On the 3rd of March 2013, it was exactly a year since I wrote something titled “Syria, International Politics and an Indian’s nightmare in Bangalore.” While President Bashar al-Assad gave hints of reform in Syria, I sat on a balmy night in Bangalore, helping out a fellow travel addict from yonder Deutschland (by the name of Lutz) trace out a route from Bangalore to Niederelvenich, Germany – by road and with his newly wedded Indian bride.
Syria was boiling over and, in all its misery, giving a nightmare to a guy sitting in India. I was, at the end of it, able to chart a route for Lutz over Damascus and into the Turkish border, just before the gates closed. And Lutz, after over two months on the road, sent me an email from the comforts of his home in Niederelvenich – “All is well!”
That welcome infection
Until I met Lutz, in a fashion, and helped him over the vast plains of middle earth (quite literally here), I often bragged as being a proverbial vagabond, having travelled long and far myself. His trans Asian-European trip humbled me. I had to take off! Craft my own little silk-route, hippie trail, forbidden path. The Niederelvenich effect still holding strong, I again find myself with the familiar map, customs websites and old contact books, planning the perfect road trip.
Picking the destinations: On cheroots, Wayne Rooney and floating markets
‘This is Burma, it is quite unlike any place you know about’ is what Rudyard Kipling had written.
It is a place where gold Buddhas are still bathed along the shores of the spectacular Bagan, where horse-drawn carts still cart travellers across dusty paths. In Burma, Wayne Rooney is a star and English Premiere League is followed like a religion, and with so much gusto that the toothless cheroot stained gums of old men put the pale skinned “bugger” lobbing English brats to shame. Kipling, when he linked Burma to sultry but exotic heat, over four thousand gleaming stupas and tragedy of love, unwittingly bought me a ticket that I now cannot refuse. But my destination is beyond.
Why is it that I absolutely hate writing about a place I so love? It’s a classic love-hate relationship. One that keeps you awake at nights, seduces you to think unabashedly and yet places a lock on your fingers so intricate that it’s well impossible to break.
Often, when I face writer’s block, I take out my trusted notepad and an age-old pencil. The ones with a pink eraser on top? Yes, those. I take short notes of what exactly I am thinking and what ought to be in print. Sometimes, those writings are about not being able to write itself. I often tell myself, “when you do not know what to write, write about that”, if you know what I mean. Shillong beats me to that.
Shillong, and Meghalaya at large, had borrowed my heart without asking and has kept it with her ever since. The dead cold nights, the bon fires on New Year’s eve give me the bitter sweet smiles come every turn of year. Mother’s sewn white lace curtains are something I have never been able to find anywhere else. The soil and moss that sustained such exotic species of orchids need to be bought now. Plums grew in the backyard, ripe peaches dropped on our heads as father and I raked the weed. Sounds of far away lorry struggling to pull along seventy degree rises and distant echo of chopping wood broke the silences of the night and sleepy evenings. Continue reading
What takes a room from being mundane to being simple and yet inviting? In this case, not much other than those tell tale patterned bedspread and fluffy pillows that you are in someone’s home. Only that it is not just a home. With gleaming sun rays filtering in through the windows, a beautifully manicured guest room in Vasant Vihar is one of the many home-stays that have opened up as boutique staying options in New Delhi.
This little cozy nest is the home of a baker and homemaker who built it with love in her 50s. The place comes with all the right kind of additives that we all seem to create a check list for (but actually not always find) — private bathroom, hot water and fresh towels.
Delhi wasn’t this hospitable though (do pardon patrons!) but recently over 300 recorded homes have opened up their spare bedrooms as bed&breakfasts. How did this revolution happen overnight? The Common Wealth Games. While naming the sporting event starts a slew of debates on misappropriation of funds, this is clearly one good thing that came out of it. New Delhi, while preparing to host the games faced one of it’s many shortcomings – it did not have enough beds for its guests. The government started a drive in 2006 to let hosts like Mrs. Bindra to register their homes as bed-and-breakfasts on their official website. Well, it only grew.
Three years ago, a group of travel junkies got together with a very ambitious dream. It was to make online travel better. I call it ambitious because it seems like, that’s the way the world saw it. Last year, when we were in Ocean Drive Hollywood, Florida for the Phocuswright Conference, that was the reaction we got. “You mean to say you are actually trying to solve the whole problem?” was the common question thrown at us. It’s been a while since then. Our endeavour is called mygola.
Over eight months of sleepless nights, drawing at the white boards, building, breaking, and building again, we are closer to that dream. The new mygola launched yesterday late into the night (surreal, almost like the space shuttle launches).
What’s mygola anyway?
When we first got together, the simplest thing we could think of to help fellow travelers was to answer their travel queries. In the process, we helped close to two million users plan their trips to about 100 countries. We got featured on NY Times, TechCruch, etc. While at it, we also realised that there was still something intrinsic missing in the experience.
I started conversing with both world renowned bloggers and unsung travel inspirations from across the globe. In short, the experiences and stories we have heard and subsequently talked about, are nothing short of amazing. There was the story of 54 countries and travel addiction – a conversation with Theodora Sutcliffe and a travel, food and wine revelation in Jefferson’s, Virginia. I spoke to travellers elsewhere too.
The first thing that came to my mind was that when the Lal Quila or the Red Fort was built, it must have come as a very modern departure from the other Mughal Architecture of the period. Shah Jahan sure was progressive. I say this because I have seen my share of medieval Arabic architecture on my wanderings.
We walked in through the three-story Lahore Gate, one of six impressive gateways. It was a meandering walk through a straight road (when in India, you snake around street vendors and more on the widest of roads) across the neighborhood of Chatta Chowk. Lots of quaint shops stock full of cheap souvenirs. It’s one street that is more full of legends than, I wager, the rest of the teeming surroundings of Lal Quila put together. Every other person I met in Delhi told me of a century-something old gem that I just had to visit.
The Booted Tales blog is slowly growing its vines. It’s now on #instagram too (okay, I really could not resist using the #)! A new category of posts starts from today: Booted Tales in Instagram week! Unless one of you good readers can give me a better name 🙂
Find the Booted Tales here: instagram.com/bootedtales/
Here’s the first look!