What is it about new year resolutions anyway? Why are they something we undertake with teeth gritted. A burden to be lifted, against our will.
Give up smoking
Wahi ghise pite resolutions which we know won't last beyond a day and a half. Because in our heart we we really don't want to see them come true.
Making these resolutions work involves pain and sacrifice. By making a resolution - only to quickly break it - we play a little game with ourselves. "See I tried... It's just too hard. Heh heh." And your neighbour nods, in agreement. Chalo effort to kiya. Agle saal dekhte hain.
Well, here's what I propose instead. Resolve to do something, one thing, you really really have always wanted. Let it be something outlandish. Or something small but significant. The important thing is, it should be a heartfelt desire.
Here's what I told myself I would do in 2007: visit 20 'new' places.
As in places I had never been to before.
The thought just popped into my head and somehow it seemed significant. I said, "Chalo dekhte hain". It's not like I specifically plotted and planned to achieve my target. Much of it just happened.
Here's my list (in order of visit)
1. Kodaikanal: This was on New Year day 2007. The decision to visit was an impulsive one. People moan about how commercialised 'hill stations' are these days but we really enjoyed Kodai. Cycling around the periphery of the lake on rented bikes was the most memorable part of the trip. Some other impressions captured here.
2. Bhubaneshwar: This was on the invitation of XIM Bhubaneshwar. That XIMB makes it to the 'top ranking schools list' is impressive considering the locational disadvantage. The ticket I travelled on (Indian) was apallingly expensive - close to 20,000 bucks. Utne mein to aadmi Singapore return aa jata hai!
Several IT companies seemed to be setting up training and work centres in the city. But given its small town feel I wonder how many imports would like to live there - in the long term.
3. Puri was... an experience in itself. We happened to visit on Makar Sankranti day and it felt like being in a rush hour local. While it is a temple of great significance, you can't help feeling its upkeep could be far better!
4. Konark - magnificent, marvellous, many many other superlatives. Like Ellora, makes you proud to be part of this ancient civilisation.
5. Kharagpur - was on the invitation of IIT KGP. The oldest IIT in India, it's also the most quaint in the sense that Kharagpur remains a one-horse town. The 'restaurant' the workshop organisers took us to in the evening does not even have a name... It's just called 'The restaurant'!
6. Jamshedpur - This was just an impulse trip - my cousin lives here. Jamshedpur is truly a utopia. A city which spoils you for life, if you happen to stay in the TISCO part of it (where my jijaji works).
Also popped by to have a quick look at XLRI. The convocation had just concluded the day before and first years were busy with exams. But I did manage to meet Prof Madhukar Shukla who is as interesting as his blog :)
7. Roorkee - was invited to IIT Roorkee as judge of a Mock Parliament. The Roorkee campus, built during British times is certainly the most beautiful of all IITs I have seen so far (and I have seen all except for Kanpur and Gauhati). The 'main building' distinctly reminds you of the White House.
The less said about Mock Parliament the better
8. Rishikesh - But happily, the IIT Roorkee trip led me to visit this amazing town which is only 2 hours away by road. I landed up in the hippie part of Rishikesh (Laxman jhoola) since I referred to the internet and most travel reviews online are written by foreign visitors.
Anyhow I stayed at a very clean and hospitable ashram type place for 200 bucks a day. I felt a bit uncomfortable as a single woman traveller when I checked in but no problems at all after that.
On the first nite I walked down to the Ram jhoola side where they have a very uplifting evening aarti on the banks of the Ganga. While walking back to the Laxman jhoola side there was this long maybe half a km stretch where there were no street lights. And I had no torch. For a few minutes my dil went dhak dhak, especially when someone would approach from the other side.
But then something happened. There was a sense of calm. Navigating my way only by moonlight seemed natural and I felt at that moment there are only good people in this world. Mujhe kuch nahin ho sakta.
9. Shivpuri - This is where you go from Rishikesh, to begin the river rafting adventure. Which I wrote about in detail at the time!
10. Hardwar - A city with its own unique character. A lot cleaner than I expected. But nothing to beat Rishikesh.
11. Hoshiarpur - this was to visit a cousin. Nothing noteworthy about the town except that as you drive down you realise how prosperous Punjab is. Like most parts of semi urban India I have observed through the window of a car there are tons of signboards for coaching classes ('learn English', 'crack JEE'). But here you'll also see lots of signs proclaiming 'visa', 'passport', 'immigration'.
The NRI heart may long for Yash Chopra style sarson ke khet but the Punjab da puttar will trade in his lassi for yoghurt thank you!
12. Naldehra - Simla - overcommercialised and overrun by tourists from the Punjab and saddi Dilli. But it remains one of my favourite places. This time, we went some kms outside Simla to Naldehra, which is known for its high altitude gold course - the oldest in India. It was built in the days of the British, by Lord Curzon who literally fell in love with the location.
We stayed in a stunning Himachal Tourism log hut ('hut' is the wrong word, it had 2 bedrooms, a kitchen and a spacious living room :) Really comfortable and great value for money. Walking down to the restaurant 1/2 a km away was quite an expedition - they provide room service and come huffing and puffing up there with all the food you can eat and then some.
You can also stay at 'Chalets' but it is way way more expensive and does not give u that 'living in a jungle' feeling.
13. However if I were to recall the single most memorable place I visited in the last year, it was Tattapani. This is a 2 hr drive from Naldehra and famous for its hot springs. You drive down from Naldehra - which is at a height - into a valley. The landscape is quite surreal and there's hardly any traffic.
Few tourists go there anymore. The HP tourism bath houses were washed away in floods a few years ago. And since a dam is coming up here in the near future they are not being rebuilt.
Driving down to Tattapani I saw this most amazing butterfly! And the springs were also an experience. They gush out from the riverbank but the water is so hot it can scald you. So you have to position yourself carefully at a place where the springwater mixes with the ice cold waters from the raging Sutlej river.
The whole place has that typical sulphur smell. Sit there for a while, you definitely feel relaxed and healthier. Kuch to hai paani mein!
We also ate the most amazing alu-gobi at this tiny hotel and were amused to see so many of these plants freely growing on the roadside...
14. Srirangpatna - This was a trip we took to Bangalore on a supposedly cheap ticket. After the ticket had to be rescheduled twice it turned out to be damn expensive! But the fun Nivedita had on this visit made it worth it.
After some 25 years I visited Lalbagh and was amazed at how beautiful it is. Some of the trees there are simply amazing. Whatever Bangaloreans might feel, they really do live in a Garden City! Just that they probably never take out the time to visit such places :)
We also went to Mysore and on the way stopped at Srirangpatna, the former capital of Tipu Sultan. There is a very interesting temple here called Ranganathswamy - if you do visit, hire a guide as he would explain the significance of various things.
And there is the Ranganthittu bird sanctuary nearby which is also worth visiting. Although we didn't see any notable birds (that requires time and patience!) it is very serene and just the variety of trees is amazing.
15. Surat - was on the invitation of NIT students. It's a peculiar town, obviously a lot of money here. So you see bizarre sights like a mini Eiffel tower and ads for dandiya in 'comfort of air conditioned stadium'. I tell you! The speed and efficiency with which the city recovered from the manmade flood of 2006 is also worth noting.
Another thing I learnt on this trip is that Mumbai to Surat can take upto 6 hours.. if you happen to book yourself on the wrong train :(
16. Aurangabad & 17. Ellora, I've already written about.
18. Varanasi - I went for my niece's wedding but saath saath mein punya bhi kamaya. With a bunch of my uncles and aunts I took a dip in the holy Ganges (when I smsed my friend Piyul she was aghast!) But no, there were no dead bodies floating by and the water was very very clean. Of course we hired a boat and took our dip quite far away from the official bathing ghats.
But I realised that this holy dip is all about the piety in your heart. Mujh mein pehle nahi thi, ab kuch jagi hai. At a younger age I would have found Varanasi ghastly. Now, when I see the chaos, the flowersellers, teawallahs, beggars there seems to be a message. Yeh sab maya hai. There is something more, something beyond.
Some of us have to experience life in this way, in this lifetime...
19. Hyderabad & 20. Secunderabad. You may say it's cheating to put these as 2 separate cities but hey. On the one hand I visited the TIFR Balloon facility on the outskirts of Secunderabad (and by outskirts I really mean outskirts!).
My dad has spent about a month of his life for the past 40 years sending up experimental hot air balloons from this very place. So it was wonderful to see it (not an actual balloon take-off but the process of the balloon being designed, the labs and so on). The ingenuity of Indian science is truly amazing and deserves a series of separate posts!
On the other side I visited ISB in Gachibowli - that too I will write about in greater detail shortly. Nivedita accompanied me on this trip so we did all the touristy stuff as well - Charminar, Salarjung museum, Golconda fort.
The museum is the most interesting one I have seen in India, you can spend several hours there though we had only two. The sound & light show @ Golconda was impressive but the dhakka mukki at the ticket counter for tickets had to be seen to be believed. Complete and utter mismanagement!
So there you have it: 20 'new' places in 1 year. I learnt a few things about myself. I used to think I was a 'beach' person but I realise that mountains make me feel at peace.
I was never a temple person. But I visited more temples in the last 1 year (four in Varanasi alone!) and I with a new awakening and interest. In fact, in Rishikesh I decided I am going to do the char dham yatra... this year!
And I think many short trips are as much - or more fun - than one long vacation.
So that's the saga of 2007. 2008? Another year, another desire, another story... Why don't you script one for yourself and at the end of the year, we compare notes?