swaying to a flicker of the heartbeat.

I arrive at the Green’s Guesthouse that turns out to be the loveliest little place in all of Auroville. An entryway dotted with pebbles and a pail full of pretty flowers greet me inside.

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Enveloped in greenery, the place has a rustic appeal to it. The walls are haphazardly dabbed with several shades of green and look more like an artist’s giant canvas.

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The staff is very friendly and welcoming. Perceiving the exhaustion in my eyes (I had travelled overnight and the bus was not kind enough!), they ask me to take a nap first and pay later when checking out. Happy surprises!

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Anyway, I ask for some coffee to snap myself out of my weariness. However, they claim to have been using only “organic” products at their cafe. So, I instead have their soy milk tea and a toast with maple syrup, and enter the dorm room, pull down the net and sprawl out on the cozy bed by the window. Peace.

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Auroville opens itself up to me at a rather calm and unhurried pace. I wake up to noisy chirping of birds in the backyard.

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Weather is unpleasantly hot but the unusual old-world charm of this place keeps me hooked.

A short walk lands me at the Visitor’s Centre that has nice boutiques where I can buy all the cute stuff that I might want but don’t actually need. I end up buying pairs of earrings nevertheless. They look super cute!

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The town exists as an isolated, dreamy world of its own kind, lined by jungles and strewn with densely canopied roads. It is not frequented by too many visitors and is fascinatingly laidback in its essence.

Its name translates to ‘City of Dawn’ and the town stands essentially to foster human unity. Admiring the concept behind its creation, I take a compulsive walk to Matrimandir (Temple of the Mother Mirra Alfassa).

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But unfortunately, I find out, it is closed for the entire month of June, so I do not get to experience any actual yoga or meditation practices there. With heat beating my spirits down, I skip the rest for later and barge out of this quaint town to head to Pondicherry.

Wandering around, I reach the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is a Catholic church known for its Gothic-style architecture and cherished for the immense peace it offers. Which is true but my heart somersaults for the beaches!

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Soon I am traipsing down the long sidewalk at the Rock Beach.

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An old lighthouse stares back at me from a corner.

A towering guide to the ships during the 19th century. An inseparable part of the identity of the town in the 21st.

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A right turn later, I enter White Town, the most gorgeous part of the city. It traces India’s history back to the time when it was entwined with that of the French.

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This colony flaunting European-style streets and French architecture has villas in pastel colours of pink, yellow, rust, green and what not! These border the roads blanketed by a shade of Bougainvilleas. Exotic fonts yield recognition to these vintage buildings. Classic elegance abounds everywhere.

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Shutta_20180904_130241-01Later, on the Paradise beach, I take baby-steps into the sea.

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Waves are crashing onto the shore, curling up against me and dissolving into foam. I try to stand firm as the water recedes from under my feet, eventually merging back into the sea where it belongs. But no matter how hard I clutch at the ground with my toes, sand under my feet gets carried away with the ebbing waves and I am thrown off-balance. Swift, high waves come roaring back at me and before I can even process their intensity, I am tasting salt in my mouth, am feeling a burning tinge in my eyes, and am having an irresistible urge to scratch my ears out.

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My hair is all sand-flecked, with its tiny grains caught in my curls. Tiny lumps of salt adhere to my scalp, and refuse to come out, like they were glued there for life. Funny? Absurd? Whatever, there’s more grazing my toes, smearing my legs, smudging my feet.

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And. Yet I don’t mind any of it. I am too lost in my carefree abandon to mind any part of the mess. Isn’t that the whole point of living the moment anyway? To celebrate the unabashedly-uninhibited abandon.

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A woman clad in a gold-embroidered red sari is collecting seashells, and tucking them carefully inside folds of a corner of her sari. Notwithstanding the waves swamping her beautiful golden-brown drapes, she bends over to quickly seize any exotic shells she spots tinkling against her silver anklets or rubbing against her feet. Emboldened, I walk deeper into the water, digging my feet deeper into the sand, stiffening up against the waves.

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In front of me, the seamless horizon stands as the perfect metaphor for endless possibilities. I feel a sudden rush of happiness tugging on my heart. Turning my head back, I watch as the sky morphs into a pretty canvas for the sun playing with the clouds.

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I look up, only to find a curve of rainbow curled up in the sky.

A sweet gesture from nature, smiling back at me, in all of its raw, vast, and expansive surrealness.

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Suddenly it’s drizzling, and the sky turns darker shades of blue, that eventually escalate to grey, and soon black.

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The sea is hitting against the shoreline even more uproariously now. I spot ships in the distance, shimmering like tiny dots of light, floating against a backdrop of immeasurable darkness.
A smidgen of hope on the horizon.

Lightning and thunder trill the sky. I ride out of the place, craving for the peace and quiet of Auroville, where my cute little home awaits me, amidst the silent wilderness.

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And this wild, wide smile is exactly the one I leave Pondicherry with! 😀

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This is the 4th 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 Ooty.

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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! 😛

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 😉

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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.

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

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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It feels damn weird but beautiful.

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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.

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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.

and that’s pretty much everything you want to know about change.

Every time you step into the woods, the breeze encircles you and bares your gasps, loud into the presence and absence of everything.

At first, you flinch, you waver, you look back for a return.

But then you walk further and feel the earth digging into your toes. Whatever direction you walk, becomes ‘the’ path.

You watch the sun filter in, through the canopy of trees. Nothing, however wild, could hold it back.

Ans so it dawns on you.

Every small step, an undaunting of you.

Every dare, your metamorphosis.

With every rise of the foot, a newer you.

when you unbottle to unbother.

you watch the stars parcel you an invite into a night

so perfectly pinned to the sky at its fuzzy dark corners

that you don’t want to dim its beauty with your inhibition

or dissipate its magic with your fear

or ruin its romance with your indefinite whys and why nots

so you ask reason to pack its bag and leave

and tell responsibility to stop weighing down its burden on you

and as the duo give in and walk away

you lean over the parapet

into the glass in your hand

and roll your head an inch back

and exhale

what had been asphyxiating you since eons

tonight, you let this roof become your salvation ground

and as you sprint around the terrace

and giggle into the moonlight

and dance without watching your step

you realize that you are capable of seeing beauty

even in the darkest nights

that you are capable of being happy on an unfamiliar roof

when the roads leading home seem illusory

you had been feeling unreasonably displaced

or rather like a misplaced LEGO piece

made to fit into blocks

that bulge and dip at all the wrong places

only if you had realized any sooner

that your universe is different

that you cannot fill, with what you don’t have

so you stop caring anymore

about anything at all

and from among the billions dotting this night sky

you point your finger at a random star

wish upon it, a countless fantasies

then unclench your fist in sudden keen

and let all go.