Roller Coaster Ride

It seemed a quiet evening as we left our home with tons of ashirwaad, 2 bagpacks and lots of hope on our shoulders.We took a cab to mumbai airport with hope,excitement and glimpses of tiredness in our gleaming eyes.(We havent slept in last few days due to hectic schedule,our idiosyncrasies and of-course extraordinary packing strategy of my partner in adventure).Oh,I forgot to introduce-“we”,We includes my cute wild curious partner Rudie and my sane sincere sulky self.We reached airport in an hour,bid goodbye to our parents and were ready to fly.

We checked in smoothly,had usual quarrels and serenely sat at a cafe to have masala dosa and coffee.Enthusiasm had gripped our not so calm nerves,just then I received a beautiful message-your flight is delayed by two hours. I conveyed this wonderful news to my PIA(partner in adventure).We had few more hours at this stunning airport to explore.As time passed,we had already galloped Mexican pasta, window shopped at fancy jacket shop and had usual nitpicks on our way to our boarding gate.We reached Delhi Airport around midnight.Our first international flight was at 6:30 am in the morning(more than 6 hours at this darling airport) .My PIA had this amazing idea of downloading south Indian movie by airport`s WiFi,Oh! how it failed miserably.Our usual idiosyncrasies included gauging the mood of the people at airport(our fellow travelers).Around 3 am with drowsy delirious dreamy eyes,we went for check in and then to irritating immigration line.For some strange reason,half asleep immigration guy failed to stamp my passport.This bemused my PIA more than my strange acts.After this adventure,we dutifully waited for Turkish airlines not before having sumptuous early morning north Indian food at Delhi heights.We reached our gate an hour before take off .PIA drowned in her favorite hobby as soon as she saw a seat-dozed off delightfully.I was left watching her and hundred other passengers on this crazy sleep deprived morning at Delhi Airport.

Missing Istanbul:Turkish Airlines had comfortable seating with blankets,quiet passengers and entertainment screen(perfect recipe for PIA).I was waiting for flight to take off while doing my favorite hobby:observing people,worrying about possible disasters and thinking on common issues like life of an air-hostess ,cosmic energy and my purpose of existence.Another long flight and I fear another bout of irritating infamous insomnia, PIA is an expert in subject that concerns closing your eyes and cutting off from this physical world(sleeping as they call it).She requested me to play some strange english movie whose name I cannot remember.She insisted that we watch this strange movie together(synchronized second by second),she paused my screen every time I went few seconds ahead of her,I never understood this strange obsession of her.This went on for few more minutes before she finally agreed to watch at our own pace.I took a sigh of relief and waited for food to arrive.After PIA dozed off,I eagerly waited for something to satisfy my taste buds.Elegantly dressed in red and white, air-hostess came to me and asked me in the sweetest voice I have ever heard,”would you like tea or coffee?”,I replied with a smile,”tea for me and a blanket for PIA”.PIA was already feeling cold(we were yet to enter Europe).Besides PIA,sat a stout strong serious looking man probably in his late 30s. He greeted me with namaste. In my bid to engage in interesting conversation,I asked him if he ever visited India.He indeed had explored God`s own country(Kerala) and most foul mouthed capital state in the world(Delhi).Suddenly PIA woke up from her serene sleep and asked our European neighbor,”We have only 1.5 hrs layover time at Istanbul and our flight is already an hour late,will we be able to catch our ongoing flight to Vienna?”.I was stunned,here we were discussing about travel and culture and in no time,PIA diverted the topic amicably in a bid to calm her travel anxiety.She constantly stared at the screen that displayed time to arrive and speed,as if she could convince the pilot to push at rocket speed.She is a funny girl.I chuckled silently,though our neighbor told her in a sincere and assuring tone,”I have been to Istanbul a dozen times,Don`t worry,you will be there on time,Istanbul is a beautiful city”

Our European neighbor was from Slovakia and did tell us about the history of separation from Czech and similarity of rivalries between Slovakian and Czech folks as it is between Mumbai and Pune folks. Guy seemed well read and confident about everything he spoke.His assurance calmed PIA`s nerves and we landed in Istanbul at noon.We had an hour to catch our next flight.

PIA had this special power,she could sense if something was wrong.Yet ,to me and my Slovak friend,everything seemed normal.We swiftly made our way out of the plane and were excited to catch our next flight to Vienna. Tall,elegant and yet little panicky in posture,airport assistant,immediately asked us to run for the next flight.We saw the time,we had an hour,Slovak gave us a “been there,done that” look.We nodded and followed him, as he went from 0 to 60 km/hr in 10 seconds,we knew we were in trouble.I have never seen PIA run with such speed,tenacity and vigor ever in my life.On our supersonic speed run,5 others joined in and together 8 of us displayed Olympic level performance.We ran,clock ran and we found we had to do security check again.Goodness me,it was touch and go now.By special request from lanky Slovak,we were allowed to enter VIP line.Only 15 minutes was left and we ran frantically towards the gate. PIA never expected adventure to be so taxing on her legs.She still had hope in her eyes.We climbed upstairs,ran and again went downstairs,ran and ran and ran.Alas,we finally reached the gate only to read the dreadful line-“Gates are closed”

What an incredible start to our honeymoon trip.Roller coaster ride had just begun.I looked behind to see PIA in shock,some strange Russian in tears and our Slovak leader giving blank look.Journey had just begun.

A Night to Remember

Rains in Mumbai bring alive everything:Flora,aroma and my dwindling spirit.It looked a normal night as I boarded my office bus on 25th July 2019. Rhythmic drizzles,gentle winds and my pleasant emotions left me in a musical state.I was enjoying my peaceful space when suddenly rains took an upsurge,emotions became intense and winds turned hostile.It was a sign of things to come.My bus takes an adventurous route everyday as it has to battle with mighty nuisance on the roads(not cows but massive trailers,trucks and potholes).Battling potholes,unceremonious replies by strangers on road and of course stoned trailer driver`s driving skills,it is a challenge to reach the office safely.On our way,we face a legendary bridge whose designers must be rewarded for the most illogical design ever(bridge is constructed in a way as to maximize traffic and verbal spats from fellow drivers on the road).We reached that fateful bridge in 45 minutes.Our amazing driver forgot to reroute the bus despite seeing standstill traffic on this dilapidated bridge.Trailer on our left accidentally got in contact with the one on the right and we were stuck.Both the drivers ran away in fear of police.Real reason for this beautiful situation was not driving but intricately designed potholes.It takes far less time to create potholes after rains on this masterpiece than to download an app on android.It is remarkable to see how fast this road gets damaged(faster than your own reputation).

As the intensity of rains rose,so did the anger of our senior employees on board.Mr. Hotshot lashed onto our driver for being careless and stubborn.Our driver indeed was stubborn and he showed no response.

Mr. hotshot:You should have diverted the bus before the bridge.Let`s go back home now.

Mr. Hotshot is famous for creating scenes in normal situations,and this was emergency and his time to go full crazy.12 hapless passengers stuck in heavy rains on a bridge that could collapse any moment.Our kind in-charge informed our unit head(or chief entertaining officer) to send emergency vehicle for rescue.Unit head is an amazing character who gives false promises(just like our government).He was more interested in knowing who is crying in the middle of the road than to send emergency car.Meanwhile,I,hotshot,my kind in-charge,Over-smart local,cool driver and Rock-star cleaner(who was busy in playing pubg) went out to tackle the situation or at least pretend to show concern(as we all Indians love to do).Mosquitoes inside the bus were anyway making life more miserable so getting out in the rain seemed a smart decision.Still,some passengers chose to donate their blood to some hungry flying creatures.I silently admired their laziness,courage and patience.

Traffic police managed to catch hold of fleeing driver.After giving him a ego satisfying spank,he instructed him to start the trailer.This is the only rare moment when he feels like a hero(attacking an unarmed under age driver).Policeman arranged a crane to pull the trailer meanwhile hotshot was still spewing venom on this gloomy shaky thunderous night.CEO(Chief entertainer officer) was still struggling to provide emergency vehicle. Over smart local was giving some earth shaking ideas on how to reach office.I prayed,I laughed and I looked on with hope.Observing such characters giving their best performance on a rather thrilling night,was definitely entertaining.

Our company recently made it to top 100 in fortune 500 list and I was still cursing our fortune to have got such an inept,clueless and comical CEO.Getting back to our bridge scene where everyone eagerly observed trailer being pulled forward after relentless attempt and of course non stop unreasonable chatter by Mr. hotshot.Our kind in-charge was too kind to slap Mr. hotshot.Situation demanded cool head and he kept his head.We all waited in anticipation,soaked in the rains and experienced scary vibrations of the bridge.One by one,both the trailers were moved out of the way.I took a deep breath and thanked Traffic policeman for his heroic deed.

Our kind in-charge informed our CEO about the situation.CEO was ecstatic as he again had to display zero responsibility(his most preferred style of working).This was a night I will remember forever.From the rage of the rains,trembling bridge,outburst of Mr. hotshot and coolness of our cleaner(playing pubg in this situation).Everything was unique,beautiful,ugly,dangerous and comical at the same time.

Truth is stranger than fiction and it indeed was on that night.

Old man and his Whiskey

Every evening when I go out for a run,I meet him on the road.He smiles at me and leaves on his scooter.I feel happy,scared and satisfied.This happens almost everyday.We never speak. He just nods and I smile.But we understand this is how it will go for a long time.Sometimes a smile can convey a much larger message than you can imagine.He is still a stranger to me but we have a special relationship.

3 year back,on a wednesday evening,I was sipping coffee on an unusually cold winter in Mumbai.When suddenly I heard a loud wailing sound from outside.I rushed downstairs only to see a faint light blinking from few metres away.It was dark, thanks to the changed timing of street light.When I looked closer,I saw an old man lying near a scooter,blood dripping on the street and he was shivering in intense pain.I rushed along with my neighbour to rescue him.Many people were simply looking and I had no time to understand that behaviour.I ran and picked him up, helped by my gracious neighbour,we managed to drag him in the car.He was still conscious,breathing heavily and smelled of whiskey.We immediately reached the nearest hospital.My gracious neighbour eventually called his family.I was glad,he was alive.As I saw him,I felt more alive.

It all happened so quickly.When I went back home,I contemplated deeply(lifelong hobby).May be,this is my purpose.If you really want to wear a mask,wear a superhero mask.I had mine ON on that day.He blessed me with grace and keeps giving me his love whenever we cross the street.Without even a word,I understood he had a fight in the family,felt alone,drank and lost his balance.Even today,he doesn’t miss his scooty ride(hopefully without whiskey shots).My glance across the street is enough to remind him.Grace is everything.I learnt importance of life on that day and he understood people care.I saved a life and may be I saved my life.I found a purpose.

This story keeps reminding me about the illusion of control and how we take life for granted.


Abode of Clouds,Lessons Learnt and Other Stories

22nd December 2018, Mumbai Airport,5 am: I was sipping my coffee from the first shop that opened. I was dreaming of my upcoming adventure. Will it be as beautiful as I imagined? I was shivering in this cold and excitement. Journey into the unknown often brings thrill and hope.

My Indigo 717 Flight flew from Mumbai at 7:00 am,I tried hard to fall asleep but with little success.I was brimming with energy. In 3 hours time,I will be at a new place with a new culture and a new language and of course new food. My life is just about exploring something new. Guwahati welcomed me with surprisingly warm air.

At Guwahati Airport, I met my organizer Ashutosh. He was just 22 but had wisdom beyond his years(he smoked cigarettes and wore a hat to prove that). After customary hello, we patiently waited for other explorers. Soon, we met Gopal who came from Bangalore. Our next explorer was a special one. His name was special as well: RAM. He missed early morning flight from Hyderabad(due to traffic at 3:00 am, that`s what he tells everyone) and took next flight which got delayed, so we waited for 2 hours to welcome Ram.Ram works in a company that involves Russians(enough to create curiosity). Next in line were boys from Bangalore: Mahendra and Raj. Finally we met this Non Chalant Finance dude from Delhi:Divyajot Five of us along with organizer Ashu set off to explore magical hills of Meghalaya. On the way, Umiam lake greeted us with a glorious view.But we couldn’t really absorb the glory as it got dark after 4 pm.Sun rises in the east and it sets too early in Meghalaya.Slightly disappointed but still oozing with enthusiasm,we finally reached our first stay at Miliyam.

Day 1: Place had a surreal feel.Chilling bones,hazy air and eerie silence greeted us,but I instantly connected to this mysterious beauty.It was built in a classy way with a place for camping,bonfire and music.After settling down in our dorms,we met our final two interesting travelers from Delhi and Haryana.Researcher Guncha(her name was a subject of constant curiosity) and Coder Anoop from Haryana.

Every explorer had a unique story.Ram was an avid biker, unapolegetic chain smoker, and a marathon runner. Manoj was a talented software engineer with 7 patents to his name and he looked 15 years younger. Guncha had an interesting name and a crazy start to her trip(will tell you later). Anoop was from Haryana(enough to create curiosity). Raj was a Youtuber and lover of pinewood seeds imported from Hampi.Mahendra`s love for Hindi language was fascinating. Divyajot had this laidback yet confident approach to everything and he understood money like no one else.

Now you know the characters, let’s get back to the story. Night at Miliyam had a strange sense of calm and curiosity.Next day was our trek to famous David Scott trail. Guncha was still wondering how her bag got replaced while Raj was busy in planning his vlog and snoring simultaneously.Night slowly turned into a hopeful morning.

Day 2:Everyone was excited for this trek except our bus,it failed to start.Eight of us displayed our greatest strength,pushing it from every corner possible but we eventually gave up.Our Co Organiser was a cool dude who had a fancy pick up truck,we simply hopped in that and went ahead.Thus, began our first crazy adventure.

People usually open up after a drink or on mountains. Serenity,fresh air and a blissful high that mountains give, sets them free.We were ready to explore,ready to set ourselves free.Ram was as usual confident,Manoj was calm,Guncha was determined( nervous debut for her),Anoop was excited,Raj was behind his camera,Mahendra in his free spirit and Divyajyot cool as ever. Trail was beautiful and serene, even more wonderful were the conversations we had, including questions like why David Scott took so much effort in making this ridiculous trail.What kind of life he must have lived? and many other intelligent ones. It`s funny, there are questions that only arise when you trek up a mountain.Best thing about trekking is that you don’t get tired of watching same mountains again and again and again. Mountains for me are simply irresistible.These mighty send you in a zone you don’t want to come out of,its the best addiction you can ever have. Each explorer was trekking at his/her own pace.Guncha was dreaming of getting her bag back while Raj was capturing every moment in his fancy camera. Meditative walk through the trail was an experience to remember forever. We returned back to Miliyam before dark.

It was freezing cold by the time we reached our beautiful stay.I really loved the way property was designed along with space for camping and bonfire. Night was set for old monk,music and campfire.We had some engaging conversations and stories from eating pinewood seeds in Hampi to adventures in Arunachal Pradesh. Meanwhile,a young enthusiastic girl from Rajasthan joined us and entertained everyone with her cute ukelele performance and Raj engaged us in his mindblowing videos of Japan and other exotic places.It was a night to remember.With beautiful memories in our heart, we all dozed off, of course after having a sumptuous dinner(potato and rice is the staple food in these hills).

Day 3: Waking up early on a freezing winter is not easy,even more difficult is taking bath. I skipped my bath shamelessly and on we went for our next adventure to a place called Shnongpedang. Names of these places are complicated yet people are beautiful and simple. Evading irritating traffic and enjoying beautiful views of majestic Green Dawki River,we Finally reached schongpedang around 12 pm.My enthusiasm died a little when I found that our tents were already in place(making your own tent is an experience in itself).Yet nothing can fill your heart with more joy than a clear water surrounded by hills in nature`s paradise.It was a special place.

After soaking in the beauty of the place,our team was ready for water adventure.We had options from kayaking to Scuba Diving(though underground life was hardly seen here) to Zip Lining.Everyone except Guncha showed guts to try zip lining.Zip lining is simply crossing the river by rope.Easy right? well not for me and many other brave souls.I booked my slot at the end,just watching and capturing my team members tremble in excitement as they cross the river.Finally,my turn came,as usual anxiety gripped me like the cold winds of Umngot River.I mustered extraordinary courage to cross this not so daunting river.Gosh,I made it with ease.I wondered,what was I afraid of? Often things we are afraid of turn out to be easy and life changing.I was ready for more adventure,but Guncha and Divyajot were not.They would rather sip tea or chilled beer than risk their life on this beautiful day in this serene river.Yet,rest of the members were excited for more adventure.Next adventure was Kayaking.Kayaking is more of a grind than an adventure,it is definitely not for lazy souls like me.I realised this only when I started kayaking.It`s strange and rather sad that you only realise something after you experience it.What if we have superpower to sense what excites us or bores us to death? We do have this superpower only if we can clear our mind as this Umngot river.Travel always gives you an opportunity to grow and expand your horizon.

Our adventure was cut short due to time constraints.After intense drama filled activites,we had an ordinary lunch besides our tent.Yet,it all tasted good,may be the vibe of this extraordinary place has hijacked our senses.We weren`t complaining and simply absorbing beauty as we sat and contemplated our future.

Evenings at this place are magical.Live music,Clear sky and gentle cold winds.We lit up the fire besides our tent.Old monk,honest heart felt conversations and soulful music,it all makes for a perfect night in this mesmerising place with great company.Guncha gave deep real wisdom(Gyaan) to everyone,I shared my poems,idiosynrasies and emotions,Divyajot was simply goofy,Manoj was his usual calm and Youtuber Raj was busy capturing the night sky.He made me dance in a weird way only to capture lights in a special manner.After another intense yet joyful evening, we called it a night.Night was glorious,stars shining besides the sparkling clear river and mighty mountains.This is what heavens look like.I was lucky to be alive.

Day 4: Sleep deprived yet filled with excitement,our team woke up at 5:30 to explore the cleanest village in Asia-Mawnylong.Hope,You can pronounce this one with ease.Everytime you hit the road in these beautiful hills,your heart is filled with joy,beauty of this place is unique and mindblowing.We reached Mawnylong by afternoon.On first glance,it gave surreal countryside feeling:clean roads,bright flowers and intricately constructed huts .We had lunch full of rice and potato(only food for vegetarians here).Guncha was excited to climb single root bridge to see marshy dirty Bangladesh.We all climbed up the bridge constructed from bamboo,shaky yet strong.Guncha managed to reach the top amidst minor breakdowns.Anyways,view wasn`t breathtaking but we still smiled to capture yet another selfie.

A refreshing tour of this modern and happy village left us with bundles of joy.Fact that matriarchal society is prevalent here is laudable and inspiring.Women of the house go out for work and men take care of home.It’s an interesting model to observe and learn.

After witnessing a glorious sunset along Umiam lake,we returned back to our campsite. Schnongpedang is a place for dreamers,loners,friends,family and everyone who loves serenity.It was Christmas night.Carols,guitar,music, Children and Churches.Place itself is something but is even more surreal on nights like this. We visited a nearby church and saw children dressed in elegant outfit dancing at midnight to Khasi music.We just sat there and enjoyed the performance. Guncha was anxiously waiting for Christmas cake(that never came) while Raj was still capturing photos of beautiful night sky.Who wants to go to Paris when you can witness such incredible nights in Schnongpedang.

Schnongpedang will always be close to my heart.Calm vibe of the place,surreal night sky,ever silent and smiling Umngot river,Nights we spent besides bonfire, drowned in romantic songs,old monk and deep conversations ,will forever be etched in our memories.Camping at this place gave a new meaning to our lives.Next morning, we depart to a place called Shora in Cherrapunji(World`s second wettest place).I had tears in my eyes.Tears of joy and satisfaction was a sign of sanctity of this space.

In this journey,I met some incredible soul,each with unique stories and extraordinary experiences to share. Guncha taught me resilience and will power. Raj inspired me to pursue my passion.Ram had immense patience and knowledge. Mahendra was innocent and ambitious. Divyajot was funny and Intelligent. Gopal was an eccentric genius. Anoop was confident and unapologetic. Of course,our young organizer Ashutosh had maturity beyond his tender age.

I would have loved to tell you the final act of this memorable trip.But,I won`t.Instead,when you meet me over coffee or Old monk,I will narrate you my final trek experience and Funny Jeep Safari in Kaziranga National park.Until then,keep traveling and stay adventurous.

Take care or “bhal-e thakibo” as they say in Assamese

Can`t help but end with this QUOTE

“In life, it’s not where you go, it’s who you travel with” –Charles Schulz

When an Agnostic visits a Sanctum

Scene 1: At Chennai Airport: 1 am, 27th June 2017

Me: Where do we go from here?

MyGoodfriend(MGF): Tirupati

Me: I know that man, but we will go there in the morning by bus.I mean of course, you must have booked an accommodation.

MGF(Unapolegtically): No, We can sleep in the airport

Me: Lounge?

MGF(In a jovial mood): Chairs.Anyways I can sleep anywhere

Me(Not in a good mood): I can`t sleep on chair for 5 hours

MGF(Laughing devilishly): No lounge at Arrival Area

Me: Gosh, No option left then

MGF: Chairs

After this conversation, I somehow managed to find a chair and spent 5 wakeful hours at the airport while MGF was snoring shamelessly at the adjacent chair.I wasn`t an insomniac by birth and but it`s friends like MGF that turned me into one.All I was doing the entire night was staring at the passengers waiting to collect their bags from the belts.After some time I started hating passengers , then belt and then the entire airport.

Finally Sun Rose at 6 am and I left the torture chair and stepped outside the port.I was fully exhausted after 5 hours of staring and MGF was fully energized after snoring for the same time.

MGF(Excited): We will travel by Chennai Metro.I heard Chennai Metro is awesome and World Class(Remember he snored for 5 hours)

Me: Do I have a choice?(That`s why I love solo trips)

Scene 2: Reached Bus Stand and Boarded Bus to Tirupati

I finally felt relaxed thinking now I can rest peacefully for 3 hours.But Sleep and I are never good friends.The Driver before starting the engine, turned on the TV in full volume(Normal for South Indian standards).Guess what movie he tuned into?.”Oh My God”, Yes that was the name of the movie and my reaction as well.A movie that mocks organized religion and here I was, going to visit the most pious sanctum of our country.What an Irony.When an agnostic visits a Sanctum, he is tested may be by God to believe in him and turn him into a theist.God was trying, but I was Stubborn.Continuous relentless loud sound waves coming from 24-inch screen kept me awake again.Finally, after 3 more hours of agony, I was relieved to reach Tirupati Alive.

We took a rickshaw(who of course overcharged us) to my other good friend`s(OGF) place in Tirupati where his marriage was supposed to happen.Met my friend, who was very happy and excited about his marriage(that was strange) and immediately instructed us to visit the Temple(He had bought us Vip tickets in advance to visit the deity).They say God sees everyone as equal.They lied.God favors you If you buy VIP ticket.Mobile phones are not allowed inside the sanctum.So, we left bare souled to the temple by taking a special bus.

I love temples on mountains.The view surrounding the sanctum was simply too good for my eyes to fathom.Security for the temple is higher than that at our borders.At one c heck point,entire bus is evacuated and each passenger is frisked(feels like immigration checks).We reached the place in 30 minutes.I was awestruck first by the crowd and then by the architecture of the temple.

Scene 3: Tirupati Balaji Temple

Let me tell you something about this pious place.Apparently lines to visit Lord Tirupati never actually gets over,24*7, 365 days a year.I know it` s insane.Just for a fleeting second of Lord`s darshan, devotees patiently wait, struggle, fall sick and somehow survive to reach the inner sanctum.One more thing, before entering, You must wear Dhoti(White colored pious cloth to replace Jeans/trousers in South India).”God hates people with jeans”.If you are lucky and bargain well, you will get a Dhoti for 100 bucks.

Now comes the most interesting part: The actual ordeal to reach the inner sanctum

Once you enter the temple, you get free sops(tea/coffee/milk) before you embark on your challenging journey.Once you enter the line, you can’t come out even if you want to.Men, Women, and children of all age groups keep pushing each other to move forward like waves.Children vomit, women nauseate, Men complain but they keep going.To manage such a huge crowd there is a fantastic group of volunteers to ensure devotees get food, water, and any emergency medical aid.There is one group whose purpose is only to push the devotees in the right direction.This is the most professional and well-managed organization I have ever seen.Stop learning from Google and Microsoft, Learn from Tirupati Trust folks.

Sometimes devotees have to wait for days to get a glance of their deity.”Faith can make us do anything”,I wondered.Finally after hours of fighting,pushing,screaming and sometimes yelling we reached the inner sanctum to get a 1 second glance of our deity.

Tirupati Darshan is rewarding both for those who believe in him and those who love sweets.Yes after the drama of worship is done,you are offered a huge laddoo(sweet and delicious dessert for an Indian).No one leaves empty handed from this place.