sure that the pilot deliberately crashed it in the ocean according to the simulator data found at his home. There are some absolutely crazy and unbelievably ridiculous theories like alien abduction or maybe the plane has landed on a remote island, just like the TV show Lost. But the most likely theories are that either there was a hijacking and it glided till the fuel got over, or the pilot crashed it. Basically human intervention is the only explanation so far that makes sense. But it’s not a complete picture. I really don’t know what to believe. So much debris has been found at various places like, Reunion Island, Mauritius, Tanzania and Madagascar; but no clue where the wreckage is and what happened to the people.

Though what really makes me sad is the fact that in spite of all the modern technology at our disposal, the plane could disappear and potentially might never be found. It’s scary, how planes can still just vanish into thin air like that. And what’s more, the investigation is completely botched up. I cannot imagine what the families must be going through. I cannot fathom the possibility of this going down as a cold case in the history books; I really hope they find it soon.

There is a very famous picture of an island in Greece called Zakynthos, on a cove of beach Navagio; where there is a small ship wreck right on the beach.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Zakynthos

The story goes that MV Panagiotis was smuggling contraband in 1980 and after being chased by the Greek Navy, it ran aground on the beach where the crew abandoned it. But no one knows if the story is genuine or not. I am so fascinated with this place that I want to visit it someday just to see the shipwreck. Of course the island itself is really beautiful, but the shipwreck will be the top most in my itinerary.

Another thing that fascinates me is the Bermuda Triangle; First point being Florida, the second one being the Bermuda islands and the third point being Puerto Rico, forming a triangle in the Atlantic Ocean.

trianglemap

This area has gained notoriety over the years because of the disappearance of countless ships and planes crossing the area. Officially it does not exist, but the theories have never really died out. Many attribute this to alien abductions or supernatural phenomena. Recently I had read that probably the reason why there are so many disappearances there is that the magnetic field there messes up with the instrumentation and they go haywire. Though it does not explain why there have been instances of derelict ships just floating about without the crew. There is no sound theory about why the crew would disappear if the ship is still afloat.

There are many shipwrecks lying under Lake Erie in Pennsylvania, it makes for a fascinating visit someday.

Another mystery that has yet not been solved is Amelia Earhart’s disappearance. She was the first female aviator to fly a solo transatlantic trip. While circumnavigating the globe in 1937, along with Fred Noonan as the second navigator, her plane mysteriously disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. It is still not known what happened to her. The most common theories are that either her plane crashed and sank, or they landed at an atoll which is now known as Kiribati Islands, or maybe she was captured by the Japanese. There was even a theory that she actually survived and lived up to a ripe old age, but it could never be proven.

Amelia Earhart
FILE – In this undated file photo, Amelia Earhart stands next to a Lockheed Electra 10E, before her last flight in 1937 from Oakland, Calif., bound for Honolulu on the first leg of her record-setting attempt to circumnavigate the world westward along the Equator. American aviator Earhart’s disappearance in 1937 is among aviation’s most enduring mysteries. Earhart, the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean, vanished over the Pacific with Fred Noonan during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Seven decades later, people are still transfixed with the mystery. Theories range from her simply running out of fuel and crashing to her staging her own disappearance and secretly returning to the U.S. to live under another identity. (AP Photo/File)

I really hope someday, some adventurer solves these mysteries, so that we can get to know what really happened. Humans are a very curious lot and I don’t think we could ever rest leaving the mysteries of the seas just like that. Though there is also this romanticized notion of some mysteries remaining unsolved; but people like me would always want to know.

At least in case of MH370, it should be found for the sake of the families of the victims, as they need closure. And we also need the data to perhaps try to prevent such tragedies in future.

There was a time when I used to imagine myself as someone like Dirk Pitt who unravels these mysteries; it just gives me major goose bumps. And being a part of a narrative that ties so close to the some of the most mind boggling historic mysteries is truly fascinating.

Another Heavenly Summer Adventure: in the Pachmarhi Mountains

In my previous blog, I wrote about a heavenly summer vacation in my childhood in an Idyllic paradise in Himachal. This blog is about another such heavenly summer, but this time in Pachmarhi, a hill station in Madhya Pradesh. There is an Army Cantonment there and my uncle was posted there in 1997. It was the year when my brother Indranil was diagnosed with kidney failure. He was 17 years old and I was almost 13. Advait, our cousin, was 12. This was the vacation where Indranil taught me one of the most important life lessons I’ve ever learnt and where I got the courage to do many things out of my comfort zone.

According to Wikipedia, Pachmarhi is widely known as Satpura ki Rani (“Queen of Satpura”), situated at a height of 1100 m in a valley of the Satpura Mountain Range.

Indranil had travelled to Pachmarhi on his own as his exams had ended much before mine. I joined him after a few weeks and another month later our parents joined us.

We had formed a routine very quickly. There was a library inside the cantonment, but it was at some distance. So we would walk down to the library after breakfast, borrow a few books, comics and 1 movie video cassette. Then we would eat lunch and read books for a while because we hated sleeping in the afternoon. Sometimes we played with the G.I. Joe action figures and their weapons and transportation vehicles, my brother had also made a huge aircraft carrier out of thermocol. Boy, were we crazy about the G.I. Joes! I was lady jaye, Indranil was Duke and Advait was Snake Eyes. We imagined ourselves as the Joes all our childhood.

After 3 PM, we would pack a backpack, carrying a small water bottle, some cookies, hot milk in a thermos and our toy guns, a compass and few other toys and went out to explore. We used to hike to different places, soak in the sights, play explorers-cum-G.I. Joes, watch the sunset and come back. Then we would watch a movie, eat dinner, play around for a bit and then sleep.

One day Indranil suggested rock climbing on a mountain nearby. I agreed but was unsure. When we arrived at the spot, Indranil and Advait began climbing, but I was nervous. I am quite accident prone, (clumsy my brothers used to call me, but I am sticking with accident prone). That is when Indranil said the most inspiring words I’ve ever heard; which echo in my mind even now when I come across a seemingly impossible task.

He said, “Think about it like swimming; once you take the plunge in the pool, you are halfway there; your 50% work is done. Rest is easy and it will come naturally to you.”

He added, “We both are there to guide you, just put your hands and feet at the spots we point to you. You will be safe and you will not fall down. Just follow us.”

And I took the plunge; I just began following them, just as they told me to. Step by step, placing my hands and feet, in the correct spots, I kept climbing up. I don’t even know when exactly, but we all reached the top, all safe and sound. As soon as I realized I had managed to climb up, all my fear was gone; I looked down once and couldn’t believe I climbed up so high with just my hands and feet as equipment and my annoying but awesome brothers as guidance systems.

Once at the top, we began exploring the place with our compass, we ran around, played our usual G.I. Joe game, once again fighting the Cobra commander. After all the playing and exploring, we would drink milk, eat cookies, watch the sunset, climb down and walk back. After that day, rock climbing became our routine exploration activity for the rest of the summer.

By the end of the month, our parents had joined us at Pachmarhi. They had their own routine as well. My dad is a well-known artist, he paints beautiful watercolor landscapes. He used to do spot-paintings a lot while he was there. He painted my uncle’s house so beautifully! And inside the cantonment area, there is a Banyan Tree, over 200 years old; Right under the tree, the Army Orchestra Band sits and practices every day. My dad painted that tree and he has captured it so accurately and it is charming.

Both the paintings still adorn the wall in our house here in Bangalore.

Pachmarhi_paintings.jpg

I remember once the entire clan decided to go for a picnic; we went to this little known place called Jambu Dweep. It was over 4 kms downhill, but the terrain was quite difficult. Climbing down in the morning was no big deal. We had all the picnic baskets and fun stuff in our hands; we easily hurtled down to the camping spot. It was a mini river with a waterfall ahead. It was a beautiful place, very serene. We played in the water, my uncle and my brothers kept pushing me down in the water, it was hell loads of fun.

There were a lot of mango trees around, so we kids climbed up and plucked unripe mangoes while my mom and aunt carried them on their skirts and our caps. We made an Indian drink called “Aam Panna”, which is basically steaming or roasting unripe mangoes, removing their pulp and mixing it with water, a bit of salt and a bit of sugar. It’s a very common summer drink as it cools the tummy. We lit up a small fire and roasted the mangoes. Rest of the ingredients we already had with us.

By the time evening came up, we were so tired. And the task of climbing those 4 kms with all the stuff in our hands was a daunting one. We were already dead tired; but we soldiered on somehow and climbed up to our vehicles.

There was this one time when we had a last minute idea picnic at the golf course inside the cantonment. It was a perfect night, with a full moon and a pleasant weather. We all had a lovely time there. But little did we know there was something even more ridiculous waiting for us a few hours later. In the wee hours of the morning, when I was in deep sleep, suddenly I felt a rumbling sound somewhere. Now the houses in the cantonment were old, remnants from the British era. So they had very high ceilings with very old fans that oscillated a bit and made a lot of noise. So when I woke up with eyes half opened, my dad said it’s just a storm and I should go back to sleep. I did just that little realizing that it was actually an earthquake!

Pachmarhi is located near the river Narmada, which runs on a fault. Jabalpur is the major city near this fault and the epicenter was near Jabalpur. The quake was a 6 pointer which was felt in pachmarhi too. The next morning when we were listening to the radio, we got to know about it. At first we laughed like crazy because dad thought it was a storm and he told us the same. Indranil used to sleep on the floor in the living room, so he told us that he heard the rumbling before any one of us and he just got up and sat on the couch and saw everything shaking. Then we felt a bit sad too since some people had lost their lives. 39 fatalities were reported according to Wikipedia. It was an earthquake we experienced but didn’t know it was one when it happened. Funny how sometimes things happen.

We had a lot of adventures and a lot of fun in these two months that we were there. This was the last adventurous vacation I had with both my brothers together. Sadly a few months later Indranil was diagnosed with kidney failure and we could never do all those crazy things again. This is the reason I hold this vacation so close to my heart and I will forever cherish these memories.

A Heavenly Summer in Alhilal: An Idyllic Himachal Town

palampur-hill-station6
Palampur city. Picture Credit: tourmyindia.com

Most of the summer vacations in my childhood were spent in army cantonments, since my uncle was in the army. Army cantonments are really beautiful and peaceful. The army makes sure that the greenery is maintained, they take humongous efforts to preserve nature as much as possible.  My brother and I have had a lot of adventures, but he passed away in 1999 because of kidney failure. We had a lot of fun along with our cousin as well, who also passed away in 2005. Those were the most memorable times I had with both my brothers, Indranil and Advait. I have done parasailing and gliding on a 2-seater plane, all in one day, at an army cantonment. It was the most exhilarating experiences of my life! And I was only 13 years old when I did that. I will never forget these adventures. This blog is about my adventures in Alhilal Cantt., an idyllic town near palampur in Himachal Pradesh.

The name ‘Alhilal’ translates to “the land of the crescent moon”. The beauty of Alhilal is a real treat for the eyes. It served as a fortress for Maharaja Ranjit Singh once, but now this scenic town is known for its panoramic views.  It was in 1993; I was 9 years old, Indranil was 13 years old and Advait was 8 years old. Indranil and I went to Alhilal with our grandparents. We set out from Nagpur on a train and got down at Pathankot in Punjab. From there we took a narrow gauge train to Palampur. The journey was so amazing; the scenic beauty was picturesque and magnificent. I don’t remember how long the journey was but I do remember the stunning sights. When we reached Palampur, an Army truck was waiting for us; it took us to Alhilal Cantt.

When I landed up at my uncle’s house, I was simply awe-struck! Just imagine a small house on a huge patch of green land, a stream flowing by in front of the house and huge snow clad mountains on all the sides. Imagine breathing in the pure air; and the cool wind touching your face. It is the most peaceful feeling you’ll ever have and I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was such an incredible sight, something that the amazing poets of the romantic era would describe in their odes and idylls. I always imagine Wordsworth, Keats or Shelley writing their masterpieces sitting at places just like this.

Having only two brothers for company, I always used to play all the games these boys used to play. We used to imagine ourselves as G.I. Joes and we used to fight the bad guys together. We would have these toy guns and we would imagine we were being attacked by the Cobra Commander and his henchmen. We used to have imaginary hand-to-hand combats. The stream also had a mini water-fall a little distance ahead; we used to play there quite often. The waterfall was really small, but it was amazing. We played football and cricket together, we ran around and chased each other and frolicked around. We had picnics by the stream to enjoy the nature. We used to sit out at tea time and just admire the scenic beauty surrounding us. One day on one such occasion, we saw a forest fire being created on one of the mountains by two trees brushing against each other. It was an unbelievable sight. Once we saw such a bright rainbow, it looked as if someone had painted it there. I have never seen such a bright rainbow in my life! I wish we had a camera back then; I’d have loved to share the pictures.

My uncle used to take us sightseeing inside the cantonment. Once we even sat on a non-operational Bofors gun, we turned around its cannon a little just for fun. We used to do rope climbing at the obstacle course almost every day. My grandma and my aunt would tell us so many stories. My granddad would sit with us outside and admire nature with us. Once we visited Palampur for a day and stopped over at a temple nearby. There were so many monkeys there. They tried to snatch away our food basket, but we were able to escape somehow. We laughed about it like crazy once we were back in the army truck.

I can never forget that feeling of peace and quiet and happiness and the carefree life for the two months we were there. They were one of the most spectacular and most memorable times we had had together. I will never forget the Alhilal vacation, even though I was very young. Some memories will forever be etched in my mind. And I hope someday I can visit Alhilal again and relive these memories.

When Dreams Come True – The day I Met Roger Federer…

Somehow I had never believed that my dream of meeting Roger Federer could turn into a reality. He was on my Bucket List. My dreams so often took me to the Wimbledon Centre Court, watching The Maestro play live, and Him holding the golden trophy aloft. Having been a fan of His since 2003, my admiration and love for him have kept growing day by day.

So naturally I was over the moon when I heard that Roger would be visiting India for the first time to play at the inaugural IPTL in 2014. I went all the way to Delhi from Bangalore to watch him play live for one match!

And I was so mesmerized by Him that I decided to go watch Him play at the 2nd Edition of IPTL exactly a year later. I made plans with all my other fellow FedFans, and we decided to meet up and have fun together. The more the merrier I say! I had met a few of my FedBuddies in 2014, which had been an amazing experience. But this time more of us were able to make it. As soon as I boarded my early morning flight to Delhi, I was feeling happy that I would get to see him play live again, meet my friends, and have a blast for 3 days. I was so excited that I had butterflies in my stomach. Little did I know that so much more was in store for me!

I landed in Delhi on 10th December morning, and waited at the airport for my friend to arrive from Hyderabad. It was so cold that I was shivering! After 90 minutes of waiting, she finally arrived and we headed off to our hotel. The plan was to freshen up and meet our other buddies at Connaught Place for lunch, and then to head off to Indira Gandhi Indoor stadium together. On the first two days, we followed the same plan. On the second day, we even bought some Roger posters for ourselves at CP. We playfully fought with each other to take the WTF red T-shirt poster, but it was all fun.

Once inside IGIS, at first the familiar IPTL theme music began playing, all the players were introduced, and they came out running to greet the crowd. The atmosphere was electrifying and the crowd was amazing, screaming and cheering for their favorite players. We cheered on for some of our other favorite players. It was amazing to see them play live. From the legends Ivanisevic, Enqvist, Moya, Santoro, and Philippoussis to the amazing currently active players like Ivanovic, Mladenovic, Nestor, Kohlschreiber, Paes, Berdych, Mirza, Bopanna, Nadal, Radwanska, Bencic, Kyrgios, Brown, etc., we got to see them live. We all took a lot of pictures and a lot of videos on our phones.

image

After the end of the first session on each day, we moved in a little bit forward and saw the second session from a lot closer to the court, and loved every bit of it.

Roger was scheduled to play on the third and final day of the Delhi leg of IPTL. We had gotten information on Roger’s flight details, his arrival as well as departure. But we missed seeing him during the arrival. Some of my friends got a glimpse of him getting in his car and waved at him. After lunch, I got ready in all my RF gear, Red RF Tee, Blue RF cap, and a red jacket with a RF patch sewn on it, and ran along to watch Roger play live.

The third day, we all were as excited as giddy teenagers going to their first rock concert. We were having photo sessions everywhere and taking many group selfies.

image

The first session of matches were fun, though we were actually waiting for the second session as that was when Roger was scheduled to play. At 7 PM, Roger showed up to practice with Nadal. Everyone went crazy just as soon as he entered; we were all screaming and cheering for him, all our banners were up. There was a very healthy rivalry going on between Federer and Nadal fans, each group screaming and cheering louder and louder. It was fun. I had kept a few strepsils with me, every time I felt my throat giving out, I would pop in a strepsil and scream even louder. He partnered with Marin Cilic in the doubles match. After the doubles match he played the singles match against Rafael Nadal. Even though he lost both these matches, I was entranced watching him play his signature shots. His grace, his footwork, his shot making, his biting the lip while serving, everything was simply sublime. The match against Nadal was so thrilling  we stood up and screamed at every shot, it was a neck-to-neck thrilling match. We screamed our hearts out to cheer for him. We waved our banners and soaked in the rousing atmosphere to the fullest.

image

After the match, we reached the airport around 12:30 AM, then we went and waited at the departure area outside. It was extremely cold and we felt like we would freeze. Thankfully, we all had jackets to keep us warm. There were a few people from the other group who we had met the day before. We knew Roger would be travelling in a black Mercedes, so we decided to keep a look out for it. And sure enough a while later He arrived in a black Merc. He got down at the opposite end of where we were waiting. We ran towards him, literally sprinting, and reached up to Him. The first thing that you notice about him is that he is incredibly tall! And I, being just 5 feet tall, felt like He was towering over me. He was surrounded by his equally tall bodyguards, very alert at our presence. But Roger was incredibly sweet to all of us despite being tired. He met us all. People kept getting their stuff signed and in that chaos, I slid in my blue cap to him and He signed it. I was star-struck, I kept muttering how awesome he was. And the others said something similar and he kept thanking us. Two of my friends got selfies with him and He told them it was His pleasure. I was very numb for a few minutes, had it really happened? And then when it hit me, I went and hugged a friend and kept jumping up and down, screaming and pinching myself. Immediately I texted my best friend of all that just happened and sent him a picture of the autographed cap.

image

All of us couldn’t believe our luck! The disappointment of last night completely evaporated and turned into intense elation, this was way better than any of us had imagined. Although I did not get a selfie with Him, I was not at all disappointed. I have the moment etched forever in my memory, seeing Him so close, talking to Him, getting my cap signed, it was so surreal!

image

image

After the group dispersed, two of my friends and I stayed on at the café at the airport. My flight back was at 11 AM, I had to stay there till then anyway. My friend decided to take the 6:30 AM metro back home and another friend decided to give us company till then. We sat and chatted about Roger and so many other random things, it was a lot of fun. They ended up sitting with me till 8:30 AM. We were tired and sleep deprived and yet I was so grateful to them for staying with me till that time. I love my FedBuddies so much! After that I called my mom up and told her the news feeling excited, and she reciprocated my excitement. Once I sat down at my gate waiting lounge inside T3, waiting to board my flight, I posted about meeting Roger and getting his autograph on social media and felt so happy replying to all the congratulatory messages coming my way.

image

After the plane took off, I was simply captivated by the views outside. My seat was right behind the wing, so I could see the wing tip gliding in the air while below it I could see clouds floating by. I could see the curvature of the Earth and the horizon looked like a curved blue aura. And it hit me again that I had met Roger, been so close to him and I had spoken to him. I felt so happy at that moment; I was completely sleep deprived, but I just could not close my eyes. I felt like I was flying and soaring sky high, as if I had wings and I was gliding like a beautiful bird. I kept staring out the window and kept smiling. I had a really wide grin on my face; I thought maybe people who might have glanced at me might be thinking what an idiot I am to be smiling away like a teenager. But who cares? I met Roger Federer! I knew I was happy and my dream had actually come true.

This experience made me realise that our dreams do come true at some point. I would never ever forget these amazing three days, the memories, and the feelings forever etched in my mind and my heart. Oh and I have wrapped the precious Roger Federer autographed cap in a transparent gelatine sheet, put it in a transparent bag, and have stored it safely. Whenever I want to look at it, I just take a peek and keep it back.