The Awe-Inspiring World of Bhutan!

First travel experience can either be very common or can be formative in nature. Oh and I am not talking about your bi-annual luxurious family vacations to Bangkok or your fondest memories of trips to your granny’s in your coconut-studded village in Kerela. This is about travelling far and away from comforts and luxuries, pushing limits and stepping into the unknown. Sounds adventurous? Isn’t it?

Talking of first travel experience takes me back to this wonderful film I saw a couple of months back, Before Sunset. The film has the protagonist speaking my favourite travel quote from the cinema of the world. It goes like this-

“I remember as a teenager I went to Warsaw. Something about being there was very interesting. After a couple of weeks, something changed in me. The city was quite gloomy and gray, but after a while my brain seemed clearer. I was writing a lot in my journal, ideas I’d never thought of before. It took me a while to figure out why I felt so different. And then, one day I was walking through the Jewish cemetery, it occurred to me there, I realized that I had spent the last two weeks away from most of my habits. TV was in a language I didn’t understand, there was nothing to buy, no advertisements anywhere, so all I was doing was walk around, think and write. My brain felt like it was at rest, free from the consuming frenzy. It was almost like a natural high. I felt so peaceful inside. No strange urge to be somewhere else, to shop. May be it could have seemed boredom at first but it quickly became very, very soulful.”

Celine, Before Sunset

And, I couldn’t have agreed more.

The dialogue pretty much sums up my first into the wild, travel experience too- a sojourn in the exotic, the happiest, Bhutan. I went for a nature trek with a group of 40 people, who were passionate about nature and would not shy away from carrying bags full of the trash from the mountains, thrown by others, and mere by urge. I spent two weeks living out of the shell I had grown up in. We lived in a hotel in Thimpu with a mesmerizing view of ice-coated mountains. In another city, Paro, we were blessed with the thunderous sound of a river that flowed at a distance of 50 meters in straight view from our room balconies. When we would travel in our bus from a place to another, we stopped for lunches near waterfalls streaming their way into the deep valleys. I hiked the Tiger’s Nest in Paro, a monastery perched at 3120 meters above the sea level. For a first timer, I finished the arduous trek in two hours, an achievement which makes me proud of myself.

Hell Yeah! I hiked the Tiger's Nest

Hell Yeah! I hiked the Tiger’s Nest

I discovered that life had been pushing me to illusions all this while. Something about being there was extremely peaceful and calming. Of course, I was not haunted by the over-consumption of social media or by the pressure to pursue all things cool. I did not encounter the presence of a food, retail or any other brand as a matter of fact. There was no frenzy to trap people into a certain lifestyle or a thought of ideal living. The communities here lived closely in a natural environment rather than a man-destroyed one. In short, just as much close to nature as cities like Mumbai and Delhi are away.

Bhutan is far from being a commercialized tourist spot or a much-traveled country. A government that measures its growth by the Gross National Happiness of its people is undoubtedly an international pride.

Bhutan was a turning point in the way I managed myself in the world, it triggered a respect and faith in nature. I came back stunned and lost. For days, I could not decipher the meaning of what I had felt. I sensed a desire to look at circumstances more positively and let go. You know so much like the way those three guys from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara or those two dying men from The Bucket List felt. I came back with a mind-blowing clarity, determined to take control and inspired so much I could have stood for the US state elections. It’s funny the way I think of it now. This is called inspired I feel.

 Would you like to share your first travel experience too? Was it similar to mine or a bit different? Comment below and lets talk about your exciting journey! 

My Travel Bucket List- India

As much as the word India irks me here, I would like to keep my travel bucket list real as of now. I am not really amused why India stands strong in various bucket-lists and itineries.

Here is my list of activities and adventures that would probably be featured again in this blog, in a real short span of time. The international list will follow in the next post.

Live in Kolkata for a year- Kolkata is the only Indian urban city that allures me. The vintage-charmed city offers delightful walks into its photogenic streets. Besides, I am an ardent lover of Jhumpa Lahiri.

Kolkata

Go for a solo vacation to Darjeeling- There is simply no reason I shouldn’t feature Darjeeling on this list. And I can’t figure out why I should take someone along while I am busy basking in all of its glory.  It’s not really the toy train or the tea gardens, its the enchanting beauty of staying in a valley, walking on its empty roads and confronting the majestically carved mountains.

Darjeeling

Get photographed in Kerala Backwaters- As I child, I often used to dream of a beautiful yellow-painted house situated in a lone place. Nobody knew of its existence or who built it.  It was probably my desire for an escape into the abstract. If I ever attempt to define solitude after my imaginary tryst with this bunglow, Kerela Backwaters would do it just right.

Kerela Backwaters

Hike the Zanskar Valley- Trekking is my passion and Zanskar Valley just fits right in this list.

Zanskar Valley

Visit the Lonar Crater (Again)- Lonar is an obscure village in Maharashtra, which I got to visit during my college days. One-of-its-kind in India, Lonar Crater lake is huge and grand. It appears to be like a hole in the earth and carries an intriguing  history for the curious.

Lonar Crater

Paint a wall in Mahim, Mumbai- Not everything can be explained and this is one of them. I can hardly paint a sheet in one colour or maximum two if I tried with effort, but street art is forever in vogue. Isn’t it?

Mahim Street art

Go for a long drive on GT Road, all by myself- I have sat in the back seat  of my car at least a 100 times on the GT Road, while visiting my extended family in North India. This one is my favorite for the splendid view of the lush green fields on both sides and some amazing dhabas along the way. I guess I am ready to savor the Punjabi food delicacies on the GT Road once again, this time letting go of the seat belt from the right side.

GT Road

Stand outside Mannat (Shahrukh Khan’s bunglow) and sing, ‘Tujhe Dekha to Ye Jaana Sanam’- An Indian girl just doesn’t simply grow up, she grows up to fall in love with Shahrukh and his films and his infectious smile and his charm. I am neck-deep drenched in awe of him and there is no way I am dying without doing this.

Shahrukh Khan

Not all images used in the post are mine. In fact, for the first time in the history of this blog, none is. If you have accidentally landed on the blog to find your picture being used, please note that they are helping me depict my hidden desires to the world. So, take pride that you are helping a poor little girl express herself. Don’t sue me. 

Karla Caves and Tikona Fort, Lonavla

I find it quite amusing that I started my last post crying over being far and away from my favourite weekend getaway, Lonavla and just two weeks later I ended up spending a day hiking over the Shaydris. I am in Mumbai, will be here for a couple of weeks.  A visit to a bookstore got me a copy of Nat Geo Traveller and I have just finished reading an article on the Monsoon trek options in the  Western Ghats and guess what I am already excited about! Monsoon in Maharashtra has taken over in full swing and the landscape is adorned with the brightest shade of green. Its time I put on my hiking boots, put my camera to use and find some words to describe the grandeur of the mountains. And I just got started already!

Last Sunday, I joined a group of nature-lovers for a one-day trek to Karla Caves and Tikona Fort, both located near Lonavla, Maharashtra.

Karla Caves

Karla Caves are ancient Buddhist cave shrine, built almost 2,200 years ago and are also the biggest rock-cut structure in Western India. An easy trail will take you to the glorious Caves. The cave walls are carved with ancient inscriptions and sculptures of elephants adorned with jewelries and ivory tusks. Along the path, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the landscape perfectly capped with a green cover.  I was joined by a group of enthusiastic adventure seekers, and we finished the trek in sharp 45 minutes, count 15 minutes walking back down.

Trekking the Karla Caves

Trekking the Karla Caves

Karla Caves Entrance

Karla Inside!

Karla Inside!

Karla Caves Inscriptions

Karla Caves Inscriptions

Tikona Fort

We set off from Karla Caves for the next trail, Tikona, a hill fort that were to take us up higher at 3500 feet. From Karla, Tikona can be reached via the roads which are almost heaven-like to travel in this season, all credits to the monsoon rain drops making love with the tantalizing breeze. What we experienced through the frames of the bus window was a spectacular celebration of monsoon at a grand scale. Add romantic music-pieces satisfying my ears and I could describe immense happiness there and then. I would call this experience extraordinarily special filled with emotions of gratitude towards nature and sheer contentment. It was the symphony of nature filled with the elements of romance, poetry, fierce and calm, the breathtaking vistas of the hills stole away the show.

The Happiest Shade of Green

The Happiest Shade of Green

And so, we reached the fort’s base point and the pinnacle appeared to be far away into the clouds. We firmly and carefully placed our shoe prints into the muddy earth and began this tiring-yet-adventurous climb up the fort.

The insurmountable pinnacle

The insurmountable pinnacle

The trek path was a bit steep and narrow at some parts in the middle.

Steeeeee-p

Steeeeee-p

The route is composed of undulating ridges, one after the other. Just keep climbing and you will spot various ramparts of this royal fort. It gets a little annoying here because just as you think you reached the top, another ridge will appear. Moreover, just near the end are the steeper steps, one equaling the size of the normal two, allowing only a person to climb at a time. Since, it kept raining all this while, the water flowed down making it an extremely difficult task to climb up. The group held hands and achieved the little victory of making it all the way into the clouds. We reached the top in one and half hours to a splendid view of the Pavna dam.

Pavna Dam resting in glory

Pavna Dam resting in glory

Just as the trail, the history of the fort is quite interesting. Tikona Fort has been under various dynasties including the Nizams, the Great Maratha warrior Shivaji and the Mughals, until the Marathas recaptured it back in 17th century. The power later transferred to the British and into the Indian government eventually.

Slip Slip Sliper

Slip Slip Sliper

The trek up till the Tikona Fort can be a little risky in the monsoons for the first-timers. The pathways during the season are slippery and you may need a helping hand here. It is advisable that you climb up the mountains in groups and carry all necessary equipment with you.

Some Facts I Got to Know During the Trip

  • With 350 forts, Maharashtra boasts the highest of their number in India.
  • Western Ghats are UNESCO hot-spot for bio-diversity.
  • Western Ghats are a result of volcanic eruptions that took place millions of years ago.
  • Western Ghats are 3rd highest to receive maximum rains in the world.