Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre

Until we open our eyes more to a country’s glories and blind ourselves to its scars, I’m of the view that the art of traveling is nothing else but just a lifeless bucket-list.

I have seen some new mornings in the past couple of months; mornings that are made up of chirping birds, dancing waves of untouched lakes, magma sparks, cold cities, lush green wilderness, endless road trips and unending discoveries. It’s been almost three months that I have packed my luggage with travel diaries, cameras and photographic equipment, traveler’s shoes and outfits and left home to travel the depths and breadths of Africa.

In these three months, I have crossed the Republic of Rwanda, from Kigali to Gisenyi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, from Goma to Kinshasa. One of the places that has moved me is the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, located in the heart of Kigali.

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Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre

I shed teas as I walked inside the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. While traveling into the Rwanda, the posh green forests, the soulful landscapes and the smiles that people wear on their faces would make it impossible to even think that this country has underwent a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi by the members of the Hutu.

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Over 800, 000 Rwandans were killed in less than one year and over 2, 000, 000 were displaced.

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The political leadership of the Honorable Paul Kagame has significantly ended this genocide, when his party took control of the country.  Beside the political will to bring these human tragedies to an end, the Rwandans have demonstrated great strength and faith.

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The country, in the process of rebuilding itself, has come a long way and the rise of Rwanda will continue for their scars are now their reference points that remind them to pursue the construction of a new Rwanda.

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Inside Zanzibar

In my mid-twenties, when I was sojourning in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a great man told me “Once you drink the water in Africa, you will come back again”. I had little or almost no idea of what those words meant when they were being uttered but on the 3rd of September 2016, those words echoed again in my mind and they began to make sense. I was in Zanzibar – an extraordinary island lying off the coast of Tanzania and teeming with its historic heritage, intricate architectures and rich culture. The boat trip from Dar es Salaam was long but not boring as the endless blue ocean was a real feast to the eyes and a deep source for contemplation. After almost three hours of boat ride, Zanzibar showed itself in vivid detail.

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The moment I walked through the Zanzibar Ferry Terminal, I felt that the island had a unique and artistic character of its own, and this became evident as I explored the island.

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Zanzibar is an island of contrast and art. Some streets were occupied and disorganized while some were devoid of commercial activities and people.

The locals were welcoming and seemed to be proud of their country. They have all the reasons to feel so. I pursued the enriching walk and noticed how people were engrossed in their own activities. I saw a young man immersed in reading the newspaper by the side of the road. Nothing appeared to be disturbing him; neither the noisy horn of vehicles nor the giggles of the college students. Not too far away, I saw three elderly men engaged in a conversation by the side of a calmer road.

The most impressive and distinctive aspect of the island is how well it has kept its history alive through its prominent structures and architectures; boasting themselves in the lap of the Stone Town. The paths between the old buildings were narrow and the cables were hanging loose all over the building. I was flabbergasted by the wooden carved doors. I walked close to one of the doors and placed my hand gently on its surface that has turned rough over the course of time but that still bears testimony of the colonization era by the Arab traders.

I toured around Stone Town for almost an hour until I arrived at the Al Johari hotel. Al Johari is a decent hotel but one should not expect good internet connection in the room as wireless internet connection was available only at the restaurant located on the last floor of the hotel.

But Zanzibar is so breathtaking that having internet connection in room will be just a trivial concern. There’s so much to see on the island. After a long day touring around the island, the view from the hotel’s restaurant soothes the soul.

I spent two unforgettable days of my life on this island. One is bound to fall in love with this piece of heaven resting peacefully in the lap of the Indian Ocean.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

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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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A heavenly boat trip along Lake Naivasha

Heaven exists. I have been there.

Lake Naivasha, a freshwater lake in Kenya, is a splendid piece of paradise far from the cacophony of the world. On the 22nd of September 2013, I packed everything and walked out in the pursuit of tales few would have to tell. Even though I journeyed to Lake Naivasha before, the call of its splendors remains tempting. I enjoyed the road trip from Nairobi to Naivasha. The serenity of the desolate villages, the scenic landscapes with grazing cows, herd of cattle and the Massai, the stunning valleys, the dancing clouds, and the freshness of the air were enough to inspire the poet in me. I could fill my travel journal with words.

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In an enthusiasm to arrive at my destination, I did not fail to do justice with my journey. I always make sense of both the journey and the destination. Both are revealing and important. I clearly recall having stopped by a restaurant on the way to taste the typical onion soup. Needless to say, it was delicious.
On arriving at the lake, I walked around and greeted the locals. I soon recollected myself and embarked on a boat trip on the lake. I discovered that the lake was home to thousands of flamingos and hippos. On the shore, I found antelopes, zebras and giraffes. The sky was garlanded with thousands of colorful birds. After nearly an hour’s boat ride, the sky turned grey and it started raining. I soaked my hands in the water. I felt the cold rain on my skin and smiled to myself as I recalled a promise made to someone. I witnessed the majestic rainbow settling over the lake. I presumed that Naivasha smiled at me.

The boat trip soon drew to an end and I walked away with a promise to come back.

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Road trips never lie, Nairobi to Naivasha

In April 2014, my brother submitted to his craving for Africa and traveled to Kenya in quest of adventures. I cheerily drove to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to welcome him on the African continent.

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On the 15th of April 2014, we packed our food supplies and camera, and embarked on a memorable road-trip at the earliest hours of the morning – Nairobi to Naivasha. To live the journey abundantly, we stopped at numerous places. Whenever we came across the locals, we would park the car and we would willingly approach them. We stopped at pastures and lone huts along the road to enjoy some photography. The hawkers would rush to us to invite us to visit their stall. The curiosity of the passerby would increase but few would walk to us. We listened to stories from across villages.

Eventually, we gathered that road trips never lie. It is the purest snapshot of reality. To know, you have to feel and to feel, you have to explore.