Istanbul never lies

Six hours. This is the duration of the flight from Kigali International Airport, Rwanda, to Istanbul Atatürk Airport, Turkey. It all came as a surprise to me that I have to transit via Istanbul to reach my final destination: Mauritius. As an adventurous young man, the surprise was a pleasant one. While Turkish Airlines managed to impress me with the assorted and mouthwatering food they had to offer on board, I was absolutely mesmerized, minutes before landing, by the topography of Istanbul. The plane dived freely into the air space of Asia and Europe, and this was a scene worth dying for. I saw myriads of small boats sailing in the lap of Eurasia’s sea, and gigantic bridges connecting cities. I grew absorbed into my thoughts, nodding to the doleful fact that humans do not create only bridges and boats, but borders too.

Prior to exiting the airport, I made sure to convert some dollars to the local currency of Turkey: the Turkish Lira. As I exited the big and busy airport, I saw many taxis around but I was recommended by one airport officials, to only choose the yellow taxis as they are supposedly the most trustworthy ones. He was right. The driver was humble and respectful, and the taxi had legit meters.

I entered Istanbul carrying many questions in my eyes and the answers were contained in the unplanned meetings with strangers, in the sacred and breathtaking mosques, in the delicious local food, in the serene gardens and in the spirit of Istanbul. The modern infrastructure and exquisite architecture render the city vivid, colorful and contrasting.

I checked in at the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, located in Bağcılar, which is around twenty minutes’ drive from the airport. The hotel was comfy, imposing in appearance and affordable.

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After a hot shower, I headed to Bosphorus: a calm and posh area. It took me around thirty minutes from Bağcılar to Bosphorus by car.  I walked for hours on the streets of Bosphorus: clicking pictures and meeting the locals. I checked in at one of the popular restaurants, called The Market, to have a delicious cup of Turkish coffee. It was love at first sip.  

Sultanahmet, a historical district of Istanbul, was glorious and unique. I felt the divine call of its mosques and decided to travel there the next day. Bosphorus and Sultanahmet are separated by the sea. Many passenger boats were sailing back and forth from Bosphorus to Sultanahmet.

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Istanbul welcomed me with smiles and coffee. I spent the first day to understand the culture of the place: from the greeting etiquettes to food habits. I reached the hotel in the evening and penned down the moments of the first day in my travel diary. One important lesson that I learned on this first day in Istanbul is that Istanbul never lies. It speaks of faith but it brings you to its doors too: the mosques. It takes pride in its local food and it offers you umpteen restaurants and cafes.

It is as it is.

It is an open book for travelers to read.

 

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Boat Trip: Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar

From the busy shores of Dar es Salaam, the Zanzibar archipelago is a luring dream in the eyes of insatiable travellers. After sojourning in the heart of Dar es Salaam for a night, I filled my light brownish backpack with a couple of clothes, a travel journal made of recycled paper, a black pen and a compelling book, hanged my Nikon D7000 around my neck, slipped my GoPro into my pocket and headed to the ferry terminal of Dar es Salaam.

It came as a surprise to me that the immigration procedures weren’t lengthy at the ferry terminal in Dar es Salaam in spite of umpteen travellers. As I glanced around to study the surrounding, I saw people of different nationalities; some absorbed in long-lasting conversations, some sleeping on their chairs and others staring emptily around. Beside passengers, I saw few vendors walking around the terminal with baskets filled with assorted snacks and drinks. If you ever travel through this terminal in the future and in the hurry of departure, if you fail to eat your breakfast or lunch, you can rest assured. The assorted snacks and drinks can easily be found outside and inside the terminal, and the prices are reasonable.

In the wait for the boat, I switched on my laptop and exuberantly browsed through some pictures which I took a day before. Meanwhile, dad was filling the entry declaration form for custom processes in Zanzibar.

After an hour’s wait, the cheerful staffs at the terminal began instructing all the passengers to line up for the boarding. I stepped into the line too and gradually walked to the boat. I was struck by the the beauty, size and comfort of the boat. I smiled as I recalled the time spent in choosing the mode of travel from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar. At the first glimpse of the boat, I felt a tinge of happiness for having made the right choice: a boat trip instead of an air trip.

 

As we settled in, the boat began sailing off the coast of Dar es Salaam. Two minutes elapsed and I could not move my eyes off the shore; distancing itself from me. I plunged into my thoughts and felt grateful for all that Dar es Salaam taught me.

Two hours. This was the time it took us to reach the Zanzibar archipelago but in these two hours, I learned many things. The boat was spacious and comfortable inside. There weren’t too many activities inside the boat. Some passengers seemed so exhausted that they seized these two hours to sleep and some were tirelessly gushing about the splendour of Zanzibar. I found some passengers on the deck of the boat too; lost in their thoughts and admiring the deep blue ocean.

I  walked to the deck too and after some time, dad joined. I looked around me. There were no boundaries. I saw the horizons where the sky seemed to be kissing the ocean. Everything was so peaceful. Everyone was so absorbed. I saw few small boats sailing in the lap of the ocean. I felt freedom. I felt I was still a child at 28 and I smiled. I felt discovery in my eyes. I felt adventure in my heart.

Gradually, Zanzibar came into view and that moment, I knew everything would be different. I knew some stories were waiting for me at the shore. I knew and I was right.

In the course of my travels, I have been to numerous places; each of them proving me how wrong I was about them. A couple of years ago, I knew nothing about Zanzibar but this trip made it part of me. An important part.

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Glimpses of Dar es Salaam

As a child, I used to walk along the beach and looked at the bare horizon; wondering whether it was the boundary of my world or the beginning of another. I never found the answer until I began travelling in 2011. I thought it would be an exploration of boundaries and an expedition of territories, but it was more. Travelling turned out to be an institution that shapes us in a way or another.

I could feel the burnout after months of intense office works and after competing in the highly challenging law exams. Apart from works and studies, I had few more subtle reasons why I felt the urge to halt everything and to turn more inward. Like every year, I filled my loyal backpack and set out in quest of stories that few would have to share.

But this time, there was something exceptional and meaningful about the voyage: my father was my travel-buddy. Our chosen destinations were the majestic Tanzania and Kenya. It was a dream coming true. Two years have elapsed since I have last travelled to Africa.

We spent few weeks preparing for this trip: from watching a series of revealing documentaries on the colours and contrasts of these countries to getting immersed in devising the most convenient travel plan. Additionally, I made a checklist of the things I should obligatorily carry with me while travelling. I would highly recommend you to prepare a detailed checklist if you are travelling too. Your checklist should be reflective of your destination.

Here are a few things that my checklist included:

  • Travel documents including reservations, tickets and passport
  • Credit cards
  • Contact information of hotels and the tour operator
  • Emergency contacts
  • Creams including sunscreens, organic aloe vera serum and pain-relief cream
  • A basic first-aid kit comprising of bandages, antiseptic ointments, paracetamol and other essential items
  • Medicines including eye drops, ear drops, insect repellant, fever relievers and anti-malaria
  • Book (Mayada: Daughter of Iraq, a book by Jean Sasson)
  • Travel journal and pen
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Shampoo and conditioner; especially to maintain my curly hair 
  • Photography accessories including lenses (70 – 300 mm, 50 mm and 18 – 105 mm), cleaning kit, memory cards, battery grip, spare battery and charger
  • Macbook Pro and headphones 
  • GoPro Hero3
  • Selfie stick
  • Travel watch

As far as possible, I tried to adhere to the checklist but after all I’m human and I tend to forget things too. Can you guess what have I forgotten from the checklist? One of the most important items: the anti-malaria medicine. Consequently, I am strictly using the insect repellant and the mosquito nets to protect myself. Cross fingers.

The most awaited day finally arrived when we had to pursue our adventures on the African territories. We departed from Mauritius at 08:40 a.m. to land in Dar es Salaam at around 11:20 a.m. Our eyes remained glued on the spectacular topography of Dar es Salaam as we looked down through the window of the plane few minutes prior to landing.

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Upon arrival in Dar es Salaam, I walked inside the airport with conscious pride and gratitude. My eyes could not cease to scan the surrounding. I proceeded to the international arrivals concourse and surprisingly, VISA requirement was not imposed on me. The official, at the arrival counter, stamped my passport with a blue entry stamp and said “Jambo” (salutation in Swahili) while wearing a wide smile on her face. No mention of VISA requirement was made. I stood stunned as I remember having been informed by the Consulate of Tanzania of the VISA requirement for Mauritians to enter the country. But I masked my surprise, smiled back at the official and exited the Julius Nyerere International Airport. Everything was new to me. I was walking in a place where no one knew my name and I loved that feeling. Unplugging from the common world and connecting to a quieter inner world was the best gift I could offer myself at this point in time of life.

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I stayed at the Transit Motels, a small but comfy hotel located 400 m from the Julius Nyerere International Airport. If you aren’t carrying heavy luggages, you can easily walk to the hotel. This place is good for an overnight stay. The rooms were simple and clean. Mosquito nets were provided. Free WI-FI was available too. The hotel staffs were friendly and readily responded to my queries. Coffee and tea are freely available at any time. There’s something I would not recommend you though. If you are intending to explore the city, I’ll advise you not to go with the hotel’s drivers. They’ll overcharge you. The best thing to do is catch a bus outside. It’s not only cheap but it’s the most authentic way of living life as a local in Dar es Salaam.

 

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After settling in the hotel, we preferred to have lunch outside as it served as an excuse to explore the city too in the little time we had in Dar es Salaam. The temperature outside was warm but not inconvenient for a walk.

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Our driver recommended us several shopping malls but being quite exhausted after hours of flight, I chose the closest one which was the Quality Centre Mall, one of the popular and highly frequented shopping malls in Dar es Salaam. The mall is situated at Nyerere Road. From entertainment to healthcare services, it is a one-stop shop where you shall find a wide chain of products and services.

We had lunch at an affordable restaurant found on the first storey of the mall. I forgot the name of the restaurant though. We paid 6000 Tanzanian Shillings per person for an open buffet.

I could not leave without meeting people and understanding their stories, as this remains the focus of all my travels. I walked in the compound of the mall and indulged in deep conversations with strangers. They all had to something to share: from their struggles to their dreams. From my experience, people in Dar es Salaam are approachable and good.

In the evening, we took a walk in the surrounding of the Transit Motels and again, our focus was people. We met a lot of strangers and some even invited us to visit their homes. This touched my heart. I was on the brink of accepting one invitation but time was not in my favour; I had to politely decline. If ever you are landing in Dar es Salaam and you have enough time to visit around, then you should not bother about going too far. There are a number of villages around the area. Just walk around, meet people and create stories.

As the night drew to an end, we walked to the Flamingo Restaurant which is found in the Julius Nyerere International Airport and it is open to the public. Though the food was expensive, it was a tasty treat to the stomach.

 

Behind the hustle and bustle of Dar es Salaam, there’s a lot of stories awaiting to be lived. If you are heading to this beautiful part of Planet Earth, I hope this blog post will give you some ideas about where to stay, where to go for lunch and dinner and how to make your stay meaningful.

 

 

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The silence of the Mahakali Caves

“One day, I will walk to these places again to feel who I was once” I whispered this sentence as I stepped out of the breathtaking Mahakali caves. 

Monday, 16 March 2015. I cannot forget this date. I was sitting clueless in my room; in Hotel Comfort Inn, situated at Jogeshwari West, Mumbai. The clock was ticking and time was running out. I had no plans and no idea about where I should go or what I should do. I was alone; trying to figure out how to do justice to my adventurous spirit. The solution didn’t take too long for the bell to ring in my mind. I grasped my mobile phone, connected to the internet and typed in these keywords: Attractions in Andheri. The search results were endless but amidst all the attractions, I felt the divine urge to explore the mystical Mahakali caves located in Andheri East of Mumbai. Centuries back, this Buddhist monastery served as cells for monks. I traveled by a rickshaw from Jogeshwari to the Mahakali caves. It took me approximately 25 minutes to reach there and the fare didn’t exceed INR 150, but it’s advisable to keep an eye on the meter. You cannot completely eliminate the risk of some cunning tampering with the meter.

There is no entrance fee to visit the caves. The place was neither crowded nor were there tourist guides to pester the visitors.

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At first, I hesitantly walked in but I quickly felt settled and allowed my sheer curiosity to drive me. I could feel the profound silence of the place; cradling me in its divinity.

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I leisurely walked around; trying to visualise how this place could once have been. I’m pretty sure that even my imagination failed to depict its past splendours.

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To be one with the holiness of the caves, I proceeded to meditate for some time; something I’d recommend you to try too. The serene ambience blends with the undisturbed silence of the caves; rendering it ideal for meditation.

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Travelling is not exclusively about crossing geographies; it’s more about transcending our deepest fears and confusions, while being at peace with who we are deep inside. If you are in Mumbai and you wish to pursue a transcendental adventure, in a place tucked away from the hustle and bustle of every day life, then do not think twice: Mahakali Caves is the place.

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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 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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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.