Though we did find women who were wearing the most insensible footwear, involving heels, chances of twisting your foot, skidding on the water and of course, breaking them! We went flip flops all the way! And maybe a couple of us also chose to show our bathroom slippers the light of the world. After all, it is in water that they show their true colours and strength.
Though it was incorrect on our part to once suggest our driver drive at more than 80 kmph on an open highway, because speed limits, he retorted with an explanation about how that would break the rules set for safety. Fair point, right? Not so much. Because at his own will he had been driving rashly even at 40 kmph, overtaking vehicles dangerously, sometimes while on not one but two calls!
Let’s talk about how phone calls. He was incessantly on calls, so much so that listening to music on the car speakers was almost a slam dunk attempt at trying to get him to shut up. But then he would be louder than the music then we’d tune up the volume, he’d tune up his and then we’d switch off the music while he still did some more talking. While he held one phone to his ear, the other in his hand which also controlled the steering, we held our heart in our mouth. Don’t ask me how he changed gears. I was too afraid to watch.
He’d rather we call him uncle or chachaji than Sir. Because he has grandkids our age. And he’d rather we sit in our hotel room, visit one place a day and let him be free for most of the time because hello, why should we have all the fun! He went to the extent of commenting when we directed him with Google maps to a temple off the main Mahabaleshwar Panchgani road, that we must be careful of the places we’re going to. After all, we are five single women traveling alone. So much for being five. And so much for calling him uncle.
“One’s destination is never a place, but always a new way of seeing things.”
Every trip I go on, firms this belief for me. And here’s a new way of looking at roads and rains!
I recently went to Pune and surrounding areas – Google weather forecasts and the news channels had informed us well in advance of rains during my travel days. But when you say rains to a Calcuttan who’s staying in Bangalore, we think half an hour of rain. Who knew we would have to expect twenty-three and a half hours of rain and downpour?!
Thanks to the incessant rain and wind speeds high enough to make your teeth rattle, all five of us are now proud owners of a raincoat! The last time we had one was when we were toddlers rushing to montessories and jumping into every puddle we found with our mothers or fathers or both running behind us to make sure we don’t create a splash we can’t save ourselves from! Sigh. If only they still ran after us. At least some of our mistakes could have been eliminated. If only.
Talking about puddles, we are used to seeing them in the potholes on our roads but it’s a rare sight to wake up to a puddle in your hotel room! Our clothes and bags were so wet, despite the raincoats, that the process of drying them under the fan resulted in more of a watery mess than an evaporation exercise.
Every once in a while, the city closes in upon you and you choose to run after the sereneness of the outskirts, the hill stations, the backwaters, the mountains, don’t you? I almost managed to do the same. I say managed because we had failed to acknowledge how many more would also be looking for sereneness there! I visited Dehradun and Mussoorie recently, and if you think this post is about how pretty the landscape is and quiet the hills are, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Ruskin Bond’s books were my mates while growing up and the writer is famed for basing his stories around these few towns in Uttarakhand. I was obviously excited about the trip on that account too – to find myself facing those shops, houses, to walk in the trails of woods and the warmth of the people he’s written about. But I’d forgotten about the two big words – commercialisation and globalisation. With the ease of access to the towns, better roads and influx of tourists, Dehradun no longer is the regular hill station – there’s nothing hilly about it, all flat land and roads marked by McDonald’s and Bengali sweet shops, malls and Park Avenue stores. We picked up drinks from a Tibetan township thinking it’s a concoction they’d brewed at their place only to find it spread all across shops later on. So much for trying to experience something local. Well, at least, I sort of learnt to use chopsticks from one of the diner owners in the Tibetan township. Sort of.
Mussoorie has a dual face though! It’s got the ups and downs of a hill station, the roads which allow vehicles but has no space to fit two of them side by side, a mall road – typical of hill stations, which seemed commercially successful and now stretches for almost 3 km with people flocking it all times, even as late as 10:30 pm at night. The mall road boasts of eateries, brands, shops selling insignia for surrounding hill stations to be carried back as mementos of the visit and countless shops selling the same clothes! But if you take a diversion from the mall road, you’ll find the cobbled roads intact, men and women silently going about their lives, no tourists in sight and the clamour of the mall road light years away! The peace, though short-lived, I was hoping for. I also found the quaint coffee shops that take you back 50 years ago at Landour, where Bond is supposed to reside currently. On further observation, I realise the town was being redecorated to capture the old world charm by Dharma Productions for a film. Well, at least this commercialisation is pleasant to the eye!
Oh and don’t even get me started on the waterfalls! They’re no longer natural. They’ve been cemented and structured to flow the way man wants them to, with water rides, fun activities, shops, tea stalls, changing rooms set close to the rock bed of the fall. Ain’t saying it’s bad, au contraire, it’s brilliant for the people who live there. It’s just not what Ruskin Bond had written about. And no longer the spot for a getaway for me.
I came away from the hills renewed, of course, but disappointed with what we had done to places remote and almost preserved naturally till a few years ago. The human touch, we should call it.
As promised (to no one in general), here’s a continued set of anecdotes from my trip to Gujarat!
Let’s begin right from the beginning of the trip, like is the norm unless I choose to write in reverse chronology. That’s a good idea but for another day!
Anyone who’s spent even a day on Bangalore roads would know how terrible a nightmare they can be, especially if you have a flight to catch. So for my own mental peace and for all practical purposes, I left from home, four hours before my flight was to take off! And lo behold, I reached in just about an hour and a half, much to my annoyance and my cabbie’s surprise at my annoyance. The good people at the flight customer support counter however sent me off on an early flight as reward for my unacceptable promptness.
We came across not one or two but three locations where there were rubber band sellers – and when I say rubber band sellers, they were only selling rubber bands! A handcart full of crimson, kale, azure, gold, grey, fuchsia, violet, saffron, striped, polka dotted rubber bands! Out of curiosity, I asked one of those vendors what the price of the bands were and he said 1 rupee! Yes, you read it right – freaking 100 paise! 1 rupee! My first thought was how are they even surviving! My second thought was to buy a dozen or so of the bands. My third thought was exactly how much is the production cost of these bands if people are managing to sell these at such a nominal price!
At one of the beaches, my sister was polite enough to do the human thing of clicking a picture for a couple of guys who requested her to. One of them started making small talk with her asking her if she was a resident of the town, did she know any good places to eat, et al. Having answered in monosyllables, we started walking away when one of them called out to her asking her, “I’m from the States. Would you want a picture with me?” Surprised, she refused. He insisted again asking, “Are you sure you don’t want a picture with me?” While I was wondering if I could place his face to any of the Indian Americans I’d seen on the USA shows, my sister was muttering, “He’s freaking flirting with a 20 year old! He is almost double my age!”
We had visited a set of caves, to which there’s dispute about whether it was a geological formation or dug by the Portuguese for formation of the Diu Fort. Either ways, it was a beautiful maze of earth cut out in a variety of eerie and curiously un-human ways. There were stairs ending into nowhere, rocks hanging out precariously, cuts in the ceiling which didn’t seem to explain the purpose or history of its creation! And because it was so huge and devoid of many tourists, there were spaces where you couldn’t see another person as far as your sight and the maze allowed. The silence was harsh enough for you to hear your own breathing and each step you took creaked the twigs and dry grass below. I was thankful to have gone there during the day! In the midst of this little nowhere, was a bunch of DSLR equipped photographers capturing a to-be married couple’s shots. The pictures will turn out to be pretty, I tell you!
When I recounted the saga of being stuck on the highway in a three hour traffic jam in the early hours of a new day, I did not mention a first I encountered! I managed to locate and confirm my first constellation sighting in the skies! It was the Big Dipper constellation, as confirmed by the StarTracker app I use, when I was very sure that it was Big Dipper! I wish I could have captured the night sky as pristine as I saw it, but technology has its limits and sometimes, what you see is too beautiful to be captured as is on camera. The camera just cannot do justice.