Travel therapy

I have spent initial years in school wondering what these mandatory annual trips in big families meant. I thought my family was not familiar with this concept or the budget would weigh us down, financially. This thought did not last longer as I started going to all the school trips every year for 5 years straight. It was bliss; a 10 days itinerary for Rajasthan or Karnataka sent to you after a long day at school, as an indication to start packing. It was exciting. A few excursions happened during the school years to nearby places, as well. The idea of chasing long stretches of road to reach a destination was ideal, I felt. As I inculcated a habit of reading books, I felt the need to visit the places mentioned in the book. Deciphering the beauty of a place would need you to be there literally, I thought. School tours kind of exerted influence on my travel journeys after that. A couple of years after shifting to Pune from Solapur in 2018, Holiday Planning 101 was aborted several times but it also led to an instantaneous trip to Tarkarli. My mom decided to accompany me since she needed a break by a beach. It was a good two day trip of devouring soulful seafood and waddling in the shallow waters for 2 hours straight, at dawn. Homestay was a great option that we went for, as it gave us the opportunity to interact with the locals. Mom and I got seafood from the market and the homestay owner cooked the perfect meal for us. I loved the idea. I felt happy about it. The idea of a global traveler, exploring the world fascinated me since the beginning. Another opportunity that I stumbled upon in 2019, when I was given a chance to present my research paper at a national conference in the land of coconut, toddy and men in Lungi; Kerala. During this holiday, very little exploring happened. It did include laying my eyes on the enormously tall coconuts trees in courtyards, watching a Malayalam movie without subtitles and trying to understand their language that sounded like Dothraki to me. A fun experience altogether. As of now, little experiences that include mingling with the locals, knowing their stories that they save to pass on to their generations and being continually exposed to new places holds more value for me. I recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Travel and tourism, aspiring to know more about the industry and willing to contribute to it as travel means more than just traversing through places for me. During the course, academic field trip to Rajasthan did add up to my experiences. Knowing more about the opulent lifestyles of the Royal families, the mirror aesthetics in the palaces, unconquered forts and the history attached to it was all mind blowing. That trip had the right set of circumstances where we could interact with the foreigners. It was apparent; they were amazed with all the history and grandeur that India has. The next and the very recent trip had been planned for Dubai. Initially an educational tour for two of my friends and I, was planned by the university but due to pandemic reasons it was all at halt for the next few months. A hasty decision to travel to Dubai was made and we flew as soon as the lockdown restrictions were lifted up. It was an unusual and even more of an interesting experience. A walk to a nearby food court at midnight only to enjoy some local delicacy is kind of an experience that one would barely forget.

The graduation part is a deep dive into tourism for me. Having to learn so much about the industry from a service provider’s perspective was one of the vital aspects of the course. Cultures, traditions, lifestyles, history, languages make us feel alive, I’ve learnt. Places are all about stories and TO KNOW is the happiness that I crave for. To resonate with a place in a way and fully live through the intangible experience is ‘travel’ for me. The journey has been great so far but I realize that there are two sides to a coin and I am up for anything because everything counts for an experience. . I’m planning on doing things differently in the tourism industry at least make people aware of the urgency to travel now more than ever. People are in awe of India, I want to definitely do something about it positively. I wish to travel more and to never lose the sense of wonder, letting the exploration happen in my own way. I realize that there is a lot for me to work on, but that only means there’s so much more to have the knowledge of!

Rajasthan – Cynosure of Bhansali’s big hit

Part 3

The next day I woke up to a fuss. My friends were bustling around, in the room ,speaking in a hushed tone. Before I said a word, I was told to show up at the breakfast table, along with my luggage, as we were checking out right after. At full tilt, I got ready , wrapped my stuff and made it to the table in no time . I gazed at the deliciously attractive breakfast while my friends were gobbling down the food with all possible haste, already.
Everyone at the table were having a good time until Ma’am asked us to make it quick. At once, we all marched towards the coach ,dragging the luggage behind us.

The journey could have been more fun if some of us would not be snoring loudly , lolling our heads on each others shoulders and dozzing off but it was tiring , how we mooched around the market the previous evening.Good music and a long journey is a mood, we all know.Hrishikesh, being the Debbie Downer of our group ,for a change ,came up to us with glad tidings-an announcement regarding the lunch. ‘Si, Si” and we all hopped down at a Dhaba in Bhilwara . A meal after the so called diurnal nap was indeed pleasurable. We ordered a few cold drinks against eventuality as it was goshdarn hot and Chittorgarh was approximately 60 miles farther away.

On arrival at Chittor fort’s foothills , there were gypsys, awaiting us .The journey from the foothills to the fort in OPEN gypsies was supposed to be pleasant but remember the month we were travelling in?Exactly.The gypsy drivers were escorts themselves ,that helped us get the right information of the history of the former capital of Mewar. The fact that it is a world heritage site had made us more attentive. (howbeit, we had to submit a report afterall.)
The fort was not exactly as I imagined it to be. My eyes rolled in all directions, over 700 acres, that boasted the ruins of the palaces, fortess,temples,etc. Exhausted by ages of existing and watching glories, battles and generations ,the ruins appeared fragile.The main area of the palace was called as Kumbha mahal. That was the area where the royal family lived.The fun fact was, it had a secret undergroud passage for women to reach the bathing area without being seen ,to the nearby pond.Honestly, such facts interest me .Thereafter, I was heaved to Jain and Hindu temples in the area.Now I know, being an atheist cannot be an excuse to not visit temples because the carved deities on the doors and most importantly , the ‘shikaras‘ are worth capturing.

We got back into the gypsies to proceed towards Vijay stambh- a tall pillar built on the occasion of the victory of Rana Kumbha over sultan of Malwa.Open gypsies were a reason we could all yell and greet the natives,straight up . The women mostly blushed and the men giggled in their hoarse voices. Speaking of Vijay Stambh , there are numerous hindu deities carved on the pillar, that depict the nine avatars of Vishnu. The interesting part about history and the elderly generation is that ,everything around them has a story to tell and trust me, Rajasthan is all about stories.

The next stop was at Queen Padmini’s Palace. For most of us who had no clue of a famous beauty at that time, Sanjay Leela Bhansali( a known bollywood film director) sort of enlightened us. Although he had to face a lot of condemnation for portyal of the stories in the newfangled way, he managed to release the movie, sooner or later .

Stories of ” Rani Padmavati” are exceptionally dearer to the Rajput community and that was reflected through the way they narrated it.
“The tale began in the early 12th century” the guide exclaimed “Rawal Ratan Singh who was a noble ruler of the kingdom of Mewar , had fourteen queens, the youngest one being the honoured, Rani Padmini.Her beauty was compared to the Indra’s celestial nymphs and her skin was so transparent that when she would drink water it could be easily seen through her throat”.

This isn’t a convincing story, I thought to myself. Also these things can be easily spurned ,meaning, the tales were either exaggerated or were a gush of hyperbole but it is undeniable that the queen must have been a real beauty. Inspite of watching the movie(Padmavat) and dealing with the whole’ short attention span ‘ issue, I buttoned my lips and listened to him. He went on…”Alauddin Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi, when heard about her beauty expressed his desire to meet her. Although Rawal Ratan Singh would not let that happen, he agreed on showing him, her reflection. Having Khilji’s eyes laid on her reflection,Khilji was startled by her beauty and wanted her for himself. Directly after, he attacked the fort to win her over, but she commited Jauhar (self immolation), thereby defeating Khilji’s aim and their honour”.Not to mention but this part of the fort had my attention for the longest time.

Just after we thought, we were done acknowleding the grandeur of the city of Chittorgarh, the gypsy drivers took us to the local handicrafft store. We walked in, nudging each other, hoping we would find something to fill our display racks back at home .I wouldnt say we do not have a materialistic lifestyle, but a very few of us actually bought the souveniers. But the scented sarees had our attention. A ‘saree’ is an ideal gift for women in India and thats what a few dutiful sons and daughters did; got a couple of them for their mothers.

After having sensed a very vibrant and zesty vibe, seeking through the handicrafts and handlooms in there, we made a departure. The rest of the little story at that place, revolves around me being shitscared by the monkeys and getting mocked (hopefully one last time)by my friends.

It was time to check in at some hotel .As much as I know of, all my friends are very enthusiastic about new hotel rooms. That somehow made them act like they were bitten by bugs. Nevermind, we all are ludicrous beings. Against all our expectations of the journey to the resort, we were undergoing a scary transfer.We travelled a long way inland to a large clearing, when most of us, fretted uncharacteristically. Except things took a turn for the better( quite literally) ; Ma’am announced that our next stay would be Jungle Resort.The announcement brought with it a long pause followed by an applause.( I had started to believe, that was just a puerile way to show excitement).
I peered at the surrounding from afar. I could locate a few rooms and a dimly lit big space in the forefront.I am terrible at the guessing game, but this somehow felt right. Since the coach could’nt go too far from the main road ,the jeeps picked and dropped us at the resort, in turns.

Immediately after shifting my luggage to the room, I approached the big lawn-like space in the forefront. The view embraced benches arranged with eatables on them and set of chairs hidden partially in the dark .Not to overlook, the music system in the obscure corner ,that resembled a bigger version of a ghetto box .I’d always cherish this unforeseenly calm and heartneing welcome except for the pups that hopped between our chairs while we enjoyed the ‘pakodas’. Well, our joyous moods had different reasons.
A full course dinner followed by dancing and chattering under the stars, relatively far away from the city noise was an ideal night. I would like to elaborate on “chattering under the sky”.We shared scary stories, snarled and spared no effort to make vicious noises. That was just an attempt to make it a remarkable,spooky night, which it was. Just when I thought it would get better , it did. We had a little horse riding session, right before we retired for the night. Well ,all the more details of the day would just be plethoric. Sigh.

Regal Forts of the Royals

Part 2

At 11 , the next morning, we had reached the “seat of power”- The Amer Fort. An elephant ride to the fort would have been like reliving the past all over cobbled pathways. But since we had a lot of zoophilists in our group, it was a big no-no. Anyway, Jeeps would cost us more than KFC’s tenders and wedges so we chose our limbs! (T’was a tough one. No?). The elevation looked too much for my knees.(I feel like an old woman in many ways).My sudden dramatic proclamation that I would be ‘crawling’ all the way up had shocked and perplexed my coterie of friends, except for Rasika- who had unvarying intensions. The well-versed group of mates was thrilled to visit a UNESCO world heritage site but for chumps like me and my little team, all the efforts were merely to witness the locations where Jodha Akbar, Bajirao Mastani, Khoobsurat, Bhool Bhulaiyya, etc were shot.

Ganesh Pol

“The hard part is over,” I thought to myself on reaching the Jaleb Chowk-the soldier quarters.We noticed we had reached the gate only when we spotted a steady flow of foreigners waiting for entry tickets. That was when we traced double entrances, Chand Pol and Suraj Pol for the Royal family and the commoners. We commenced with the greatly emphasized Ganesh Pol- the majestic looking gateway that provided access to the private areas of the Palace.It had diminutive windows on the superior portion, known as Suhag mandir, through which the queens could witness the victory parades. That was just a glimpse of the opulent lifestyles of the royal families in the past.In the heartland, we started with Diwan-i-Khas, the hall of private audience, a now, foyer complex, where the king met his subjects and officials. Then we traversed along with the Sheesh Mahal (Rendezvous Hall of the Royals), which boasted the mirror aesthetics. That was when I overheard a guide mentioning about the fact that only 2 candles could be enough to light up the whole complex. I fancy infinite reflections and intricate work for I’ve watched too much of Bhansali’s work recently and I’d bet he does too. I kept bumping into more foreigners as I was making my way to the Shila Devi temple.It is believed that the king offered prayers in the temple, before wars. Some even suggest that human sacrifices were made here.Further, into the searing setting, I could see Diwan-i-Aam which was an assembly hall where the king would address the problems of the commonality. And the last remark being, Sukh Niwas – The Private Hall of Pleasure where the king rested. The place of ivory-emblazoned sandalwood doors stimulating olfactory senses was glee. Although history had never amazed me, neither have I been a fan of it, but the queer stories of the royal families and the elegant designs had resonated with me so well, I sensed the blessedness.

As the noon wore on, we dined at a local restaurant where I forcibly gulped down a couple of beverages to uphold myself in the heat. But I was warned that I won’t be able to get rid of the uncanny feeling while we drive uphill through the rickety gateways to the 18th-century fort, Nahargarh.

On reaching the parking space, I was told that we had to walk for a a while to get to the fort.The only motivation, we collectively had, was a water dispenser! Yes.(Incase you’re wondering about the juice I gulped down earlier, yeah I was mocked by these asses,for that)
During that  15 minutes brisk walk to the fort, I broke 2 things and was about to break the third.First and foremost,One of my saviour friends, Hrishikesh’s cellphone, followed by his heart and lastly,on the brink of breaking , my head!
Unexpectedly, he did not hammer my head, instead gave a disconcerting smile!(Im still embarassed. tbh.)
I realised, things were back to normal when everyone had started looking for the water dispensers again! Apparently, the ones who sprinted, could track one.
Meandering in and around the only unconqueredfort had led us to corridors decorated with delicate murals.The guide told us tales of the fort, built by Sawai Madhi Singh,and that, it had 12 matching boudoirs for the queens, at the head of which was a suite for the king. It wasnt late for us to realise that the queen chambers were all connected through secret passeges to the king’s suite. (KA BOOOM! cool kids of the royal family) This place was smeared with coutyards and little spaces.The spendid view into the valley that once constituted the kingdom of Amer and far beyond,from atop the fort, cannot be overlooked (I’d bet dollars to doughnuts.)After a lot of vagabonding, all of us , one after one ,gathered under a shady tree. A few almost took a catnap there.

Jal Mahal

On our way back to the resort ,we had a photostop at the most photographed monument in India-the Jal Mahal, that floats in the centre of the Man sagar lake.Although the reach of the monument is off limits, we spent a beautiful evening around there. I wouldn’t lie about the calm view of the water palace amidst the chaos of Jaipur.The day did not end there.Before returning to the resort, we all stopped at the Bapu Market for bargain hunting.

I was sure of the amazing night that was approaching .It was Sayali’s birthday and we were about to have a small celebration at night followed by Antakshari by the pool.We actually brought into being, the idea of a little birthday bash.It almost made me miss my little soirees back at home.

PS . All the photographs are clicked by the same guy who’s phone I broke. 🙂

A Whiff of Royalty in the ‘Pink City’

Part 1
I had calmed down enough to face the fact that I was about to travel to Rajasthan in ‘summer’. My followers would know, I travel to places at worst times possible. Even though it was an ill-timed decision of the university, my classmates were doing the happy dance soon after the announcement.
We had an early morning flight from Pune to Jaipur on April first and all the fools had reached the airport well in advance(they could barely contain their excitement) .The rest of the time was spent, restlessly touring the airport. Shortly afterwards, our professor, Miss Aarti drew nearer, squinting at us, repeating the announcement.
Most of my friends were going to have their first flight experience and they definately did a decent job staying calm. Although, things went out of control when a few of them started busting a groove right before the aircraft! Just an hour after then, we had already landed in Jaipur-the Pink City.

Lovely Mornings! -Blue pre-dawn skies and the birds drawing buoyant hues across it. Truth be told, the awaiting coach made us feel more composed and glad.We dragged ourselves into the bus and dozzed off, the moment later. We woke up, only to discover a Heritage resort- our stay , for a couple of days.The check-in process took some time ,but it was worth the wait. The exquisite interiors adorned with antique furnishing and elaborate carvings had made our day,already.The swimming pool at the centre, was a cherry on the cake!

After the breakfast, we headed to Jaipur City Palace, which was around half an hour away from our stay. Each one of us had done a little research, prior to the trip. That being so, all of us were equally exhilarated. As we made our way up to the palace gradually , we could see a glimpse of Mughal and Rajput architecture divulging.The gate itself beared witness to the royal designs.

Walking through Udai pol(one of the entry gates), led us to an open area,that had a hall-‘Diwan-i-aam’, right in the heart of the place.This area of the complex gave a sense of history repeating. Magnificient chandeliers, rifles, swords and spears on the wall were no surprise to me. All I remember, of this maximum city, the last time I visited, was this area.To the left, were the water vessels that had water from the great Ganges, they say. As much of a twerp that I am, the particular Ganges mention made me realise of my misdeeds, nevermind. I surveyed Chandra Mahal,the one with coloured glasswork and azure coloured walls, reflecting, not only the royal designs,but also ,day trippers hovering around with cameras. Ignoring my appetite, I followed my team to Mubarak Mahal that had collection of Pashmina shawls , Banaras sarees, royal costumes and prints.
As I continued meandering across the halls ,gardens,and the Mahals,I kept bumping into amazed foreigners that remarked ,”An ideal place for art and history enthusiasts! No?”and I couldn’t agree more.

By noon, I was super hungry and so were all my pals. Although the summer heat had gotten us, we had commonly agreed to try the street food . Too many options had left us baffled but we managed to treat our uneasy stomachs.’Pyaj ki kachodi’, ‘Chole Kulche’,’Daal Puri’,’Daal Baati Churma’ and the options went on…I was full to bursting and craved for a bed more than I craved for food,sometime ago . I strongly suspected that a few friends would be equally whacked. I couldn’t hold myself back and so I blurt out the idea of returning to the bus. The word went along, until all of us decided to leave the survey and get back to the bus.The consequences were acute and yet, like I mentioned, at that instant, the bed was the catch. On our way back, we had a prolonged discussion on carved marbles, mirrors and murals and the gorgeous latticework that had left us all aghast. Moreover, we spotted the most recognised landmark, The Hawa Mahal, only to have a glimpse of the floral motifs and numerous windows from afar.

Carrying my extremely worn out body, I crawled up my bed and passed out (yeah, almost that). Weird enough, I dreamt of my girl friends crushing me to one side of the bed. It took me 4 hours to get back to my senses and realise it wasn’t just a dream. Just a couple of minutes after I woke up, I walked out all ready for the dinner.
The dinner was a feast for the eyes and appetite,both. The menu had over 5 dishes spread including deserts.I was glad I missed the supper. Post dinner, a session of silly chatter followed by dawdling in and around the resort , was a pleasant end, for the day. A few of my buddies missed out on the fun, but doubtless their regret for that would eventually be as great.

The Green Paradise

Part 4

Hows it going? Y’all! So this part of the blog has highlights of the next couple of days I spent in and around the “green paradise”-Wayanad( native place of the devil).

The following day, we were all set to visit the Edakkal Caves.

My stomach is usually calm in the morning but Devil forced me to have a meal before we left. He apprised that our bodies might burn up to 150000000 calories in the next few hours.(He cannot ever stop scaring me, but I am grateful it weren’t his ideas this time! )
On the way to the Caves , Devil briefed us about the place. “Edakkal caves are known for the rocks from the Neolithic Age that have geometrical patterns and pictorial paintings on them, even now.It is located 1200 mts. above sea level …”and he went on. and I wished I could tell him that all I could think about was, 5.5 trillion degrees Celsius above our heads!
Devil’s cousin had decided to guide us all the way up to the caves (he would regret it, but let him take his time!)
We hiked and hiked for quite a long time.Soon I located a major stop where I could see enough people to conclude the hike. I almost thought we reached the caves! but the Devil was kind enough to inform that it was a ticket counter and that was where the journey was supposed to begin from .(I would weep buckets but I had deadlines knocking my door)
More to that, I caught a sight of a few monkeys and it left me thinking ,If Apes evolved from monkeys, then why are these creatures still existing?! I could barely do anything about it, you know.

For the rest of the hike , I stopped for breaks on every level ,gasped for breath and fought off . But there came a time when I was convinced I would never move again. The only thought that kept me going after that was the thin air, up the hill that Sai had reminded me of.Sai had long gone , when I was still on my way up. As I climbed my mind could think only of the next few steps!

Then we visited Banasura sagar dam ,across the Karamanathodu River,a tributary of River Kabini, in Kalpetta. Devil fills with pride when he speaks about this dam which is earth’s largest dam in India and the second largest in Asia. The dam is ideally placed in the foothills of Banasura hills. Later, we visited Karalad lake which expands in seven acres and is known for adventure sports. We had Karalad and Pookode Lake in our itinerary. We also had a stop at a viewpoint at Thamarassery Ghats,on our way back.

This place has my heart!


Part -3

Its 7.00 am, I am wide awake and shaking inexplicably. I am sitting on the chair, right next to the bed, muted and thinking about all the worst possibilities of messing up the paper presentation. I can’t help but envy Sai who is fast asleep. As much as I know that it is futile, I have slapped her ass quite a few times to get her out of the dreams! All I can do now is  calm myself , munch on the Pringles and wait for the devil to give her a call.

An hour of performing stridently in the bathroom, I am fresh out of bath, while Sai and the devil are discussing our attire for today.This is how quick she is  with her chores when the devil is around.The Devil wants us to wear something casual and be comfortable . Here, they don’t have any dress code , this is something that I am really impressed by. Anyway, we have mutually decided to wear semi-formals to stick the standards.

We are now headed for the breakfast . Devil and Kavi are planning to order ‘puri’ .Sai and I , as usual are uncertain. Since we have never been  fans of South Indian food , we have ordered Masala Dosa as a challenge for ourselves. We are totally enamoured of being challenged.(You know how this started!).My eyes are locked on the waiter who is approaching us with huge plates .I am staring at the plates and I’m appalled . There’s too much on the platter- several types of  chutneys and a huge Dosa. Me and Sai are already regretting challenging ourselves , more to that, the devil is giving us that smile.I hate it! Greatest Irony of all times- the devil has managed to finish his food and me and sai have leftovers on our plates. Happens!

Done with breakfast and we are on our way to Newman college- the venue of our conference. The campus  is as beautiful as of the one located up the hills. Beautiful Malayali girls draped in traditional saree have walked us through the registration.We have been given the conference kit as well. Now, we are good to go!

We are all seated in the hall ,awaiting  the Chief guest – Prof. Amrit Sen , head of the Department of English at Visva Bharti University , Kolkata, for the keynote speech on Cultural Studies. Devil teaches us cultural studies so we are actually able to understand the lecture but now the chief guest has started to speak Greek and Latin! so theres a possibility that me and Sai might doze off!

After a brief  inaugural session, We have a lunch break now. They are serving authentic kerala meal. Me and Sai are nervous about the conference, thus we have lost our appetite.We don’t want Devil to know about this, so we have our plates full, right in front of us. The boiled rice is difficult  to chew so we have decided to go for the sour things on the plate. After our lunch, Devil has introduced to us, a new dish- Kallapam.It resembles an Idli. It is soft and fluffy ,best part, being the fact that it is made up of Toddy. Now ,Devil is introducing us to Shilpa, Jerome Sir’s wife , who will be chairing our session. She seems sweet but wouldn’t be helping us on the stage. This thought has brought us back to our nervousness .As we walk back to the presentation hall, we are nervous and excited at the same time!

We have entered the hall and Frankly, I, no more have a sinking stomach. Since all the paper presenters have time limit , four papers are already done and we are up next. The  presentations before us have been carried out swiftly- it is not going to be that tough, we are convinced. As we are whispering among ourselves, we are startled by the call for our names. Before I am back to my senses,  Sai has already started well: confident, clear and loud. 

 Im quickly going through the highlights so that I’m ready to go. 

I have started with panic .One glance at the audience and I see, a few of them smiling.(this almost brought an end to my nervousnes). I am trying my best to be clear and loud and cover the paper in time.A couple of minutes more , and I am finally done with it! Sai and I, are exchanging wide smiles and I have gotten off the stage. Now, the chair person is asking us questions based on our paper and guess what? My bosom buddy, Sai, has managed to answer all the questions mind-blowingly. 

The Devil is super happy, and he cannot stop smiling. He’s been telling us how proud he is!.Well,  I believe it was the most amazing experience ever!(All thanks to the devil) Sai and I, want to go back to our room and celebrate already, but we have to wait for the devil to get done with his session. Now we have a tea break . Along with the tea, we are snacking on Chakka ada- a sweet dish wrapped in a leaf, made up of ripened jackfruit. After the break, Devil will be having his session.

The Devil is done with his paper soon after we entered the hall and now we are forced to sit throughout the session for no reason. Sai and I ,are helplessly looking at each other because we are hungry AF . Kavi, meanwhile , has come up with the idea of leaving the hall without devils consent . Doubtless, we hold the same kind of opinions when it comes to Devil. This woman is savage and I love the fact that she has the best comebacks ever. We are following her out while devil is staring at us blankly. 

Since we have been wandering around the campus, looking for a cafe, a distant noise has piqued our curiosity. We are all walking towards  the direction of the noise .I have caught myself staring at unusual sight of students dancing to loud music, right outside the college. I don’t think I know what’s happening. Kavi is explaining to us of the extraordinary Valentines Day Celebration in Kerala. I mean….. How cool is that?! 

As soon as we are back, we find that Devil is done with his session. A fleeting meet and greet followed by a brief photo session- we are done for the day! . Manu has offered to drop us and we are on the way back to our hotel. We will be relaxing until dinner time. Sai and I  are into the sheets again!, calling up our families to share every segment of TODAY . Just then, Kavi has come knocking on the door for Food. God, I love this woman!. Meanwhile, the devil has brought us some red velvet cake.(he can be THE nicest person, sometimes.)

This meeting is fun! The highlights of which are  random discussions on our favourite food , games and movies. We have learnt, we all have pretty much the same amount of love for cards and hence, a game session is planned after the dinner. Who else, but the devil will get the cards!(very obvious).Anyway, we have to hurry up for the dinner since the chief guest is going to be there. Well, Dinner with the chief guest  is a pleasure indeed!  

Dinner time is going great -a lot of discussions and debates on  music, movies, serials and what not.I am in love with this day! 

Done with the dinner and we are in our bed, chit chatting again. I can hardly wait for the time , when I see the devil with the  cards. Another 55376483465 hours and the devil has arrived. Although he has managed to get the cards after wandering for couple of hours on the streets, in return, we have planned on ditching him with the card game session!

In the land of coconut, toddy, and men in lungi.

Part 2

We have just arrived at the Cochin International airport, and it already feels good. There is a sense of calmness outside the airport with warm air blowing around. It is 5 in the morning and guess what, Sai and I are rushing to the washroom. It was one and a half hours flight, but alas, our bladders never co-operate with us. We leave our luggage with the Devil who is busy booking the cab.

The Cochin International airport cannot be compared to the Lohegaon airport by any means. It’s enormous, gives me the impression of a colossal palace when looked from the outside. This is more luxurious, and the strictness of the air force base in Pune is absent here. We were free to click pictures here (the Devil, as usual, mentions that as we get into the cab) unlike it was in Pune.
The luggage is stuffed into the cab, and we are eager to find a place to get some rest. The Devil is taking us to his best friend’s home. Anyway, we wouldn’t wait for the bed, it’s just been 15 minutes of the drive, and we are fighting our drooping eyelids. We are woken up by the Devil, and he is struggling to find the apartment now. Apparently, he has not visited his friend for a long time. I am surprised to see Sai being woken up by him. She is a nocturnal creature, how come she also slept during the journey? I have felt that I should refer to her as a Bat, a nocturnal who migrates to a warmer climate.

Devil is standing in front of a building which he believes is the right one (really?), and we are standing along with him looking as ugly as possible. The lift opens, and a guy who resembles a co-actor from some Malayalam movie I have watched in distant past walks out. He is too adorable to be described. They meet, greet and punch each other (curious ways of showing friendship), and Sai and I have already started giggling. Their language sounds like Dothraki to us. Malayalis are funny people, I think. Anyway, we’ve reached his apartment and are being introduced to his family. We are given a room, and all I can do now is thank them for a huge ass bed! Good night.

It is 9 in the morning, and I’m lying here in a foetal position with no intention to get out of the bed. I am looking at my phone screen (that’s the first thing I do when I wake up), and I have 2 missed calls from no one but the devil (of course!). He has already gone for an outing with his best friend. And here, my best friend wouldn’t move her leg so that I can get to the other side of the bed. We are supposed to get ready within half an hour, and there is no possibility that we will be bathing today, irrespective of the weather. We are waiting for the instructions from the Devil, and once I managed to shook her up, Sai is busy prepping herself for the outdoors.

The breakfast is served- Idli, chutney and sambar; the consistency of the chutney is unusual. I have never been a fan of south Indian food but my ‘Premacha chai’ is keeping me seated here. One sip from the cup and I have passed on my first judgement, Kerala doesn’t serve good chai!

Done with the breakfast and quick goodbyes, we are on our way to Thodupuzha- the venue of our conference. The Devil is sitting right next to his friend while Sai and I are sitting on the back seat rolling all over, munching on chips and enjoying the ride. This guy, Manu, has the sweetest smile and the funniest accent. Moreover, he is Culés (Barca fan). I’ve been noticing him for a while, and I think I have found somebody with a similar taste.

It has been a while on the road now, and I find myself staring out of the window, observing the traditional bungalows, the highlighted toddy shops and the Malayali language on the boards. On the way, I just caught sight of the enormously tall coconut trees standing linear in the courtyard, while closer to the eye level grew the coffee plantations. The middle-aged men roaming around in their lungis gives a sense of odd, simple, rustic life. I say odd because I find their dressing a bit shoddy and the villages (whatever these people have referred to as villages) here are quite different from the village life I have seen in Maharashtra.
“This is it.” I agree with all the Kerala bloggers mentioning about this place being a paradise. ‘Could I live in a gorgeous place like this?’ I am asking myself.

The devil has announced the last-minute change in the plan (I usually opt for a power nap when he makes announcements in the class, but I can’t do that to him here) that we will be taking a detour to visit Nirmala college. I am least interested in visiting any college, but the fact that it is on top of a hill has made it exciting for me. I can’t wait to get out of the car for I’ve been feeling nauseatic since a while now. Distracting myself for a while and I realise, we’ve just crossed too many shades of green, a few boards (I have given up on decoding their language) and a few subsequent speed bumpers contributing to the nauseatic sense in my stomach. The narrowed pathways are working as hints for me. That’s right, we have arrived at the location. Amazing! This is different: sprawling green campus, well-organised lanes, huge buildings and minimum noise. I’d simply put it this way- beauty that inspires. What exactly do we have in Pune?

Manu has disappeared, leaving a message. We have another 20 mins to explore the campus and get back into the car. I am assuming he will be back asap. Devil is influenced by us and has made the right choice of not leaving the comfort of the car; instead decided to chit chat about the conference. Our discussion related to the conference is diverted halfway to the fun Devil and his friends have had during their teenage years. Of course, it is kickstarted by the beautiful Kerala girls walking around in the campus in traditional saree. I must say, they are beautiful. Anyway, I see Manu approaching us, and we are on the way.

If there are no more detours, we will be heading straight to the hostel near the conference venue. We are eager to get to the room and prepare ourselves for the conference because Devil has made it clear that he does not want us to read out the paper. Anyway, as I have mentioned before, hunger overpowers my every other emotion. I’m hungry, and I really need something to fill my belly. I am trying to divert myself by noting down all the Malayalam words I’ve by hearted during this ride that would probably help me deal with the Devil in future.

We are halting at some hotel now, to have lunch, maybe. Devil has pulled our bags out, and we are confusedly following him. I’m trying to figure out, where the hostel can possibly be located. I am trying to decode the boards again. I don’t see a hostel anywhere around, and I’m guessing we will be staying here for the rest of the days. We are given the keys, and I have guessed it right! I cannot be more thankful to this guy ever. No time to waste, we must rush into the room (What if he has a change of mind?). Wow! It’s a nice air-conditioned room with large cupboards to stuff our socks. Yeah, you heard it right- socks. They stink like hell, trust me. Anyway, we have freshened up, after a long wait gets the call from Devil to go out for lunch.

We are planning to order biryani. I don’t have to wait for too long because the restaurant is located right next to our stay. The Old man (yeah, the Devil is way too old for us.) too has opted for biryani, but I doubt if he is going to finish all of it because he is fond of wasting food. The Biryani is served, and I’m waiting for the complimentary salad. The devil has already started eating, and I have realised that nothing complimentary is going to be served. Guess what? I have passed on my second judgement, their serving sucks. Anyway, the Biryani has not disappointed me, it has brought an end to my nauseatic feeling as well. Well, that helped. We are done with lunch. As expected, this guy has his biryani half wasted yet is walking out of the hotel with a broad grin on his face. Never mind! Some people will never get it.

We’ve been rehearsing for the past 2 hours, and it’s time for a chai break. I’m going to have coffee, I think. We are wandering on the streets of Thodupuzha, for beverages and a few print outs we will need for the next day. Finally, we have gotten into a reasonably good café cum shop and have ordered according to our choices. In the middle of a conversation, I’m sitting here muted, staring at something I’ve been craving since forever. Pringles! I’ve decided to buy 2 boxes for myself and 1 for Sai. No, the Devil gets nothing.

We are searching for a Xerox shop for the last 10 minutes, and I guess it is a lost cause. We’ve given up, and suddenly a bike stops right in front of us. The Devil is rejoiced and is talking to the new guy. He has a lot of beard, but it is well trimmed, unlike that of the Devil. Jerome, one of Devil’s friends. I don’t know what’s the matter with me, but every person I meet here reminds me of some or the other actor from some Malayalam movie. We are done greeting him, and now we are tracing the roots back to our rooms.

We are back to our rooms and have no plans until dinner time. I think I’m going to try beef and porotta for dinner. Devil was explaining about the most appealing flatbreads this afternoon. It is a speciality here. Sai and I have crawled up the bed, hiked up the air conditioner and gotten all cosy with no intention of getting out of the bed until the devil comes banging at our doors.

Its 9 pm, we have surprisingly woken up without the alarms. I’ve already started munching on the Pringles, and Sai is getting ready for the dinner. We are planning to bum around with the dirty pyjamas on. The devil is here to wake us up and is stunned to see us all ready for the dinner. This is a rare scenario. By the way, I’m using the cupboards to hide my pringles because the devil wouldn’t let me have some more.
We are back at the same restaurant where we had our lunch in. We have ordered porotta and beef as decided. Sai and I decided to take just one each since we are not hungry. Devil has that evil grin on his face yet again. He has ordered some vegetarian dish to go with 2 porottas. 15 minutes of looking here and there, the dinner is served.

The porotta is amazingly different from the usual ones I’ve ever had. It is layered, soft, fluffy and has no stuffing in it. Similarly, beef has no bones, unlike chicken which is the most common meat I get to eat in Pune. It is soft, tender and mixes well with all spices. It tastes better than most other meat. It’s delicious. Apparently, this has become my favourite delicacy in Kerala. And as I am ordering my second porotta, I can see that grin growing wide on his face. I hate it! Anyway, I am glad, he didn’t waste food tonight.My tummy is full, and I need my bed and blanket now. We are back in the room, and the devil has some news for us (does it ever end?). The chief guest has arrived, and he will be staying in the very next room. It feels good to know that we get to stay in the same place as the chief guest. Also, a few faculty members have come to check on our comfort and to ensure that our needs are being taken care of. Devil has one of his friends coming; Kavi, who is a faculty member as well. She will be staying with us in our room.As soon as this is informed to us, Sai and I have gotten our asses to work. We do not want her to know the kind of mess we are. She will find it out at some point, but not today! We’ve stuffed our clothes in the trolley bags, and the trolley bags are squeezed in the cupboards. The table is all cleaned, and the chips are crushed into the drawers. We are done cleaning and are back inside the sheets, awaiting her arrival.
The socks are in the dustbin!

Kerala: God’s Own Country with Devil’s Own People.

Part 1

My First Flight.

I’m all excited. Tonight I’m going to board my first flight ever, and I’m going to God’s Own Country (with the Devil as my guide), Kerela. I have always dreamt of how it would be to fly and used to spend most of my time watching youtube videos of masses enjoying on their flights. I cannot help imagine how exciting this is going to be.
And there he calls! The Devil has announced his arrival at my gate. How could this guy possibly look this cute! (Well, looks can be deceptive). It should have ended as a thought in my mind; alas! I blurt that out loud, and now he is standing in front of me with his quirky smile!

I forgot to mention, the entire journey is about us, Sai—my partner in crime—and I deciding to present a paper at a National Conference in Kerala when the Devil, our English teacher, who challenged us to write a research paper on Game of Thrones. The moment he is in my house, the discussion is diverted to the conference and the plans he has made for us in Kerala. As Sai, Geet—my sister—and I are sitting patiently and listening (do we have a say in this?), my mother prepares coffee for the Devil. He chose to take just one bite of the sweet offered to him. Really?

I wonder what made me ask him for a challenging task! The price we had to pay was really high. We were forced to go to the college every day (that is mandatory otherwise too, but we were denied the freedom of occasionally bunking a day or two) and the next three weeks turned out to be terribly tiring! Surprisingly, we managed to finish our paper well within the deadline! Dealing with the Devil has its own benefits, I guess.

And it has its cons as well; for a 02.45 am flight, he is forcing us to leave at 11 pm itself when the airport is hardly an hour away. I am fine with it, at least for now. After all, my first flight is awaiting me there, and I enter the cab struggling to contain my excitement. Do I look calm? I guess I do, I have done a decent job to stay normal although, in my mind, I have already boarded the flight!
An hour’s journey and here we are, at the Pune International Airport. I feel a sense of achievement. It may sound silly, but for someone who grew up looking up at the aeroplanes, going crazy about them and is on the urge of getting an aircraft inked on the body, it most definitely feels like an achievement. The security check is done (that was not fun!), and now we have to wait for almost two hours before we board. Meanwhile, the beautiful and artistic bottles of different colours are smiling at us from the wine shop, and my smile in return is stopped halfway through by the cold stare from the Devil! (Seriously, this old man is too boring).

As always, hunger overpowers my other emotion, and I am in search of Pringles now. There they are, and now I am overwhelmed! I have been searching for those for quite some time now, and now when I have finally found it, it costs more than a Subway meal. I think I’d rather buy nuggets! (This is the first and the last time I’ll be choosing something over pringles)

KFC’s food is fine, but my heart goes out to the Pringles staring at me from a distance. As I helplessly munch on my nuggets, Devil’s phone rings informing us that it is the time to board.

Finally, the moment is here. I wish I could click a picture with all these airships in the background, but the airport is maintained by the air force and photography is strictly prohibited here. Honestly, it didn’t affect my enthusiasm much as I boarded the flight with increasing excitement.I’m given the window seat, neither of them asked for it. It’s about to take off, and I can see it skittering across the runway and boom! I think my bodily homeostasis is disturbed!