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I was wrong about Kashmir

The temperature betrayed the latitude of the Dal Lake in Srinagar at the wee hours of the evening. I thought the weather would be pleasantly sunny and the water would be lukewarm but the contrary was true; the climate was humid and cold. The lake was so quiet, as if it contained unrevealed secrets confided to it by travelers over the course of time. The little boats (Shikaras) were carrying not only passengers and their luggage, but their stories and their dreams too.

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I dipped my left hand in the icy and crystal-clear water and quietly listened to the chirping of birds housed by the lake.

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Nothing else mattered at that moment except the splashing sound of the water as the boat strode through the lake, the air thickening with the fragrance of colorful flowers being sold by cheerful boatmen, the undisturbed houseboats forming the entourage of the lake and the thousand wandering thoughts of my mind.

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The multicolored  and undisturbed houseboats bear testimony to the disastrous flood that occurred in Kashmir few years back. Each crack has a distinctive story to narrate.

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There’s a lot of media hype surrounding vacations in Kashmir; associating the country with terror, racism and prejudices.I always thought heaven was somewhere in Kashmir. I was wrong. Having been to this part of the world, I understood that Kashmir is not heaven; heaven is Kashmir. Even the playful ducks can’t resist it.KEV_9237.JPG

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Good-bye Jaipur

Parting from a cherished place cannot happen without dying a little inside; but beside the burden of the unseen heartache that we conceal in our hearts in such circumstances, we carry also the prospect of nourishing our souls with newness – the colors and contrasts of a soulful city. I walked out with not only my luggage filled with memories but with my heart filled with stories too. The weather outside was so warm and pleasant.

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The overwhelming love that grew in my heart for Jaipur rendered my departure harder; and I learned again that letting go is vital for safeguarding our inner peace. I closed my luggage in Jaipur but not my heart to Jaipur; and embarked on another road-trip, leading to the magnificent Agra.

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I encountered so many people and places ― each having a distinct story to narrate.

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I listened to uncountable stories from people along the road and they all had something to say.

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The Snake Charmer of New Delhi

Dreams; I have many and one of those cherished dreams is to journey across the world, connect with people and their stories, and feel their cultures. I never thought I would travel so intensively at this tender age, but it is happening and I am utterly convinced that there is no greater magic than this.

It took me hours to travel from Agra to New Delhi, by road but road trip is the school of life and few hours can impart to travel enthusiasts years of wisdom. On arriving in New Delhi, I was left stunned by how colorful this city is. The colors of the buildings, of the temples and of the markets are so vibrantly contrasting that momentarily glancing at them would do injustice to their prestige. I walked through the streets of this city and looked carefully at everything around me; wearing a smile on my face. The noise of the place had no power to divert my attention because the power of city captivated my heart at the very moment I stepped in.

On walking around and capturing the wonders of the place, I met a snake charmer and indulged in a conversation with him – appreciating his journey of life. Without any hesitation, I requested for the snake to be placed around my neck for a picture to be taken and so far, this remains my best memory from New Delhi.

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We create our own stories and without undertaking risks while journeying, we create only stories; not great stories.

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Being one with the Taj Mahal

9th November 2015 was the date when I, for the first time ever, set my eyes on the magnificent Taj Mahal. I still find it hard to believe that such a monument does exist. The size of the huge white domes, the intricacies of the stunning architecture and the silence of the place; all rendered me flabbergasted. I composed a soulful melody from my wooden flute and became one with the undisturbed Taj Mahal.

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I will be elaborating further on my journey to the Taj Mahal, in future posts.

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On the streets of Jaipur

The streets of Jaipur are not too much occupied, if compared to those of Mumbai though they are not either on two complete extremes. The 7th of November 2015 started with the appreciation of the soothing instrumental music being composed by a gentleman in the hotel’s restaurant. I walked to him, just after having my breakfast, and congratulated him for the soulful performance. There’s no greater feeling than instilling confidence in the heart of an artist.

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Shortly after the breakfast, I went out to explore Jaipur – the Pink City. The roads are well paved and marked, in the heart of the city. The city is quieter compared to Mumbai.

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The city lives up to its name, for it offers a pinkish topography that is a feast to the eyes.

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Here’s a glimpse of the Palace of Winds (Hawa Mahal), which is a prominent tourist attraction in Jaipur. It was built for women of the royal household so as they could observe street festivals without being seen by the outsiders.

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I noticed also that people refrain from meddling in other people’s affairs. Everyone is busy doing something – from being a road-side astrologer to ruling over a business umpire.

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The Birla Temple of Jaipur

I visited the Birla Temple (also known as the Laxmi Narayan Temple) in Jaipur on the 6th of November 2015. This majestic temple was constructed during the year 1988 by the Birla Group of Industries and it is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and his consort, Lakshmi. I was surprised by the crowd that traveled from all around the country to visit the Birla Temple. This made it quite difficult for me to get pictures of the temple without people in the frame but this was not to the detriment of my photo-collection; the human element adds more meaning to pictures too.

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The evening light on the white marble of the temple rendered it captivating and this scenery was harmoniously blending with the serenity of the place.

I could not leave that place without posing for a picture.

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I don’t think it’s only faith that inspires people to visit the Birla Temple; the soothing environment and the little conversations that foster camaraderie inspire people too.

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Hello Jaipur

Jaipur, founded by Jai Singh II in 1727, is a flamboyant city boasting itself of its enthralling history. I smiled to myself on gazing through the plane’s window as I landed in Jaipur, on the 6th of November 2015 at 12:35 p.m.

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The Jaipur International Airport is not that crowded and hence, I could easily and quickly complete all the necessary procedures before stepping out of the airport. I had a different picture of the airport but my presumption deceived me. I was quite impressed by the infrastructure of the place at a first glimpse of it.

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It was hard to digest the fact that I was eventually in Jaipur – the Pink City, and I would whisper words to persuade myself that I was undeniably there. It took me more than an hour to reach the hotel but I have no complaints about it, for the distance offered me the opportunity to admire the city at twilight.

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Each and every road conceal and reveal so many things – from the sacrifice of a father to the history of a city.

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I stopped at the Birla Temple (originally known as the Lakshmi Narayan Temple). It is located below the Moti Dungri Fort. It remains intricate to put into words the serenity that filled my heart while walking in the direction of this marvelous temple built in pure white marble. I spent nearly an hour at this place; photographing the temple and meeting the locals around the place.

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I then proceeded to the hotel where I had a nice dinner and a well-deserved rest.

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I slept quite early on that night so as to be fresher for a full day city tour on the next day.

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Off the beaten path: From Lonavla to Mumbai

Discovery in itself has no end. The day was drawing to a close but not the discovery. I spent some time writing in my travel journal about so many things – from moments that made me to recollections that marked me. A hot cup of tea stood loyally by my side. I then took a walk in the compound of the hotel where I was staying. The temperature outside was in the double digits – roughly 26 degrees. For a Mauritian traveler, this is not surprising. After hours of travelling and discovery, I slept like a baby; knowing that the next day would be filled of adventures and as such, this would require a high level of energy.

I chose to have breakfast at the hotel as I knew I would have hours of road trips and I would be eating on the streets. I was hence keen to taste the contrast in the hotel’s foods and the street foods.

For breakfast, I had the most popular dish of Lonavla – the Misal Pav. The Misal is a spicy curry made of beans and the Pav is the bread roll.  The dish is usually topped with onions, coriander and other ingredients. Along with the Misal Pav, I ordered an uttapam (a thick pancake made of several ingredients and toppings) and a glass of fresh juice. The food was delicious and the service was impeccable. I even made a small video of an interview that I conducted with the staffs; where they briefly explained the recipe of the Misal Pav and how to consume the dish.

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Soon after the breakfast, I embarked on another fulfilling road trip to Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport – to catch the plane for Jaipur. But, I could not leave without taking a picture with some of the cheerful staffs of the hotel.

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The destination is nothing without the journey but the journey without the destination can still be everything. I came across a huge herd of sheep on the road of Lonavla. This can be a nuisance to drivers who are used to high speed but it remains a feast to the eyes of travelers. I stopped and captured the moment through my lens.

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The way back to Mumbai is as enriching as treading the way to Lonavla. The roads do not cease to teach. I stopped at Khandala for a small cup of tea and had the opportunity to interact with the locals.

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At the early hours of the morning, the countryside seems to be under the magic spell of the pristine light coming all the way from the sky.

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I stopped by a roadside restaurant (commonly known as Dhaba) to buy the popular sweets of Lonavla – Chikki. The Dhaba is so beautifully tucked away from civilization.

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I purchased the Chikki from this good lady who did not hesitate to pose for a quick picture.

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To my surprise, I even found a little temple next to the Dhaba. The temple is guarded by a priest. I crawled inside the small cave to reach the other extreme.

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As usual, I spent time interacting with the people because that is the best way to absorb the culture of the place.

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The road trip continued. The curvy roads and dark tunnels soon began to fade. Mumbai then appeared in the frame.

I boarded the plane after some hours and flew for Jaipur; carrying memories from Lonavla in my heart.

 

 

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Off the beaten path: from Mumbai to Lonavla

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.

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Wide geographical areas were covered with colorful flora and they would rest peacefully in the lap of nature.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And then, the day drew to an end with a soulful contemplation on the sunset at Khandala.

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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.

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The beginning of everything – from a new look to a new book

India is a home away from home and I felt the call of home again this year. Without pondering too much upon whether I should embark on another expedition or not in this country of colors and contrasts, I walked out resolutely to the nearest travel agency and purchased my ticket to Mumbai. Whatever it was at that moment in time, it was a beautiful feeling.

I started preparing for my voyage and needless to say, I kept counting days until the time came to depart from Mauritius to Mumbai.

Here are the main things that I stored in my backpack:

  • First-aid kit
  • NIKON D7000, lenses, memory cards and camera cleaning kit
  • Travel journal, sketch pad, eraser, pen and colored pencils
  • Map of India
  • Passport and travel documents
  • Galaxy Note 10.1
  • Flute
  • A treasurable memento
  • Debit, credit cards and cash

I dressed quite differently this time compared to my normal dress code when I am in Mauritius. There’s a reason behind this. A lot has been going on in my life before this travel. I thought I was in a battle with the world but gradually understood that I was at war with my innermost being. I felt I deserved this voyage and I wanted to renew myself – my lifestyle and my vision. And so, I did it.

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I was silently persuaded that my problems were nothing when compared to those of homeless people wandering on the streets of India, in quest of few morsels of food to satiate their hunger; at least for a night. This instilled in me a stronger purpose to commence my tour. I completely disconnected from who I was before and felt ready to fly high above the sky to reach the land of my ancestors – the incredible India.

Whenever I travel, my family always drive me to the airport. This time was no different. They all came and bid me goodbye; knowing that this travel would mean a lot to me.

Once in the airplane, I took out my tablet and jotted down my emotions in my virtual diary. It is something I often do whenever I feel overwhelmed with emotions. The plane took off at around 16:15.  It took me approximately six hours to reach Dubai where I transited for four hours before departing for Mumbai. The Dubai International Airport is so immense and businesses invade the place to such an extent that there’s no way of getting bored there.

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But, I had to find ways of spending the four hours in Dubai well. I walked for nearly an hour inside, looking at the little things around me and talking to strangers. It was fulfilling. To spend the second hour, I ordered a hot cup of coffee at Starbucks Coffee – something that requires no introduction.

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While having coffee, I seized the opportunity to write in my travel journal about so many things – from unrevealed intricacies of my heart to the untamed desire of travelling. Like so many other travelers, I had a meal voucher offered by Emirates too. I hence proceeded to a restaurant, where the voucher could be used, to have a light dinner. I had to opt for a light dinner as it was quite late in the night and I had another plane to catch in the next hours. I loved the dinner – vegetable soup, salads and bread, sandwiches, fruit, coffee and water.

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The remaining one hour at the airport passed in the blink of an eye as I had to undergo the boarding procedures to catch the connecting flight to Mumbai.

I wore a smile on my face throughout the boarding procedures, knowing that time has come to step into the plane that would bring me to the land of wonders. I reached Mumbai at the dimmest hours of the morning and from there, my first road trip to Lonavla began. It was the start of a three weeks’ unforgettable and meaningful adventure. Road trips never lie; they teach and I become.

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There’s a lot to say about the road trip from Mumbai to Lonavla. I will write a post specifically for this in the near future. If there’s something I’d like convey at this point in time, to let you know what India did to me through this voyage, it’s simply that it did everything that I needed mostly at this stage of my life.