Travel Memories – 2017
2017 was an eventful year for me with varied experiences across the globe. Although I have not been able to pen down all my travels, here are some of my best memories and experiences:
Conquering the Amber Fort ‘Maharaja Style’
The Rajasthan Road Trip covering 10 cities was one of the memorable experiences of 2017. The journey started with the fascinating architectures of forts and palaces of Pink City, Jaipur and finally ended with the one of the romantic cities of the east, Udaipur with its narrow, timeless streets and tranquil boat rides. An interesting experience on this trip was an elephant ride up to Amer Fort. As the fort is located on a hill, the steep climb made the ride quite uncomfortable and scary. The Howdah on the elephant was positioned in a precarious way that every time the creature ‘seductively’ swayed its hips, I feared sliding down the hill. I wished for the seating to be in the center and not sideways (like they have in Ayutthaya) for better balance. The view from the top of the Amer fort with all the elephant riders entering the Suraj Pol was a treat to watch.
Sufi Connection at Ajmer Dargah
I was introduced to Sufism during my visit to the shrine of Rumi in Konya,Turkey. One of the true delights of the trip in Turkey was to witness the dance of the whirling dervishes. The gentle turns become increasingly dynamic till the individual attains the state of trance. I was humbled yet again when I got the opportunity to visit the shrine of another revered Sufi Saint, Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer, Rajasthan. The mausoleum is an important place of worship for all pilgrims irrespective of any religion. One feels intoxicated walking bare foot in the shrine due to the heavy incense smell of roses. Standing in a corner, I watched the devotees march with the satin chaddars to offer their prayers to the saint. I wondered how the place would look during Urs festival which I missed by 10 days.
Ratted out in Deshnok
Visiting Karni Mata temple at Deshnoke, located a few kms from Bikaner was truly a bizarre yet unique experience. Seeing a religious site teeming with black rats irks you for a while. I never really thought that I could stand still almost numb when these tiny creatures jumped over my feet and ran across the halls of the temple. The rats inside the temple are considered descendants of the deity who belonged to the Charan Clan. People believe that the members of the community who died are reincarnated as rats. Devotees feed the rats with sweets and milk. At first, my heart skipped a beat when the squeaky creatures crawled over my legs but I guess my interest in capturing this unique place transcended my discomfort.
A Royal Stay at Suryagarh, Jaisalmer
A trip to Jaisalmer is incomplete without a stay at this grand palace Suryagarh. I still remember watching the setting sun standing at one of its mustard garden area porches. The sun casting its glow on the gleaming sunflower and marigold plantations. Though the hospitality of the place is overwhelming, what endeared me to this place was the Rajasthani Recipe, Ghevar prepared by the Chef on my request. The flavor of the sweet simply infused into my senses.
Desert Camping at Dechu
I chose to stay at Samsara for my desert camping experience which was midway between Jaisalmer to Jodhpur. Though the camping experience was great, the camel ride into the sunset was truly memorable. As I neared the camel for my ride to watch the setting sun up the hill, it glanced over and refused to budge. On further prodding from the cameleer, it stood up reluctantly. At that moment, the cameleer said that the camel had not been ridden in a long time! Hearing that, I looked at my transport vehicle and saw the creepiest set of teeth grinning at me. Fortunately, I managed to watch the setting sun and refused the ride down hill with my partner (the camel).
Getting Lost Amidst Pillars
A slight detour off the road from Jodhpur to Udaipur leads to the magnificient Jain temple of Ranakpur. I was marveled by the amazing architecture and countless pillars with enticing ceilings. It is said that there are 1444 pillars and none of them look alike.
Spiritual Roots of Ayutthaya
When I visited Angkor Wat in 2016, I was in awe of the place. Few of my best memories were walking in the jungles of Angkor Wat admiring the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata narrated on the walls of the temple, getting thrilled watching the amazing spectacle of crawling roots embracing the walls. The place was truly an architectural delight. I remember my guide Mao narrating an instance where one of his travelers inquired about Buddha in a Tree in Siem Reap. Mao laughed and corrected saying that Buddha In a Tree is in Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya also has a strong influence from Khmer dynasty like Siem Reap. Though I could notice the Khmer style influence, it was not as grand as what I saw in Angkor Wat. The historical place of Ayutthaya had many missing Buddha Heads. Wat Mahathat is famous for the location of Buddha In a Tree. Here, Buddha and seemingly Buddhism have stuck to their roots! Interestingly, this place reminded me of Angkor Wat and Mao’s anecdote.
Hot, Thrilling, Street food, Shopping, Chaotic, Reclining Buddha, Grand Palace and Night Life – That’s Bangkok. But the experience most dear to me was the night I sat at Rajadamnern Stadium to watch one of the most deadliest martial arts in the world – Muay Thai. It was not a mere match with opponents fighting out and getting knocked out. It presented before me its beautiful aspects of fighters wearing the traditional headband (Mongkon) and performing Thai dance (Wai Kru Ram Muay) before the fight began. The eerie sound of Thai Music (Sarama) surrounds the entire arena of the stadium.
Dolphin Spotting in Bali
At 3 am in the morning with my groggy eyes, I set off to the North of Bali from Kuta. Although excited to see the wild dolphins during the sunrise, part of me just wanted to snooze inside the comfortable blankets of my hotel. After a rough 3 hours ride, I finally reached Lovina beach. All I could see was black sand and an isolated beach with few tourists. We set off in a spider boat deep into the sea. Bali is picturesque for its magical sunrises and sunsets. Although the sunset at Uluwatu temple was beautiful with the backdrop of the Kecak dance, I prefer watching the sunrise at Lovina beach. Surrounded by blue mountains and sailing deep into the blue waters with cold wind flapping your life vest, you witness the dawn breaking over the ocean. As the sun rose from behind the mountains, the boatman shut the engine and we sailed silently watching the beginning of a new day. The silence was soon interrupted with screams when one of the tourists spotted the wild dolphins. The moments of tranquility and peace soon turned to be a wild goose chase when all the spider boats followed the direction of the fins. We spotted a few, we missed a few and we enjoyed the sight of dolphins resurfacing and flipping for few seconds before going back to the ocean.
Italy’s beautiful lake district Como is just a day trip from Milan. One of the beautiful experiences of Como is to take the funicular ride and view the panoramic views of the place. What came as a pleasant surprise to me that Como turned out to be the birthplace of Alessandro Volta – the pioneer of electricity. Having educated and trained as an electrical engineer and spending a decade of my life dedicated to this man’s theories and practice, I felt honored to visit the Volta Temple where they preserved few of this exhibits. Viewing the spark plugs and the electric batteries bought back the memories of my electrical laboratory experiment days….
Deshi Basara – Make the Climb of Italy’s tallest Bell Tower
The Violin City, Cremona of Lombardia region in Italy is known for three things – Torrone, Torrazzo and Antonio Stradivari. Cremona is home to three of the most celebrated violin makers in the history – Amati, Guarneri and Stradivari. It was a delight to walk amidst few of the oldest violins that dates back to the 15th and 17th century. The violin museum holds some of the priceless collections and occasionally they have live performances and concerts played on these historical violins! I was lucky to visit this town during the annual event of Festa Del Torrone – Nougat festival. I still remember mulling over a mulled wine and tasting different types of delicious torrone during the food festival. The celebratory sweet was inspired by the city’s famous Torrazzo (bell tower). The highlights of my Cremona visit was to climb the 502 steps of the third tallest brick bell tower in the world ! On the fourth level of the tower resides the largest astronomical clock in the world. The series of initial larger stairs gets narrower and claustrophobic as you make it to the top. But the view from the top is worth the climb.
A Snowy Night in Milan
“When does it snow in Milan”, I asked the shopkeeper. He laughed and said “No Snow, Only Rain.” I was depressed hearing this as I have never experienced snowfall in my life. One of the reasons I was excited to travel in Milan during winter was to experience the snow. As days passed the temperatures kept dipping below 0 but still no sign of snow. But then I believe the most magical things occur during Christmas! I was sipping my hot chocolate and watching Netflix when my eyes drifted towards the window. I beamed with joy watching the snow flakes covering the leaves of the trees. My first snow in Milan! I relished the moment and stepped out to enjoy the city wrapped with thin layers of snow.
When Travel Meets Faith in Bergamo
Beautiful churches, medieval renaissance and baroque architecture with beautiful views from the Venetian walls that divides Bergamo into two parts – Upper City (citta alta) and Lower City (citta bassa). Walking down the winding footpath along the city’s defensive walls munching the soft focaccia bread, I was amazed on how much the city had to offer. Watching the setting sun and the passage of city life in Citta Bassa from the top of the Venetian walls was one of the highlights of the trip. While I was shopping in one of the Christmas Markets in Bergamo, I noticed a handicraft shop. The owner was an Italian. What captured my attention was the details of the characters carved in a small walnut. My eyes wandered from one to other when I heard his voice.
“Where are you from”, the owner asked.
“India”, I replied.
“Ah, then you will like this one”. Saying this he handed me a beautiful statue of Ganesh (elephant god) carved inside walnut. “Do you recognize this guy? “, he asked
I laughed. “Yes”.
That was a unique experience. Finding a piece of home in a faraway foreign land was one of the truly special moments I encountered here.
Surrounded by Snow Capped Mountains in Venaria
Venaria Reale is an hour by bus from Turin in Northern Italy. The royal palace of Venaria is a former royal residence of the Royal House of Savoy. The palace is enormous and takes an entire day walking through the beautiful courtyards and admiring the work in each of the rooms. A walk in the gardens of the Royal Palace is equally breathtaking. I visited the place in December. Walking amidst the dried twigs and wine yards with a stunning view of snow capped mountains, I wondered how the place would be in its full bloom in spring.
Copyright ©2018, Lakshmi Nair. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.