While poring over a map, I discovered that I'd visited 24 countries in 24 years. Surprised by this large number, I decided to document my travel experiences.
So here's the deal...one year, documentation of 24 countries, 115 cities and countless experiences. With stories, photos, anecdotes - I will try to capture what I saw, heard and felt.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gorge Jumping

There are few moments in life which take your breath away. Your heart races at a mile a minute and the adrenaline begins to spill into the blood like

I had one of those moments earlier this year. We were 6 friends spending 4th of July weekend in Cornell, New York. I woke up one morning to find a mother-child deer pair, warm sunlight, flowers and green grass poking through my window. We made our plans, got out of bed and decided to go gorge jumping.

For those of you who don't know...a gorge is rather like a small valley. It fills up with water during summer when the snow melts, or with heavy rains and then there's a lake at the bottom. One can climb atop the hill and plunge straight down. Ergo, gorge jumping.

It is mostly illegal in Cornell. If the lake isn't deep enough or the mountains are too high, gorge jumping can be fatal. We decided that we would have to do it anyway - but in order to minimise our chances of death, we picked a gorge that was somewhat commercial and certifiably deep.

Walking a plank and looking down almost twice your height is quite a rush. A flickering fear that is allayed by a shot of adrenaline. I was paralysed for a moment and then suddenly I knew the moment had come. I took a deep breathe and plunged straight down.

I knew what it felt like to fly for a few seconds. Those seconds were filled with a lightness of being and a sense of freedom that was complete. Perhaps fear crinkled around the edges, but before it could crystallise, I hit the water and felt the air cap up my lungs. I won't lie, it hurts a little bit -- the impact. And then there is the immersion in to cold cold water. Hitting your body like a million bricks. But the very same cold awakening the awareness of your warm body, its chest moving through each breath - up and down, up and down.

Soaring, flying. Living on the clouds, moving through the air, with gravity as your best friend. What an incredible high!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lima, Peru - Day 1

I am in Peru right now and this country is absolutely crazy! This trip and everything associated with it is absolutely crazy. Here's Dias Uno.


Today, I walked through downtown Lima (or as they colloquially call it Centrale Lima). Filled with rich history and culture, I instantly fell in love with the place. Acute angled roads, circular paths, bright yellow and red buildings, it was as different and exotic to me as I'd imagined. I think the best way to soak in the the distinct culture is to walk around the city. You might run into a local arts and crafts fair. Or end up at a Cafe drinking Pisco Sour at noon.

I visited the Church of San Francisco which had catacombs. Unlike the ones in Rome, these were used for burial purposes only. They were situated just below the church because people wanted to be close to god. No pictures were allowed here. It was a cool, quiet and dark place. Rather peaceful actually. That is until you see the mass skeletons collected in shelves. There were a total of 50,000 people buried here, the guide told me. 50,000 skulls, 50,000 femurs.

In the church, everything was covered with giant christian paintings. But at one part, they had removed the paintings only to discover frescoes on the wall. These frescoes were post-colonial but the heads of the priests were missing. This is a very recent discovery and no one knows the reason for the missing heads. Staring at the headless paintings, gave me an eerie uneasy feeling.

And then, there was the library. Books that ranged from 15th - 20th century covered the walls. The 18th, 19th and 20th century books could be accessed. But the earlier 15-17th century books had not been accessed in years. The paper disintegrates, the guide explained. So no one was allowed to touch them. The Peru government does not have money for restoration (or perhaps it doesn't think its important enough). The whole time I was listening to this thinking that it is such a tragedy. Knowledge contained and existent that cannot be attained. What a waste of knowledge! What a terrible paradox!

Afterwards, at night, I went to the Fountains. Absolutely lovely. From watching a hologram ballerina dance to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, to the Fountain of Surprise where unexpected spurts of water will soak you, the night and the lights created a glorious combination. We were then led to a dinner. A buffet extravaganza with Peru's specialities. Pisco Sour, Black corn cola, ceviche, peruvian local dances...I watched and soaked in all. The whole thing lasted 4 hours and an extremely enjoyable evening.

What a wonderful day!

Looking forward to Cuzco tomorrow...

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Birthday Travel

I turned a year older yesterday. And due to bad (last minute) planning, I ended up spending the day travelling. But I think birthdays are associated with good travel karma and that may have broken my travel curse once and for all!

So I woke up at 5:30 am to take the subway from Lower East Side till JFK. At JFK, I checked into my flight, only to discover that I had two empty seats next to me on the plane. Success! I spent the whole way sleeping and making up for the late night. Midnight birthday celebrations where friends come together to do bourbon shots should never be avoided.

I got off at Salvador only to realise that the gate for my next flight was right next to my entry gate. (This NEVER happens to me. I always get the gate that is the farthest possible from where I entered). Also, Salvador has no security check from one flight to another. It was one of the smoothest transitions ever! So I sit down, wait and soon enough am boarding the next flight.

As I was crossing the chief steward, a random thought occured to me. I went up to him and asked if I could be upgraded. I never make such requests, but you see (I point at my passport), its my birthday today. He smiles and says Happy Birthday. Next thing I see, I am being upgraded to first class. My first time in first class on my birthday! Thank you for the present, world!

I sit next to this cute little boy of 20 and it's his first time in business class also. So we point at all the other people who are dressed pretentiously. He teaches me Spanish - Hoven* means Young Thing; Mierrda* means Oh Shit! I use all of it on the steward who is thoroughly enjoying watching us and our follies in first class. He insists that we both drink champagne as a celebratory birthday drink. I even cut my dessert as a mini cake and the boy sings Happy Birthday to me in Spanish. Not sure how it went, but I recognised the words Felis Cumple something.

It was a weird birthday. This was the first time that I spent the whole day without meeting friends or talking to family (I did meet friends at midnight, so won't count the whole 24 hours). But it ended up as quite an adventure and a lot of fun. In conclusion, perhaps once in your life, I'd recommend birthday travel.

* If I'm spelling these words wrong, I apologise!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jallianwala Bagh

Sadness is profound. I'm not talking about anger or hatred or even jealousy or insecurity. Sometimes, the feeling is absolute and calming. That is the sadness I talk about.

Today I lost something. Something that meant a lot to me. It's strange how lifeless, meaningless objects can suddenly have so much sentimental value attached to them. I attached the value. And now I have lost it. There is absolutely nothing I can do to get it back.

I started thinking through all my travel experiences to a time when a place held such profound sadness for me. And even though there are several places which I visited while I was sad, I would not like to believe that the place itself could not hold happiness. Or that the sum total of my sadness could wash over the history of its joy. As if it was only me, there and then, in that time and place, in that moment, and nothing else.

And then I thought of Jallianwala Bagh.

I remember visiting it. The place held children scampering around with glee. Couples in the corner. A few men lazing in the garden, perhaps taking a nap or soaking the afternoon sun. It seemed like such a chilled out scene.

But I knew that that place did not belong to that time and moment. That place belongs to April 13, 1919. The screams of people I believe still linger on in that space. The bullet holes still pay tribute to the senseless violence that took hundreds of innocent lives. The men, women and children who jumped into a well...so that they'd die as martyrs and not as victims. Acts of bravery and courage. Human strength and endurance. And then there was blood everywhere. And then nothing was left.

I sat in the garden. Looking around, taking in the place. Something had been lost. And there was absolutely nothing I could do to get it back. The pain belonged to a different time and space, but I still felt it right then. I touched my cheek, only to realise that I was crying.

Sadness...profound and absolute.


Somehow this video from the movie Rang De Basanti, always plays in my head when I think of Jallianwala Bagh.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The View from my Apartment

I live in a high rise building. For this article, I'm just posting pictures which are the view from my 14th (actually the 13th, if you think about it) floor apartment.

It's absolutely gorgeous and I am about to move out in a few months and will really miss this place. It where all the magic happened :)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Travel Curse

I was supposed to fly out to Tahiti in the last week of December. I will write this post in a 10 point form to illustrate exactly how things happened.

1. In August 2011, I was in Delhi (I'm from Delhi) and applied for a Schengen Visa. I was granted this in 2 days and went off to backpack through Europe. I visited several cities, including Paris.

2. In October 2011, I managed to get a seat for a sailing expedition to Tahiti in an auction.

3. Over the next one month, I received information about the trip. In the middle of November I discovered that I needed a visa for Tahiti.

4. With some research, I discovered that I would have to apply to the French embassy. I also discovered that in order to apply in the US, I would have to visit Washington. (I live in Philadelphia)

5. I decided to apply in India. I had finals going on and had no time to make a trip to Washington. Besides, I'd applied in Delhi a few months ago, so there really shouldn't be a problem. Right?

6. I come back and the French embassy refuses to accept my application. I'm a US resident (?) they say.
(the question mark is because, I'm sure if you ask the US, Indian governments they will unanimously agree that I am an Indian resident)

7. The rule is new. And I try everything to convince them to overlook it. I get a letter from the French Consulate in Philadelphia requesting the French Embassy in India to make an exception. I speak to them and explain how I got a Schengen 4 months ago from Delhi, how I have never broken a single travel law, I do not have NRI status, etc, etc, etc. It doesn't work. They just don't accept the application.

8. I have to cancel my trip to Tahiti...which becomes a huge personal and financial loss to me. Screw you travel curse!

9. I change my flights to just one direct flight back to Philly on the 9th of Jan, early morning.

10. Today is the 8th of Jan. I'm supposed to fly out in 9 hours and British Airways tells me that I'm not allowed to Check In just yet. (!?) I'm guessing they've overbooked the flight, in which case, I'm definitely asking for money.*

And so...the travel curse continues...

(*Tip for all: If you're flying a European airline and they overbook you, you can claim $$. Basically, if it's their fault, you're entitled to compensation. If it's the weather, then not so much. Here's the details of the regulation.)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Piya Haji Ali

I had always wanted to visit Haji Ali but despite making several trips to Bombay, somehow never made it there. Last week, I was in the city with a day stretching out ahead of me alone. With my friend busy at work, I decided to make a trip to the mosque by myself.


As I started my long walk up to Haji Ali, I got distracted by all the pretty things being sold on the side. I stopped and bought 3 bottles of ittar. Ittar is Indian perfume and I bought the smell of the "heavens" called firdaus. Anyway, as I walked into the mosque, I was stopped by a man standing guard at the entrance for the women's section. When I asked him what the matter was, he pointed to my legs, "You cannot go to Haji Ali in this outfit". His tone was harsh and demeaning. I was wearing a medium length skirt and so obviously he could judge me.

I negotiated my way in. He gave me a chunni that i wrapped around my waist like a dhoti. Starting at my waist and going all the way down till my ankles, it covered me up completely.

Stepping into the main hall, I looked up to marvel at the gorgeous mirror work on the ceiling. At the same time, a lot of women looked down at the dhoti-esque cloth and started murmuring among themselves. Soon, one woman gestured at me to come forward. I went up to her and she chastised me - Why is your head not covered? What religion are you? Are you married?
The questions came at me like paint dripping from a wet brush. Each new drop fell at a different spot on the canvas creating a complete picture, just as each new question helped crystallise her perception of me.

Once she established that I was alone, not muslim, single, I was made to sit down beside her. She started off with her story. A woman has no identity without a man, she said. As long as you have a man in your life, people will love and respect you. But if the man doesn't exist, then you don't exist. I asked her what happened to her man. He died a few years ago, she said. The children couldn't bear the burden of feeding an extra mouth. So everything had to be sacrificed - a house, a family, a life. Living from one mosque to another, under the protection of Allah, waiting to be called to him. Waiting, waiting. That was all she lived for, she said. That, and chastising young girls, I thought secretly.

She explained to me how God was merciful and so I would be forgiven for my sin. But he will probably not grant my prayers because of my insubordination. And in the future, I must always remember to cover my legs and my head. With that, she lay down to rest. I understood that I had been dismissed.


Later, while walking back, I came across a year old homeless child on the street. This girl was crying from hunger, fingering a biscuit packet that she had not yet learnt how to open. I sat down next to her, ripped the packet open and fed her the biscuit. She rejected it at first, but eventually her spit broke down the biscuit into soggy matter that her inexperienced mouth could chew. An old beggar man sitting next to her said to me, "You fed a poor child with nothing to gain for yourself. Allah will bless you for this good deed." And I couldn't help refute his claim by exclaiming, "But, I'm wearing a skirt!"