Sunderban: Too Sunder to capture

Imagine that you wake up bubbling with excitement to visit the most beautiful attraction your current destination has to offer. Imagine that it is a one-of-a-kind jungle safari in India. Imagine that the beautiful landscapes, animals and rare species of birds are waiting to pose for you. Imagine that you embark on such a beautiful journey without taking your camera.

Now stop imagining.

Because that’s exactly what I experienced in reality during my Sunderban Jungle Safari.

Not having a professional camera, I was completely depending on my One Plus 3 throughout the Kolkata trip. Was it the excitement of the safari or my forgetfulness, I don’t know. But I left my phone to charge at the safari operator’s office, and realised after a good one hour that I have forgotten to collect it from there. Like many millennials, I thankfully do not suffer from check-my-phone-every-second syndrome, but sometimes that too has it’s own cons.

When I realised I’m left with no device to click a single picture for two long days, I was devastated. Every time someone flashed their camera, my heart shattered in million pieces. Fellow travellers promised they’ll share their pictures with me (which Henrique very well kept after returning to Germany). But I was not very happy with this ‘borrowed memories’ affair.

So, that’s how my journey to Sunderban began with a sad note. Throughout the bus ride to Bidyadhari river, I was pacifying myself thinking about how cool it would be to spend a night in a jungle with no connection whatsoever with the outside world.

Fascinated about the idea of a 100% offline escapade, I looked through the window. River Bidya sneered at me with her psychotic waves. No wonder she is called a mad river. Her water ebbs and rises twice a day, every day. During the high tides, it rises up to 5-6 metres washing the banks away, and during the low ones, it is so scarce that one can even cross the entire river by foot. It was a high tide when we arrived.

We crossed Bidya in a local boat and reached Gosaba island. Gosaba is one of the 102 islands that constitute Sunderban. Out of these 102 patches of land, only 52 are inhabitable and the rest are covered with thick mangrove forests. The island was very small. It took us not more than half an hour to travel from its one end to another. The rickshaw ride was rickety and bumpy. But passing through those narrow lanes covered with lush paddy fields, straw houses with small ponds in front-yards, and ducks quacking and crossing the roads was all novel for the entire group.

After crossing Gosaba, another ride was waiting for us. This time a private ferry, and it took us from Jothirampur ghat to Saathjhali island, our base camp.

Yes, island-hopping was exciting, but we didn’t realise how it drained our energies until we reached our pads. After a scrumptious Bengali lunch made of homegrown veggies, spices and herbs, we headed straight to the hammocks for siesta. Henrique, Chelsea and Matt started snoring in the next fifteen minutes.

But I was wide awake, sulking and staring at the cloudy afternoon in silence. I was talking to myself, “Such a quaint place. Such beautiful landscapes. There is so much to capture over here. I should at least make notes before I forget everything. Should I go back to my cottage and bring my notebook or my iPad? Oh God! My iPad!! I have an iPad!!!”

I literally jumped out of joy and fell off the hammock. The same iPad that I was planning to get rid of a few weeks back was here to the rescue! I tiptoed from the rooftop and ran towards my cottage. I opened my backpack and pulled out my saviour, my messiah, my iPad. I hugged it tight and we lived through the Sunderban Safari happily ever after.

Happy viewing to you!

Sunderban is India’s only mangrove forest.
We walked barefoot in muck for almost an hour to get this view. Totally worth it!
The sun rose from the opposite direction, but the blue hues were equally mesmerising.
The haven.
This is where we spent the night gazing a star-studded sky.
And this is where we kick-started our morning.
With a cup of honey tea.
There were dewdrops on the surface of these lotus leaves and water snakes underneath.
It’s essential to start your safari with a full tummy. 

Please note that all the pictures I clicked at Sunderban are clicked from my iPad. The quality of photographs may not be as good as that of a professional camera, but they’ve been clicked with the same passion and excitement. 

Have you ever forgotten your most important travel gadget like me? Share your stories in the comments section, I’d love to hear them. 🙂

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Travel Punji

It’s just the fourteenth day of the month, and the machine refuses to spit out money. The screen coldly shows a three digit figure and I walk out of the ATM empty-handed.

For me, this is not a new phenomenon. Since past few months, I have been living like an Urban Poor with no regret.

Year 2016 began with my passion for travel growing stronger than ever before. I wanted to go back to the mountains of Ladakh. I wanted to visit Dah and Hanu, the villages that inhabit the last and the purest breed of Aryans. I wanted to sit in a cafe in McLeodganj and fill notebooks with silly poetries. I wanted to gorge every yummy street food available in Kolkata markets. I wanted to explore all the palaces and temples that whisper tales of the times gone by. I wanted to cycle around the forever French Pondicherry. (For which I’ll obviously have to learn biking. Ok, don’t judge me. I have an explanation for this, but let’s save it for later.) I wanted to travel across my country, and then after exploring every nook and cranny, travel across borders too. I wanted to… and I still want to.

But to start ticking off this never-ending bucket list, I needed to start saving.

Yes, travel is definitely worth more than money will ever be. But for a girl working in a demanding industry like advertising where pay cheque is a joke; saving money for travel was a big challenge.

So, I welcomed the New Year with a simple plan. I opened a separate account to take out a piece of my salary every month without fail. I call it my ‘travel punji’.

This travel punji has brought a lot of discipline in my life. Every month after a certain amount gets deducted from my salary, what I’m left with is just a little cash that helps me get through the month.

Travel punji has also changed my lifestyle to some extent, if not completely. I don’t remember the last time I visited a mall and returned with handful of shopping bags. Splurging stopped. Smart buying started. Today, when I open my wardrobe, I see only a handful of clothes, and I still feel it’s more than enough.

Yes, there are certain things that take a toll on my monthly budget. For example, food. I just cannot resist good food. Of course I can have two home-cooked meals every day; but when craving for a something specific comes to me, my grey cells stop working and taste buds take charge, resulting into a hole in my already-burnt pocket.

Second thing that forces me to use up all my monies is the taxi meter. I love travelling, but hate commuting. The home-office-home routine, last-minute meetings, late nights, work pressure, and the usual rant-worthy factors suck up all the energy, and make cabs the only preferred mode of transportation. I should seriously work towards commuting by public transport like trains and buses. I’m sure, I’ll easily add a few more pennies in my punji.

Well, the third reason is purely sentimental. Someday I might get successful in curbing the other two, but this one has emotions attached to it – It’s the joy of gifting. Deciding on a suitable gift, buying it, wrapping it with pretty wraps, giving it to your dear ones and waiting anxiously to see a twinkle in their eyes when they open it; the whole process is so thrilling and relaxing at the same time.

I pray to God that I’ll never be so broke that I stop this happy habit. And I pray to God that my travel punji may never be bare.

But no matter how empty or full the punji is, I’ll keep travelling. I’ll keep investing in moments. I’ll be rich with memories that can never be traded with any currency.

That’s my promise!

Kya naseeb hain unka. Na kahi se aane ki jaldi, na kahi jaane ki. Bas baithe hain maze mein, pairo-tale lehro ki chanchanaahat sunne fursat se. I secretly envy these lucky flags for just living in the moment without worrying about their travel funds. :)
Kya naseeb hain unka.
Na kahi se aane ki jaldi,
na kahi jaane ki.
Bas baithe hain maze mein,
pairo-tale lehro ki chanchanaahat sunne fursat se.
I secretly envy these lucky flags of Ladakh for just living in the moment without worrying about their travel funds.

PS: The word count of this post is more than my current bank balance. 😉

If you have interesting tips on how to manage travel funds, please share it with me. I’d love your guidance. Or if you want to know more about my future travel plans and how I’m going to use my Travel Punji, feel free to ask a question.

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The Dying Remains of Awanti Swami Temple

Serendipity is travel’s favourite child. For at every turn you take, you’ll discover an experience you weren’t even expecting to encounter.

While on our way to Srinagar, our friend insisted that we must take a little detour and visit Awantipora. Please note that it wasn’t a polite proposal, but a clear instruction given directly to our driver. Throughout the way she campaigned for the site, saying that it was a shooting location in one of the famous Bollywood films; and that we must visit such a prime spot that contributed in the evolution of Indian Cinema. In short, she just didn’t leave us with any choice. Well, I’ll always be grateful to her stubbornness.

We reached the ruins of Awanti Swami Temple in Awantipora (Awantipur), located between Anantnag and Srinagar. And, boy oh boy, we were enthralled.

The entrance of Awanti Swami Temple, Awantipora
The entrance of Awanti Swami Temple, Awantipora.

What we were witnessing were nothing less but the ruins of an entire era captured in grey limestone.

The entry fee to this temple is measly Rs. 10. The Government Tourist Guide was happy to see us, as we were the only visitors at that point. The guide was earnestly telling us about the tale of this temple, built to praise Lord Vishnu.

The ruins of Awanti Swami Temple, Awantipora
The ruins of Awanti Swami Temple, Awantipora

Hundreds, or may be, thousands of years ago, a catastrophic earthquake ruined this beauty. But they say, the real beauty cannot stay hidden for too long. Soon it was resurrected by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Awantipora 3
A close up of the carvings

Each niche was dedicated to the Gods and Goddesses of Indian Mythology. Each pillar, each stone restored to life was telling a story. But unfortunately, there weren’t too many ears to listen to them. There are so many architectural wonders like this craving for visitors, be it connoisseurs or mere tourists.

Would these unheard stories die a sad, silent death in spite of getting raised from the dead in the past? I hope not.

That's my friend I'll always be thankful to.
That’s my friend I’ll always be thankful to.

P.S. This temple was not used as a filming location. But, who cares! The visuals recorded in our memories are far better than anything else!

 

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Worli Buddhist Temple: Travelling inwards without travelling too far

Amidst the chaos of this city, there are so many hidden gems that are waiting to usher you into their calmness; one such place is a Buddhist Temple near the picturesque Worli Sea-face of Mumbai.

Do not confuse this temple with the Japanese Nipponzan Myohoji Buddha Temple. Unlike the later, this one is not much talked about on the internet. Even Google Maps carry little to no information about it.

In spite of being part of a plush residential building’s premises, this temple oozes out simplicity and modesty, the virtues on which Buddhism has flourished.

As you enter the temple, you’ll be greeted with a huge golden statue of Lord Buddha calmly casting down his eyes as if inviting you to meditate with him.

The walls of the temple are filled with ancient paintings depicting stories from the life of Gautam Buddha. One thing that piqued my interest towards these paintings is that most of the paintings were brought from Sri Lanka. A few even mentioned full address of its place of origin.

(Upon enquiring, I discovered that this temple is built by Late. Ven. Prof. K Ananda Maha Theo. He was the Founder and President of Bahujan Vihar Trust, Sri Lanka. After doing extensive work in Colombo, he visited India and opened three Buddhist temples in Mumbai, one of them being the Worli Buddhist Temple. The other two temples are in Parel and Andheri.)

As I was admiring the art, one of the paintings caught my attention. It illustrated Gautam Buddha meditating under a Bodhi tree. Three beautiful women are dancing in front of him, trying to break his penance. The painting reminded me of the famous characters from Indian mythology – Rambha, Urvashi and Menaka. But the title read, ‘Mara’s daughters tempt to attempt the Bodhisatta’.

When I asked the caretaker about that painting, he happily told me the story of Mara, the demon and his three daughters.

The legend says that Mara was a powerful demon who wanted to defeat Buddha and any person who followed the path of spirituality. And in order to do that, he employed his three daughters to seduce Buddha.

I looked at the painting again. The three sisters were certainly beautiful. I’m sure it would take only a great and pure soul like Lord Buddha to not waver in front of such incarnations of beauty.

Please do check out this piece if you happen to pay a visit to this quiet place. If you love ancient art and painting, you’ll definitely love this humble collection.

After marveling at the paintings, the idols, and the simplistic architecture, I sat down in front of the statue to meditate for a while.

I believe that you don’t have to be a yogi to meditate. A simple exercise like concentrating on your breathing can also have a tremendous effect on your mind, body and soul.

The soft, salty breeze sweeping in from the ocean comforted my skin. The profound silence enveloped my mind. And soon, I was travelling into the deep realms of my soul for that one hour.

Well, isn’t travelling inwards the longest journey one can embark on without travelling too far?

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That’s how the journey begun

Exactly one year and a month ago, I embarked on a journey that changed my life forever. No, it wasn’t a year-long quest to find the balance of life like Liz, nor did I find my Jesse like Julie Delpy from Before Sunrise.

I simply got bitten by the travel-bug, just like million others who visit Ladakh.

Remember Kate Douglas Wiggins’ famous quote, ‘There is a kind of magic about going far away and then coming back all changed”? Well, in that case, Ladakh is the greatest magician in the world.

So, it took me one whole year to start a travel blog. Ask me why? Well, I just didn’t want to be a ‘me-too’ in this already over-populated travel blogging universe.

But here I am. Typing each word of my first-ever blogpost with the same anxiousness I had when I boarded my first-ever flight alone. Here I am, excited to start this blogging journey, because I know this is one thing I would keep doing with the same love and passion for the rest of my life.

No. I won’t quit my job for travel. I am not that gutsy (yet). But I’ll make sure that the restless wanderer in me will get regular doses of wanderlust every now and then. And you, my readers, some exciting read.

Let’s see how it goes! 🙂

Ladakh is indeed a magical land. See how it elevated my spirit.
Ladakh is indeed a magical land. See how it elevated my spirit.

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