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.

DSC_6109.jpg

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.

DSC_6077.jpg

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.

 

Advertisements
Image

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.

DSC_7665.jpg

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.

DSC_7674.jpg

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.

 

GOPR3728.jpg

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.

GOPR3734.jpg

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.

 

 

Image

Fatehpur Sikri —meanings behind monuments

The popular “golden triangle” road trip needs no thorough introduction to avid travellers. It remains one of the most pursued, deeply enthralling and highly recommended road-trips in India. It covers the broad geographies of Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. People travel miles away from home to fulfil this goal in their bucket list. In 2015, I set out on these routes too and not too far from the city of Agra lies the Fatehpur Sikri fort, in the city of Fatehpur Sikri.

The Fatehpur Sikri fort is more than just a blend of historical monuments and forts. It features among the World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO. It has endless things to reveal if you attentively listen to it but the sad reality is that it has ended up being just an option in travel plans for foreigners. Prior to finalising my itinerary for this road trip, I discussed with numerous travel agencies to understand the options they had to offer. Almost all of them added this place just as a stop over and they expected me to spend roughly an hour there. I was there and I can tell you, it’s not a place to just stop over because you were on the way to another destination. It will be a sheer injustice to the depth of Fatehpur Sikri if you visit this place, just because you were passing by. When you do something, do it well or don’t do it at all. I would recommend you to spend few hours leisurely to explore the length and depth of this breathtaking destination.

The taxis will usually drop you at the downhill area, which is cluttered with hawkers and their stalls. There is no doubt that they will approach you, with the aim to sell their products. I would have advised you to listen to them if the prices were affordable but having been in the shops, I encourage you not to stop by unless you have a budget which you want to waste on items that are sold at cheaper prices in other markets. Pursue your road straightforwardly to the small bus station. Buses are readily available and the fare is very cheap to reach the fort.

KEV_6201.JPG

People will generally advise you not to rent a guide when you are journeying to this place. Even I used to think like this but some places cannot fully be understood without a knowledgeable guide. This applies for Fatehpur Sikri too. If you are merely walking around with your camera to get some pictures of the place and tell people that you have been there, then you may choose not to rent a guide; but is it really purposeful? If you are willing to feel the spirit of the place and understand what it once used to be, then a knowledgeable guide can be of great help. If you look closely at the extreme right of this picture, you’ll notice a group of tourists absorbed in the words of the guide. I found that even Indians chose to be guided. They aren’t wrong in doing so; the historical depth of this place requires this.

KEV_6269.JPG

Apart from the wisdom of guides, the fort is home to numerous small and open education centres where people are taken back to the Mughal era. Through a series of videos, people are able to grasp the significance of what has happened during those ages.

KEV_6260.JPG

 

I remember walking at a very slow pace, gently placing my hands on the monuments around me and trying to feel what this place might once have been.

KEV_6249.JPG

The fine architectures will leave you speechless. Again, do not hurry when you are inside. Explore one place at a time. There’s a lot of meanings behind the monuments.

In the course of my travels, I have come across many people; some carrying countless dreams in their hearts and others wandering vainly to find their dreams but whoever crossed my way had something to give me. They had encounters and experiences to share. They had truths and lies to tell. They had emotions to pour out.

And I was fortunate enough to meet these little angels in the surrounding of the fort. They also had something to give me: their smiles.

KEV_6454.JPG

When you are visiting Fatehpur Sikri next time, you now know how to go about it. 

 

Image

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.

KEV_9091.jpg

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

KEV_9162.JPG

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.

KEV_9141 (2).JPG

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.

KEV_9219.JPG

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

I