I could have chosen to snuggle in my blankets with some books; reading about the journey of war-torn or democratic countries. This would have led me to appreciate the history, culture and vision of a country but I doubt if pages of a book could do justice to the spirit of a country. Undoubtedly, this is why I choose to travel – from the thickest slums to the richest cities of the world. I never knew travel could touch the deepest chords of my heart and instill in me a sense of purpose. In the course of my voyage, I seek to feel the spirit of places and people while I seize the privilege to encourage people to dream bigger. This is something you cannot accomplish with your mind delving deep into the soul of a book; though I acknowledge that books can do magic too.
While many people travel largely for fun, I travel fundamentally to learn, to contribute and to become. I have a preference to uncover the depths of places rather than their lengths. This is why, in March 2015, I chose Mumbai as my central destination though people told me to consider other travel destinations for countless reasons. Proving them wrong was not my intention; I was just an ardent traveler willing to walk off the beaten path and to bring exclusive stories from the different parts of Mumbai. Deep inside, I remained convinced that each and every city has their distinct beauty hidden beneath their scars.
Lonavla, also known as the jewel of the Sahyadri Mountains, left me flabbergasted earlier this year and this is why I decided to come again but this time, for a road trip all the way from Mumbai. The road trip is usually estimated to last for approximately three hours but it offers so many photography opportunities that I had to stop again and again to do justice to the voyage. It thus took me around four hours to cover the distance with frequent stops. The road was generally good and the scenery was to die for. On my left side, stupendous views of green-garlanded mountains captivated my soul to such an extent that I found it difficult to even blink my eyes at the same pace I used to.
Wide geographical areas were covered with colorful flora and they would rest peacefully in the lap of nature.
On my right side, I saw the chain of rocky and sun-baked hills with naked peaks. The more I travelled, all civilization vanished and an undisturbed silence settled in. All I could hear was the sound of the breezes; seemingly giving company to the mountains.
I left no stone unturned in feeling the spirit of the places and of the locals. Whenever I would pass by an exquisite viewpoint, I would stop to contemplate on the scenery and the tranquility enveloping it. It soothes the soul. If you are fascinated by this too, some degree of precaution is desirable because Lonavla is home to thousands of monkeys and they can surprise you anytime. I had some encounters with them too and they behaved gently though they could not cease staring at my camera.
I used to nurture a fear for years – a fear of opening up. During my schooldays, I could think twice before engaging in a conversation with strangers even when there was a need to but through intensive travelling for the past years, I thrived at conquering this silent fear. I nevertheless pursue the improvement of my people skills by conversing with strangers during my travels. When I began travelling some years back, I would look at people and spend time weighing the pros and cons of whether I should speak to them or not. Time, my thirst of exclusive stories and my willingness to touch lives have all led me to think less and to feel more. In the course of time, I ceased wondering and worrying about what will happen if I converse with strangers. I now just walk to people and trigger a conversation on any random subject with them; carrying myself with a high degree of confidence and wearing a wide smile on my face. I usually begin with questions that create an interest in the minds of people – questions on the history of a place to questions on the individual’s favorite dish. Needless to say, silence is one of the common answers I get too but this is something I expect and accept as a traveler. I approached this colorful lady and tried to speak to her, to understand why she does what she does. As a traveller, it is essential to have a questioning mind that can ask the right question at the right time. She was too shy to respond to my question. Silence settled in. On seeing me photographing her, she quickly turned her face. She then whispered:
“You can take my picture but please make sure you don’t get my face in it”
I chose not to complicate things and I just captured that moment through my lens before moving on to pursue more adventures.
I then approached this gentleman who was selling fresh juice by the roadside. He felt rather pleased to have been photographed on that day and on promising him that I would share his picture on my travel blog, he was even more delighted. I seized the opportunity to question him about what he loves most about his job and his answer was the privilege to serve people by quenching their thirst.
I overtly walked with a herd of calm sheep on the road of Lonavla. People looked at me twice for it is not something, I presume, the locals would take pleasure in doing but I marched ahead smilingly and confidently until the locals were not surprised at the scene anymore.
While venturing to places like Lonavla, I highly recommend you to bring extra battery along with you for your camera as there are so many things to capture on the way – from the famous Chikki shops to lovely temples hiding in the greenery. Take as many pictures as you can of all the things around you. People and places in the pictures change but the pictures do not and this is the beauty of travel photography.
Later in the evening, after spending a reasonable amount of time digging into the culture of Lonavla, I visited the Celebrity Wax Museum. It is located on the Old Mumbai -Pune Highway, Lonavla. The entrance fee is Rs. 150. The museum has a good collection of wax statues of many celebrities including the Great Gandhi and Narendra Modi. I spent not more than an hour inside; taking pictures and reading the brief biography of the personages. I have been a little funny too. The picture says it all.
I then travelled to the hilly areas of Lonavla, which is a main tourist attraction too. The local guides and shopkeepers will pester you until you surrender to either hire a guide or taste the local dishes from one of the small restaurants. I do not surrender easily though and if ever I do, then it is not a submission; it is a choice. Local guides have a hard time with me. I do not have the habit of refusing twice. If I feel pestered, I will honestly but nicely express what I feel. This is something you need to excel at if you intend to travel the length and breadth of a place – managing people around you. I met this little boy, wandering around the restaurants. He walked to me and requested me to eat something at a particular roadside restaurant (commonly known as Dhaba). I kindly declined as I was not too hungry and instead, I taught him some basics of photography from the little I know about this art. He felt tremendously inspired at that time.
Not far from the restaurants, there was a space dedicated for camel and horse riding. I could not miss the camel ride there. It is not something I am fond of but I was not cruel either to the animal. It costed me less than Rs. 50 for the camel ride that lasted for around three minutes only.
I wonder if a sunset can be tasted but so far, I smelled and heard it on the peak of Lonavla Hills. The sun dipped gradually leaving behind hues of countless colors in the sky; this made the heat smell differently. I could hear lesser human activity and lesser chirping of birds. I looked at the landscape and felt how much love there is between the colors of the flora and the flora itself. Though they are conscious that they have not been promised a lifetime bond, they still dare to love secretly and sincerely for love does not confine itself to relationships.
On travelling down the hill, I passed by a small village.I thought I would see little wrinkled old ladies sitting crossed-legged outside of their huts and mischievous children playing around. I rather came across a scene completely contrary to what I initially had in mind. It was that of some locals toiling the land and picking stones as part of a major construction that was going on in the village. A lot of activity was going on the site. As I walked in the village, they would all look at me inquiringly but some minutes later, I was warmly accepted by the villagers. There is a magic in being quickly accepted – it is the magic of empathy. If people accept me quickly wherever I travel to, it is entirely because I place myself in their shoes and feel what they do. That’s all.
While continuing my exploration in Lonavla, I met this gentleman who owns a pottery store by the roadside. The store comprises of a huge collection of colorful pottery products. It’s a feast to the eyes to gaze at the store from outside. It blends so harmoniously with its location – surrounded by green trees and other pottery stores.
On my way to Khandala, to admire the sunset from one of its famous viewpoints, I could not resist the spicy roasted corn (commonly known as Bhutta). Beside spices (masalas), lime juice is also sprinkled on the corn to make it tastier. If you ever decide to visit this beautiful part of the world, don’t leave without eating the Bhutta. On eating the spicy roasted corn, I had some reminiscences of Kenya. I remember having eaten roasted corn by the roadside while road-tripping from Nairobi to Naivasha some years back.
And then, the day drew to an end with a soulful contemplation on the sunset at Khandala.
Even if I write millions of words about my road trip from Mumbai to Lonavla, I will remain doubtful as to whether my words have done justice to what my soul has truly felt.
Road trips never lie. They teach even beyond books.