one night on the road.

‘You should be fully covered. Wind should not be able to touch your body by any means.‘ He’s giving bike ride 101.

You end up doing what you end up doing.

Quickly scramble your way up the backseat. You had already saved yourself a seat in the last bus to Chikmagalur. Plop yourself up, careful. But then at the last moment, he had confirmed. Budge. Stop. Shift. Still. Fidget. Adjust. Settle. You didn’t want to keep yourself waiting so you had booked. Soft into the comfort of the hard leather caress. You don’t like it. Legs flung apart. Making yourself feel dependent on someone else. Feet clutching tight, the opposite footrests. But it’s great that you are finally riding, together. Fingers digging hard into whatever they can find to dig into. A bike ride would be more fun anyway. This time, his shoulder. Should be.

It’s cold. It’s fucking cold. Hours later, the wind will make your eyes water. You shiver uncontrollably. Numb fingers fumble to change the song on the phone. But eyes, unrelenting. Even dreamy. Look at the stars above through all the mist. Stare.

The outside reduces to a blur, passing you by like a dream. You wonder if the haze mirrors your own.

Inside of you, unreal aspirations mount. You hear voices. Urgent, unusual, all your own. You hear yourself demanding things of yourself. Let’s collect all the stars, shall we? God! Change the song. Change the damn song! Play that one, that. Remember?

Stranger fields on dark highways do that to you. Or maybe it’s the moon. The moon. You suddenly want to befriend him. Maybe both of you could become welcome trespassers in each other’s territory. Maybe you already have.

You discover new blankets in the harrowing winds. Burrow deeper into them. Suddenly cold voids turn a temporary home. But how can home be a temporary thing? After all, it’s home. But home is a feeling, isn’t it? And feelings can be fleeting too. Or maybe they always are?

4 AM. You uncover a blessing in a small roadside bonfire. You had spotted it from far, burning golden into grey air. You immediately pull over. Walk towards it. Crouch on the tarmac. Hunch over the glowing amber.

You notice its embers. It’s mostly smoke now. It’s going to burn out completely. Pretty soon. You lose interest, walk away, order chai. ‘Fuck the dying fire.’ You settle for steam from the hot tea.

But this is unsettling. Giving up on things. Underestimating their true power. Slapping the ‘diminished’ label on them. Walking away. Settling for something else. It’s easy. It comes naturally to you. Because you’ve always known this. You’ve always known how to. You have been doing this to yourself. Invariably. Since forever. You are that ‘thing’.

He stokes a few wood pieces around and it flares right back to a comforting spur. To glory.

How a few gentle strokes save it from thinning away into its own ashes! How with a few conscious prods, it learns again! To defy the cold. To give away warmth and light. To everyone who extends a hand, wanting to soak in its fire.

Could you learn too? Could you be as defiant? Or perhaps more?

The fire unconsciously reminds you of your own. Still burning somewhere within. How it had been edging towards its death a few months back! But a few acts of kindness had saved it. Had saved you. How understated generosity is! You want to scream and tell the world what enormity little kindness is capable of. You want to offer it to others, just like someone had, to you, when you had been flickering on the margins. You know it now, you want to do the same. To someone, somewhere, seeking help. Or worse, not seeking at all. Badly in need.

You squat down there, a small puddle of borrowed pants and socks, clutching the plastic cup full of tea, tighter, as you inch it closer to your lips.

How infectious the warmth! How beautiful the light!

You feel almost dizzy. Out of place. Or perhaps back in place? Your own place. In your element. Suddenly you want to be feisty again. Suddenly you want to conquer the world. Suddenly you don’t want to be dismissive of yourself. Like, ever again. You make a promise to yourself by the fire. You make another promise to keep that promise forever. Fire’s a great galvanizer, but you earnestly want to break-proof everything.

Squinting through the light, with all the smoke getting in your eyes, you wonder if you have ever seen clearer before. You almost tear up. Notice a tiny waterfall running down your cheek. But all of a sudden, feel grateful once again, to the fire that silently picks up the blame, as you somehow bring yourself to mouth the words, ‘the smoke’s getting too much, can you please direct it a bit that way?’

a road trip to Mysore

Walking through the gates, I find magnificence standing tall before me in brick-and-mortar. The cream-colored facade gracefully embraces the fine granite structure within. The deep pink marble domes concretize royalty. It is the Ambavilas Palace (also called the Mysore Palace), that was once home to the Wadiyars (meaning Lords in Kannada) who ruled the Kingdom of Mysore for over 500 years.

IMG-20180527-WA0141-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0058-01 (1)

I am asked to take off my footwear before entering the palace. The warm weather and a long queue turn me a bit grumpy. But unfazed by the crowd, I persevere anyway. I know, the interior is going to be a spectacle to behold!

IMG-20180527-WA0167-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0169-01 (1)

A step inside, and I am gazing all around the palace, filled with wonder. The kaleidoscopic murals gracing the walls. Vivid colors glistening bright, off the ceilings. Intricacies patterned out with rare finesse.  An artist’s golden touch, subtly caressing the walls, the roof, the floor beneath my feet. The perfect interplay between shadow and light.

Every speck mirrors the grandeur of the Wadiyars who once lived here. And adeptness of the artists they patronized. 

How they must have worked at it!

Hands chiseling just the right quantity of stone. Poised at the exact angles that were meant to be tore into the masterpiece. Shaping it nimbly to its last millimeter.

IMG-20180527-WA0005-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0045-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0007-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0164-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0148-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0009-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0081-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0088-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0080-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0089-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0030-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0038-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0033-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0032-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0031-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0066-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0068-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0071-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0150-01 (1)

The palace perfectly encapsulates the glory of the kingdom it once adorned. It is an epitome of its power. An ornate jewel. An architectural splendor. A fusion of Hindu, Mughal, Rajput, and Gothic styles.

Influences from several eras coming together to birth one piece of art.

IMG-20180527-WA0111-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0046-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0151-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0056-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0075-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0103-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0105-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0106-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0110-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0142-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0145-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0143-01 (1)

It’s already 4 by the time I leave the palace. On the way back, I come across a local restaurant, Hotel RRR,  that seems to have been beckoning me to try out their typical Tamil food! Here, they serve food on a long banana leaf. The platter is luscious, all decked up with rice, daal, rasam, sambhar, kofte, curd and sabudana kheer (made of tapioca pearls). And I savor it well with all my fingers digging in! 😛

IMG_20180526_161358395-01

IMG_20180526_161917659-01

Then I’m headed to Chamundi Hills, to visit the famous Chamundeshwari temple. It has been named after the Goddess who was worshipped by Mysore Maharajas for centuries. Chamundeshwari (Durga) is the fierce form of Shakti who killed the demon Mahishasuran. His colorful mannequin greets me as I reach the summit of the hills.

IMG_20180526_180745210-01_2 (1)

IMG_20180526_174836151_HDR_2-01

IMG_20180526_175408894-01 (1)

The exterior of the temple is fascinating, embellished with numerous images of Nandi (the bull mount of Shiva). A small market, sprawled just outside the premises of the temple, is buzzing with color and life. I buy a beautiful Ganesha idol, having grains of pulses glued together to materialize His form.

A perfect souvenir to carry back home.

IMG_20180526_175932366_HDR-4 (1)

IMG_20180526_174735177_HDR-01 (1)

IMG_20180603_163742107-01 (1)

It’s almost evening now and rains have swamped the streets of Mysore. Having been stuck badly in traffic for an odd hour or so, I take a detour, back towards Bengaluru.

The rain-ride is so much more beautiful anyway.

IMG_20180526_181947548_HDR-01 (1)

IMG-20180527-WA0174-01 (1)

IMG_20180526_185216100-01 (1)

IMG_20180526_185019767_BURST000_COVER-01

A delicious dinner at Thalassery later, I am back home, happy and (almost) warm, save for the cold I catch the following morning! It’s worth the ride though. 😉

IMG-20180527-WA0176-01 (1)

IMG-20180604-WA0025-01 (1)

IMG-20180604-WA0028-01 (1)

This is the 3rd post in a 4-part series on my travel stories from South India. If you like this part, you can read the other parts on CoonoorOoty, and Pondicherry.

unwrapping the gift that Coonoor is.

Winding around pine thickets for the past half hour, I have been adoring the midnight-blue silhouette of the Nilgiris painted against the pale-blue skies. Looks so much like those pretty picture postcards.

7

11

10

Finally, I disembark at Sim’s Park. On the board outside, it boasts of having rare plant species from around the world.

12

I walk inside and roam around, breathing in the fresh air thick with an earthy fragrance.

27

28

17

13

Having experienced the storm in Ooty last night, I find Coonoor surprisingly sunny. And so much more beautiful that I snap out of the auto midway to dash for the tea gardens flanking either side of the road.

Coonoor has acres and acres of them!

1

Ambling around, I soak in the overwhelming essence of tea leaves. The Blue Mountain tea that grows here is dark and is known for its intense fragrance and flavour.

16

Further up the road, I stop by the Highfield Tea Factory and watch the end-to-end process of tea being made from these tea leaves. The entire place feels immersed in a strong aroma. It permeates me. Tickles my senses. A few refreshing cups of Chocolate Tea, Masala Tea, and Green Tea later, I feel grateful for the little sips of happiness.

Walking on, I come across coffee beans being ground into powder. Feeling my love for coffee scream inside me full-throttle, I instantly pick up a handful to take back home as a souvenir.

IMG_20180401_161925244-01 (1)

Few steps ahead, a sharp and pungent scent comes wafting across the room. Inquisitive, I find out, what I had just sniffed was the odor of eucalyptus oil being procured from the eucalyptus leaves lying heaped nearby.

I step out and see small shops selling natural oils and creams. Feeling whimsically compelled, I immediately buy the cucumber one. Downstairs, they are selling handmade chocolates and I don’t leave without packing all the dark chocolate that I will need for the month.

Driving off to Lamb’s Rock, past cultivated plantations, and unguarded wilderness, I uncover Coonoor more intimately on the way. Lying sheathed in clouds and mist, it is a beauty enveloped in the embrace of blue hills, that appear melting into the blue skies.

5

21

I trek up to the highest viewpoint at Lamb’s Rock and take a fleeting glance around. What strikes me is, I am staring down into a deep, scary gorge that at the same time accommodates a breathtaking panorama of tea estates, coffee estates, and Coimbatore plains.

Surreal.

The path back meanders through a jungle and the experience is alarmingly enlivening.

Exactly how badly had I needed this rush?!

19

18

26

At last, I arrive at Dolphin’s Nose. It takes me a while to register for myself how the tip of the peak resembles a dolphin’s nose. A beautiful wind blows in my face, as I stand there watching the Catherine Falls pound in the distance.

20

22

8

Later in the night, I lie snuggled up under my blanket, back on my way to Bengaluru, and the moon through the window feels like a welcome trespasser.

3

6

This is the 2nd post in a 4-part series on my travel stories from South India. If you like this part, you can read the other parts on Ooty, Mysore, and Pondicherry.

about the time when I fled to Ooty.

First weekend in Bengaluru and it’s pouring down hard! After scouring through Google for about half an hour and skimming through the top suggestions it algorithmically throws my way,  I pick Ooty at random and book the bus tickets for the night!

IMG_20180402_183028111
The bus is unusually (or usually?) late but the weather Gods are bizarrely happy today. I watch a dark cloud canopy growing over the night, amidst a low rumble of thunder. I witness lightning bedazzle the sky. A cool breeze and light drizzle later, I am still waiting for the bus sigh! but am nevertheless feeling all cheerful and pumped up. After an hour of fiddling around with whatever, the bus finally arrives and I trundle off to Ooty with an overjubilant smile! Dragging his grumpy one along.

IMG_20180331_155555233_HDR-01
I have never been to the South before, so as the bus goes coursing the lanes of Karnataka, all through to Tamil Nadu, I don’t care enough to doze off for once, and rather keep peering out the window all night. By the time morning comes knocking on the stained glass, the signboards change, and I spot people in lungis and saris, and there are vast green farms flanking the roads and the sun overwhelming those green farms.

IMG_20180331_180326803-01

IMG_20180331_171516559_HDR-01

I stumble upon Iyengar’s bakery while walking around, in the Commercial Street, on my way to the hotel. They offer me the softest bread encasing thick layers of jam and cream within, and my tired, hungry soul washes everything down maniacally, with a hot cup of tea! A tangible piece of bliss when I have been hungry since dinner last night.

IMG_20180331_171430731-01At the Hotel Eden, I come across a weirdly funny receptionist who keeps iterating “just 1 minute, just 1 minute” over and over but never seems to genuinely help me out with any of my needs. But it had been the cheapest last-minute gamble I had pounced upon (courtesy booking.com!), so I bear with it. 

IMG_20180331_161743147-01

I am inside an autorickshaw, spiraling around the Nilgiris, on my way to the Doddabetta peak, crowned the highest in the Western Ghats. The path leading up to the summit is densely forested. Tall pine trees lie shrouded in mist. Clouds have embossed themselves over distant peaks, that are standing bathed in innumerable shades of blue.

I come across rare flowers, blossoming at every other turn, spilling open into a cute, vibrant bunch of colors, gleefully juxtaposed against green that has invaded all the space around.

IMG_20180331_171424327-01

IMG_20180331_171845433-01-01
The fresh air breezing through the Nilgiris feels so enlivening, that I keep bobbing in and out of the autorickshaw, throughout my way uphill, to rest my feet at the edge of a cliff, feel my nerves come undone, and breathe. It feels magical. Unburdening magical.

IMG_20180331_171622212-01

IMG_20180331_161433409_HDR-01
At the summit, there is a Telescope House that should supposedly enable everyone to catch stunning views of the valley but honestly, it doesn’t serve its purpose. At all. So I stroll around, gaze at the sky ripping itself apart to allow the sun flood the wilderness, watch life unwrap itself in the valley as giant trees branch out, to make home for monkeys prancing on their edges, dangling from one, hopping on to the next, nestled careless and free and content in their impenetrable abode.

monkeys

IMG_20180331_155056945_HDR-01

IMG_20180331_172115119_HDR-01-01

IMG_20180331_184521355-01

I see a tiny market nearby and excited, trail a bit down to reach for a cute rainbow-hair-prop and wear it over my head and try to pretend I am something exotic until he says it is time to leave. In my defense, it was fun! Ample fun. Okay. Whatever.

IMG_20180331_162233306-01
Later in the night, weather takes a magical leap and I find clouds fogging my view, floating beside me and beneath my feet, sliding over and under the moon, and enveloping almost everything under their white haze.

IMG_20180331_211858422
It feels damn weird but beautiful.

IMG_20180331_184643734-01

Back at the hotel, I devour the handmade chocolates I bought from the Chocolate Factory, a few gorgeous hours ago. Tomorrow will be a happy day for sipping tea in the woods, as I make my way to Coonoor. But for now, I just snuck my pillow close and zone out.

IMG_20180331_175131538_BURST000_COVER_TOP

IMG_20180331_180432342-01

IMG_20180331_180333933-01

 

This is the 1st post in a 4-part series on my travel stories from South India. If you like this part, you can read the other parts on Coonoor, Mysore, and Pondicherry.

the fumble for a path.

Tripping yet again upon a choice, you fear a trap. Unable to view the choice for the gift it is, you frown at the privilege, of having possibilities to pick from.

But no, you are not being ungrateful.

Rather, you know yourself. Your indecisiveness. Your impulsive decisions. Your sudden quirks. Your weird whims. Your idiosyncracies. Your screwed sense of direction. Your ambiguity. Your failed sense of judgement. It’s all happened in the past!

So, fear paralyzes you at the crossroads.

It’s funny when you get lost on your way and accuse the GPS of betrayal every time. But alarming when you have no idea what you’re doing, where you’re heading. In life.

Wedged between what to do and what not to do, you are scuttling through cities, flipping over jobs, tipping on the edge of aspirations and apprehensions.

But then, you have never been a calculative one.  You would never weigh the pros and cons in and out.  You wouldn’t tread lightly over gunpowder.

You have always been this frivolous, this turbulent, whose impulse would flutter like butterflies refusing to be bottled up, who would shrug all conscious rationale, at one bend of intuition, at one slant prick of psyche.

And so, even knowing the magnitude of impending change that will rock your world, may be, even upend it, you turn the page to the next chapter of the book, and watch anxiety melt into excitement!

Okay, you might be clueless. But you are not naive.

You attempt to sketch your own path.

You realize that, you yourself are the anchor to your chaos. You might be the epicenter of your quakes but you yourself are your recovery guide too.

You have this storm raging inside you.  And you use it to arm yourself to meet the one brewing in the outside world.

And even if it churns you to dust, and you end up gutted under the rubble, you would not fold your cards. You would rather choose to learn from your mistakes.

It’s hard, daring to defy the odds. But you have this thing knotted in your memory that you can’t forego.

This moment is all that’s there to live, and whatever you choose to do right now will become what you will have ever done at all.