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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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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In the lap of Le Bouchon

In the course of my travels, I have come across hundreds of enthusiastic travellers who have Mauritius featuring in their bucket list but there’s something funny too: many have no idea about Mauritius. They have neither heard nor read about it. But, are they to be blamed? I think no. We have an important role to play too in educating the rest of the world about this part of the world. I write about my travels also for this reason- to tell stories that few might live, to promulgate the colours and contrasts of places and to help people soak in different cultures.

Mauritius is not only about the sunbaths and the playful children absorbed in building sand dunes on the beach. It is not only about the star-filled sky. It is not only about the shopping malls. It is about green villages tucked away from the busy cities too. It is about the struggling hawkers too. It is about the chirping birds that render the alarm clock useless in the morning too. And, it is about Le Bouchon too.

I was made aware about a rescue operation that began at Le Bouchon after the Liberian vessel, Lib MV Benita, was shipwrecked near the coast. On the bright Saturday morning of the 23rd July 2016, I decided to travel to Le Bouchon to witness this scene. I had no idea about what I would be seeing. I drove from Pamplemousses, a village located in the northern region of the island, to Le Bouchon, situated in the south east coast. It took me nearly one hour’s drive to reach the destination. I’d recommend you to pack some bottle of waters and eatables.

There’s a reason behind everything; even behind the shipwreck of Lib MV Benita. It was not just a mere coincidence. I think it was meant to be. It was a call to the people of Mauritius who have perhaps closed their eyes to this mesmerising place.

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I walked through the rocky terrain with my camera hanged around my neck. My eyes weren’t tired of scanning the place. I saw few cows grazing grass in the surrounding.

Lib MV Benita did not seem to be boasting its pride but rather, it was resting serenely in the lap of the ocean. I had to take a picture of the helicopter while it was unloading the goods from the ship but in the gist of the moment, I totally forgot. Nevertheless, I may not have pictures of it but I have the memories, for my eyes have observed and my heart has felt.

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The rescue team was so engrossed in their operation. Everything was so neatly coordinated. They seemed not to be disturbed by the onlookers.

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The place wasn’t crowded but as time flew, more and more people came. I looked around and caught a glimpse of two children. The picture speaks for itself.

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Not too far away from this scene, I saw an old man sitting on a stone with his fingers interlaced and his attention unswerving from the ship. I could not decipher what he was contemplating upon but something was apparent: there was something that he was confiding to Lib MV Benita. 

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I toured around the place and met the inhabitants of the locality. I love spontaneous conversations with strangers. There’s always something to learn from them. Le Bouchon is more than just a public beach for some people. It’s their workplace. I met this determined lady who was selling fruit salads.

Until Benita is here, I am earning more“, the lady said.

A deep line, isn’t it? Can you imagine how?

Le Bouchon is not much frequented but since the shipwreck of Lib MV Benita, more and more people have been visiting this beach. Lib MV Benita has been a blessing in disguise for the few hawkers who have been toiling hard under the scorching sun. They have been selling more that they usually do.

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I could not resist the fruit salads. I’m sure you would also not have left this place without tasting the salads. I ate some and then walked leisurely to the other extreme of the beach. It took me around seven minutes to reach there. It was a lot more greener and calmer compared to this side.

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I kept clicking as many pictures as I could, but I also made sure to put my camera down from time to time and to feel the magic of the place.

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I spent nearly two hours in the lap Le Bouchon. It was the first time I’ve been there and I’m sure that it won’t be the last time. I’ll visit this place again in the future. I hope that the outstanding natural beauty of this place will not be interfered with.

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I still remember the tales from Dubreuil

Travelling isn’t about the miles we cover with our vehicles; it is the miles we cover with our soul.

On Wednesday, 6 June 2016, I woke up with no plan for the day and ended up trusting the road to guide me. Tank filled with fuel, oil level verified and tire pressure checked; I embarked on another adventure into the unknown. This time, I wasn’t alone. I was accompanied by two like-minded brothers, who added the sense of humour to the trip.

“Where are we heading to?”, asked one of them curiosity in his eyes.

“The road will answer this”, I replied cheerfully.

The enthusiastic chit-chatting began to die as time flew by, and as lethargy permeated in the air, no voices could be heard coming from the back seat. Uneven rumbles of the tyres on the road surface and the soft music in the car, were all that could be heard.

After almost an hour’s drive, we travelled through a road lined with green trees on both sides; as if it was the road to paradise. I did not pursue the trip any further until I took a walk down the street. The air was filled with the scent of the wild herbs and flowers. The spectacular scene of the light beams piercing through the green foliage was a real feast to the eyes.

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My brothers and I, we are usually high-spirited but we can also become very quiet too. They could not resist the scene either. While they were happily capturing some pictures of the place which turned out to be jaw-dropping, I was silently walking down the lane. The wild flowers bought me somewhere in their world and made me think. Trapped in the clutches of wild shrubs and plants, they could have yearned for squishy soil to grow but they choose rather to blossom in their own little ways. The wilderness keeps stifling them but they keep forgiving the trees, the shrubs and the herbs for robbing them of their spaces and composure. As I was contemplating on making sense of the little things around me, my brothers too accompanied me in the walk; speaking less and living more.

We refilled our energy reserves and continued our adventure. Few minutes later, Dubreuil came into view; a green village tucked away from the hustle and bustle. I feel deeply connected to this undisturbed part of the world because some chapters of my childhood were etched here. I still remember the tales from Dubreuil. I used to spend sleepless nights listening to the scary and spooky tales narrated vehemently by my aunt.

The innocent and playful walks in my uncle’s farms are still vivid in my memory. I could not explore Dubreuil without visiting them.

After some time spent with them, we set off again and keenly drove through the tea fields surrounded by silent hills and neatly trimmed tea plants. The scene was to die for. The narrow pathway leading to the field was covered with mud but this did not prevent me from venturing inside.

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I stopped the car and took a walk in the lush green fields despite the muddy paths. It sounds exciting but one has to be careful as the risk of slipping is high in such places.

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While touring around, I found some wild raspberries hiding away beneath large guava leaves. I could easily distinguish them by their leaves and consumed a handful of them. I must admit that they are not tasteful but nevertheless, they managed to quench my light hunger at that time.

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The journey continued; from picking raspberries to basking in the country’s glories. I have too many stories but too few words to narrate them.

 

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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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The beauty of becoming

The dynamics of my life taught me some noteworthy lessons lately. I buried some secrets deep inside for years – I have loved. The darkness of this world is so terrifying that I had to nurture this love in the light of my heart. I loved quietly through my fears and tears. It took me years to muster a resolute courage and to eventually confess my deepest truth to a world filled of lies. I presumed I would be respected for my honesty rather than being judged for loving, but the contrary happened. I learned hence to bury some pains in my heart, to wipe my tears and to confide to none but the universe. I walked out with a heart filled with scars – each telling a profound story. I thought I was fighting the whole world to protect my emotions but when I stopped and questioned myself, I understood that I was at war with myself. I needed a trustworthy friend to listen to the echoes of my mind and the silent screams of my heart; not necessarily to solve the quandaries of my life. I traveled outside and inside; looking for a glimmer of hope.

The beauty of becoming

I found none until I gazed at the grandeur of the wide blue sky. It stole something from me as I stared deeper at it; and that was my agony. I conversed for hours with the universe and to my surprise, it would listen and even answer. I found some answers though I am yet to find more. From nurturing fears to unleashing love, I was becoming something every day throughout this battle – something greater than myself. Have you ever come across a tree laden with ripe fruits? It does not submit to the inner and outer changes so easily; to a point that it even agrees to bend low. Nevertheless, it dies every day knowing that its fruits shall eventually fall and gradually vanish. The little deaths that consume the tree ever day somehow shape it to become something sturdier. I die every day too but my deaths make me; they don’t break me. I die knowing that I hide nothing within. I die knowing that I have spoken my truth. I die knowing that I am pure in spirit. I therefore die fulfilled and thus, I become something greater than myself.

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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.