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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Travels... A few random notes

Its been a really long time since my last drivelling here... closing in on to two months, at least will be that in two weeks. So yes, a long time it is that I have deprived you of the adrenaline pumping and high-fiving periodic dose that you have become so addicted to... Dreaming, you say? Likely, isn't it? But you must agree, there is no licence required--yet--to dream, what?

Between the last post here and now, I have travelled upwards of 27,000 kms, including a vacation with family, visiting places that I am very attached to, places where I grew up... so there is plenty that I can tell you but only if you affirm you wouldn't be bored to death!

Okay, I accept your vigorous protestations Smile and embark upon a brief retelling of the trips.I promise, this is no travelogue, no touristy-tips will be offered, no "you must see this!" advice... just some impressions, sharing of memories reawakened and some visuals that are likely to remain with me till I hand in my dinner pail (aah, Maitre Wodehouse, where would I be without your expressions sans pareil?).

The night of our--my wife and I, naturally--last anniversary this year (okay, couldn't resist that!), in a moment of inspired planning, I booked our outbound tickets to Bhubaneswar for mid-Sep. The excitement of visiting there where my son had never been yet, never lessened over the couple of months that needed to pass before we could board the flight. I was of course looking forward to meeting my old, old pals (three of them, Radha P, Jameel and Debaloy), seeing the old sights--whether they merely be the narrow lanes, the dusty market place or the old hang-outs--eating street food, meeting yet other old friends... the attractions seemed unaffected by the passing of time.

The actual meeting with my three friends right at the airport was amazing. The distance to Cuttack--the town where we're headed--was nothing of course but the company felt like I had slipped into a well-worn, comfortable pair of mittens: soft, warm and all-enveloping.

Bhubaneswar, like any other city or town I guess, has grown busier, with more of everything, cars, two-wheelers, shops, people, just everything. As the jokes got more risque and the laughter more raucous, the crowds mattered less and less. Cuttack has not changed as much it seemed... though in terms of lack of space on the roads it is second to none I can assure you.

As I promised, this is not a travelogue so I will not go into day-wise detailing. Suffice it to say the days were filled with an innate joy, more so since my son, who has no memories to connect to the present, appeared to be having a very good time too. Of course, for my mother, it was reliving the memories of her early married life there when I remember we had a good time; she was happy to be there and seeing the old sights again. For my wife, it was visiting there since immediately after our wedding. Memories crowded her... and rather good ones too...

I must however refer to our trip to the zoo near Cuttack, Nandan Kanan. This is not your typical Indian zoo where animals are cramped into tiny cages with nary a chance for them to pace and with people outside to provoke and tease them with asinine behaviour. NK is a v--e--r--y spacious place with the animals accorded large areas to lord over. The bigger ones are not confined to cages at all, not even large ones. They have huge open spaces to prowl around, along with a stone-built room to sleep in. Of course, the enclosures are surrounded by deep moats so visitors are safe, oh yes. Even the smaller animals have cages that are huge in comparison to other city-based zoos. This is a lovely place and probably without the level of recognition it should get. I am not complaining of course since that probably keeps crowds at manageable levels. And the animals are certainly better off with fewer visitors--more would mean infringing upon the animals' space and time.

Nandan Kanan runs two "safaris", one for white tigers--which incidentally were first bred here and probably number more than anywhere else, despite the mayhem wrought by the supercyclone of 1999--and the other for Indian lions. We did both of course. Not in your Africa-style jeeps... but in mini buses! Interesting, eh?

The white tigers proved elusive. We did spot one--several hundred yards away--stretched out on the ground, pretty well camouflaged in the shrubbery and undergrowth. But a flick of a white tail betrayed The presence. And that was that, that was what had to suffice. If there were more tigers there, well, they stayed well hidden, revealing not a wrack.

The lion safari, on the other hand, proved fertile. A small pride of them strolled majestically by, so close to our stopped-in-our-tracks bus that one could reach out and touch one passing by... and probably leave the well-loved arm behind. Here's a photo taken by my friend Radha P to tell you what I mean.
A majestic youngster Honest, I tell you, this guy was some six or seven feet away from our bus--at this moment, the door of the bus, duly shut, looked so flimsy for one his paw's, and the body of the bus seemed made of a thin sheet of tin--and he paused there for a majestic yawn, stretched his front legs (duly--again--filmed by my son, awe-struck but functioning still) before disdainfully walking on, only to be followed by another lion, old and much scarred, compared to this young hero. Incidentally, he now graces my laptop's desktop...

There are many, many more photographs but uploading more would slow down the site for sure. So maybe I will swap pictures in my later posts...

We moved on to Puri from Cuttack. The sun, sand and the waves... and again, recursive waves of memories. We spent a day doing the Must Do places across Bhubaneswar and Konark. Konark of course is quite beyond compare. I have been there perhaps ten times or more... but I have never come away from there unimpressed or with a sense of "been there, seen that". Each time is as refreshing as the first.

This time we had engaged a guide--again--who had the most endearingly quirky mannerisms including a very curious twicthy nod that worked at times as an underscore to his commentary. Another guide that we had engaged--after some adroit persuasion by him--in the Udayagiri-Dhaulagiri complex of hilly caves, had the most extraordinary way of saying "Really!", and loudly, at that, that you simply had to do a double-take. But engrossing stories from him too. I hold the historical correctness at a friendly sceptic's arm's length though; complete veracity is suspect since history is a very tough master, unlike what many of the uninitiated and the uninformed would have you believe, leaving the senior Ford well alone for he knew not what he was saying.

Puri was stuffed to the gills, as was to be expected at the time of the year. I was thinking if the Bengalis were not out there in full strength, Puri would be calm, serene, almost empty, with the locals deprived of good income. So, there we were, fighting for space by the inch on the beach, craning our necks to catch a glimpse of the glorious sea among the bobbing many-headed. The Chandrabhaga beach, in sharp contradistinction, was really empty, clean and lovely. Thankfully, the hordes are yet to discover it. And even if they do, well, I have plenty of other beaches up my capacious sleeves that I will mention not here for fear! Oh? You ask where on earth is Chandrabhaga? And you seriously think I will reveal that? Sealed

Back in Delhi after almost ten days of vacationing, there were barely a couple of days before flying off to software land's Mecca. And sitting cramped in an Economy seat for 20 hours... is no fun. At all. Whatever airline you fly. It is well established that after every overhaul and refitting of aircraft by airlines, seats manage to shrink further still, squeezing in another row of such seats. Sleep is imposs, comfort a joke. But well, I guess I better be thankful that one gets where one has set out to. Movies keep me going so a good collection delivered through an On-Demand system is mandatory for me. On the return flights, run by the very same airline that I flew out on, there lurked disaster. There was no On-Demand and the movies available were the same ones that I had done on the outbound flight. If I were to start on the return trip agonies this would become a litany of complaints so I will desist. Which airline, you ask? BAh!

The sense of space and lack of numbers--of people--continue to be the way they have always been in the US. And yes, before I forget, so too remain the size of portions served in restaurants (unless uber chic, fancy or French). The waiters are amazingly friendly, stark contrasts to their deferential Indian counterparts, and treat you as equals; one particular chap made a particularly telling announcement, "Our portions are really, really, really big!" All of us at our table were suitably impressed though we still ended up ordering more food than we could manage despite attempting valiantly and failing completely.

There's more to write of course but then I would run the danger of this becoming a travelogue which I certainly don't want this to become. So let me call it off now. And a request, gentle reader:

If you have any comments to make do not hesitate to log them in the Guestbook (link further down on this site page). Many thanks in advance for this!

And now, good night. Toodle-oo for the nonce.

Sat, October 24, 2009 | link          Comments


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