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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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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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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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From Le Pétrin to Grande Rivière Noire – a trail never to forget

This Sunday, 28th of June 2015, I did something different. I went for trekking.

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At the earliest hours of the morning, I woke up to the call of my name and to the dim rays of sun seeping through the brown curtains of my room. I opened my eyes to see my brother calling my name. I knew the night has passed and the day has arrived – a day unlike others. I collected myself and woke up minutes later.

I filled my backpack with my travel journal, pen, some books, my digital camera and all its lenses, a vacuum-insulated thermos filled with coffee, an outdoor pullover, some mint candies, my sunglasses and a ripe avocado. Even though the weather outside was rainy and gave me enough reasons not to venture outside, I reminded myself that I have a purpose and that purpose cannot be defeated by mere drops of rain. The exhilaration of my companions, throughout the expedition, convinced me that I made the right decision by embarking on this adventure.

The trail began at Le Pétrin to end at Grande Rivière Noire, Mauritius. The team demonstrated determination throughout the journey. We had long conversations that would never end and needless to say, we took hundreds of pictures that would keep the memories alive. The scenery was to die for.

I felt like a child seeing things for the first time. I wandered into the unknown and found my way back. I felt complete and alive. Undoubtedly, I will come back again.

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Sunset at Versova Beach, Mumbai

Every time I endeavor to write about India, a little worry settles in and I ruminate on whether I will succeed in doing justice to the splendors of this continent. But, as I weave my words with my emotions, I find poise in my mind and I walk down the lane of memories to collect fragmented moments left behind; just like an attentive child collecting seashells at the beach and marveling at their colors.

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I found a soothing escape on the 17th of March 2015, at Versova Beach in Mumbai. The energy springing from the setting of the sun rejuvenated my being. I love the little things in life – the hue of the sunset, the shimmering stars, the colors of the sunrise, the cherished road trips, the first love letter, the evening coffee, the silence of the mountains and much more.
Versova beach is a beach of contrasts. Though the slum has invaded the beach, the breathtaking vistas of the sunset is to die for. I walked across the beach, befriended the locals and photographed the sun as it dived into the ocean.
I closed my eyes, traveled deep into myself and allowed a feeling of gratitude to settle in my being.