Monday, 29 September 2008


Looking at the dog-eared, weather-beaten copy of Gregory David Robert's Shantaram i have on my travel shelf (bought in Varanasi for 450 Rs), alongst other memorabilia like my bottle of Lao rice whiskey and a Cambodian krama (silk scarf) draped over my assortment of worn guidebooks and travel literature, i never fail to be reminded of India. The many places i have been to - colonial Madras, cultured yet humble, the sea wind, laden with salt, blowing in from the Bay of Bengal in French-flavoured Pondicherry, sitting by the beachside promenade on the evenings and joining the hundreds who come out to take a stroll and enjoy the evening breeze, the light fading fast across the ocean, and later joining the queue for a 10 rupee bowl of bread with potato curry at the line of makeshift stalls opposite a huge statue of the Mahatma, Ghandiji. And sun-drenched Mahabalipuram, visiting the famous stone carvings at the Five Rathas and the Shore temple on a rented bicycle, later road tripping to nearby Tirukalikundram where Dravidian temples rise colourfully amongst verdant paddy fields and the organised chaos of concrete dwellings, telephone wires, heaps of rubbish, wandering cows and crazed traffic. And Delhi, Amritsar, Attari-Wagah, Agra, Varanasi... All those memories, those places i have been to, those days of my life i have spent there...

I feel a strong affinity to these places - where i feel at once so much a stranger, sticking out like a sore thumb, yet so much at home, and especially now, missing these places where i've spent time, made friends, laughed, been squeezed like sardines on buses zooming across the expansive, lonely Indian countryside, chased trains, slept at railway stations.... It's like Gregory Robert's Bombay, the effect India has on me. My India. It feels at once so much like home and so new, so exciting, so enthralling. I will, in fact i think i have to go back to India one day. Its gonna be like going home. I miss India, barely 3 months after crossing the border at Sunauli to Nepal, another country which i absolutely loved and will always remember with fond memories.

Friday, 26 September 2008


Dreaming of Africa. The river Nile separating Uganda and Sudan

Is the list of places i have down in my mind that i will go to, in the near future, if possible - one thing the India trip taught me was that everything is a possibility, don't rule it out just yet. Going to India was pretty much a last minute, spur of the moment decision - basically looking at some books and going, hmm, this is nice, i think i'd go. Then finding cheap flights (to Chennai), and it was all systems go.

  • The African coast, down the eastern seaboard from Sudan to Mozambique.
  • South America, going from Panama all the way down to Argentina.
  • The Trans-Siberian express. Longest railway in the world, zipping from Beijing through Mongolia and Siberia to St. Petersburg.

  • Travelling the Silk Roads, going from south western China through the Central Asian 'stans to Iran to Turkey and Europe.

Does it happen to just me, or does looking at a globe inspire great feelings of wanderlust and anticipation of adventures ahead?

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Heaven is a place on earth... Pokhara

I love Pokhara. Its one of my favourite places on earth. A small alpine town by a mirror-flat lake in the mountains, where on crisp, clear mornings, entire mountain panoramas - Macchapucchare, Annapurna South and One, can be glimpsed in the horizon, seemingly at the edge of the town, at the end of a small, potholed road, which you would follow, on sunny mornings. And in the lake, a perfect reflection seen, if you're lucky enough.

I even had an address in Pokhara, at Lakeside 6, my room in the Rustika Guesthouse where i stayed for almost a month, getting to know my neighbours and going for walks in the morning around the lake, breathing the fresh morning air from the mountains, looking out into the calm, mirror-flat waters of the Phewa Tal, innumerable ripples drawn on them by the morning breeze, ruffling the evergreens that line the lake. Beyond was the hills, the evergreen forest leading all the way up, a rough cut trail in its midst, to the World Peace Pagoda, sitting serenely on top. Over the next few days we rented a boat and rowed out to the trailhead across the lake, and hiked up to the hilltop pagoda. It was beautiful, peaceful, looking down at the idyllic town by the lake. As if nothing in the world mattered anymore.

Pokhara also had these really charming stone buildings, much like cottages with their colourful frames and stunningly beautiful gardens - flowers of every colour lining window sills, balconies, and porches. The Switzerland of Asia, as they say. And not a bit wrong too. Going out of my guesthouse was a small road, lined with cafes and pop-and-mom stalls and family-run eateries - people i soon got to know really well, all of which whip up tasty, homely grub if you run low on cash or get bored of the restaurant scene on Lakeside, which is a revelation in itself.

We had great, sizzling slabs of steak cooked with rum washed down with Everest beer our first night in Pokhara, which really was quite a bit of a celebration of leaving India behind - it does get to you, after all those long weeks on the road with cows, crazed autorickshaw wallas and overpacked buses and trains. That said, the funny thing about India is that, i can't decide if i loved it or hated it, but one thing i know for sure is that i will go back, one day, soon. The dinner the first night with Dirk, the Dutchie i met in Varanasi, after winding up the hills in the pouring monsoon (it had come early), turning the mountains into pouring waterfalls and the roads into gushing rivers roaring down the edge. The bus was leaking too, not to mention - a steady dripping from the luggage racks above my seat. And all this while our backpacks were outside, strapped on top of the bus in the pouring rain, while the solitary goat inside the bus, trotting the aisle right next Dirk's seat, was nibbling at our shoes.

We longed to get to Pokhara. It seemed like heaven, after those weeks in India and the long ride up to the border at Sunauli and then Belahiya at the Nepali side, where we had spent the night, with 4 Japanese backpackers in a bedbug infested dorm room at the Nepali Guesthouse. We soon decided to spend the night getting wasted on Royal Stag whiskey with Coke at a nearby eatery, talking late into the night before slipping into bedbug-bitten sleep. Everyone was up at four in the semi darkness - cigarette buds glowing in the dark, people sharing a smoke, stumbling to the shower to wash off the terrible rash, and generally looking forward to getting on to either Pokhara or Kathmandu.

And so when we got to Pokhara, the rain slowing to a misty drizzle, we found it was heaven on earth. So beautiful, so peaceful that we fell in love with it immediately and spent much more time than we had ever intended.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Going back... Siem Reap, Cambodia

Very spartan room at the Popular Guesthouse in Siem Reap Cambodia - impeccably clean, with perks such as a coathanger and a empty paint bucket (trash can) thrown in for 3 USD a night. The 2nd floor cafe with wooden furniture and hanging plants was pretty neat too, serving late into the night. And the best part - it was walking/stumbling distance to/from Bar Street, though someone still managed to get lost after a late night drinking session. Downstairs i rented bicycles each morning, setting off to explore the Angkorian temples for nearly a week. The part i remembered, with humour, was stumbling back at 4 and waking up the next day at 8 to take the bike out to the Angkor temples (without a hangover too!) - kinda crazy, and it does say a bit about the fun + culture +adventure mix which is Siem Reap.

My song for Siem Reap - Oasis' Don't look back in anger. Blaring from the speakers at the Angkor What? pub (we were sitting right beneath it), us singing along on probably our 4th bottle of Fosters and innumerable Beerlaos and Mekong whiskeys, and later adjourning for fried noodles and tukalok (fruit shakes) at one of the roadside stalls at 4 in the morning, it was one of my fondest memories of Siem Reap, especially as its my first time travelling alone and meeting like minded people with low budgets and big backpacks. It was, to me, travelling alone for the first time, all of 17 and full of dreams and big plans to see the world, the spirit of travel, people coming together from all over, having the same aspirations to see the world and experience more instead of the reality we are presented with back home.

And so, sally can wait
She knows its too late as we're walking on by
Her soul slides away
But dont look back in anger
I heard you say

And everything will be alright

for ever, and ever, and ever... Looking out at the falling leaves in the warm, midday sunshine, the trees gently swaying in the weak, afternoon breeze where nothing else moved, where it is all so quiet, that was the feeling i got.

That everything would be alright, for ever, and ever, and ever.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Dreaming of Indochina

I will be back, in 2 and a half months time. Doesn't even seem long, feels like i've just got back from my bumper trip to India and Nepal which did quite a bit to alleviate that wanderlust. The cure, as i now know, is to go on a big trip for months on end. And then start to miss home and come back.

The coming year end trip would be more relaxing i think - actually, after India, anything is relaxing. Will try to cover Vietnam from Hanoi to Saigon in 3 weeks, probably flying on Nov 30 for nostalgia's sake - left for Laos last year at this same date, and return on the 20th next month. Its probably gonna be quite a rush, and does looks like i have to leave some parts out. Its a Sapa (hill station, trekking) vs. Nha Trang (beaches, party boats) dilemma.

Right now im just looking forward to chilling out in a Hanoi cafe and dodging motorcycle swarms. It actually does feel like so soon, i will be on the road again - almost as if my life is travel save for the brief interregnum of going back to school for one semester.

And i will have to run through getting the air tickets and insurance again - which i love, brings back memories of previous trips and the pre-trip high - travelling is my drug, yeah.