14 years ago, a journey with no destination.

By Sapna Goel.

Wise men say “Life is a Journey”. Isn’t that true? It’s a remarkable journey where we all know the final destination (Death!) but are clueless about the route. And that’s what makes life so exciting to live; the unexpectedness, the feeling of adventure it entails. 

Let me backtrack a bit and say, that Siddharth and me were 22 years old when we married in the summer of 1998. We were both very young, very much in love and had very little money. Keeping the last in mind and the fact that Sids (Thats what everyone calls him!) had jaundice, we forego-ed the “traditional” honeymoon. So in August when the chance came up for me to travel to Bangalore  for work, we jumped on it and decided to make a trip of it. Being young/ foolish/ adventurous/ vagabondish (take your pick!), we did the following:
  1. Booked a sleeper class ticket for Sids to reach Banglore on the day my assignment finished.
  2. Booked a return ticket from Cochin for both of us for  a day, 25 days later from his date of arrival (sleeper class again). 
  3. Indulged and bought a second hand copy of “Lonely Planet
We booked no hotels, made no schedules, no itinerary, nothing. We just decided to take things as they came. Wherever we found ourselves, we spoke to the locals, took their suggestions about where we should go next and hopped on to the next state transport bus that took us there. We travelled at night (saved time and money on hotels!) reached mornings, saw the sights, ate at local joints and moved to the next spot. We travelled light. A rucksack with one spare pair of jeans and three  T shirts each. A few essentials.

The memory of every day  of that 25 day trip is etched in my mind forever. I could write a treatise on it, but to save you the reading, decided to write only about my favorite parts of the trip. But, like a mom who can’t choose a favorite from her many children, I couldn’t really decide on any one or two. Which one should I include? and which one could be left out? Should I write about...

  • The day we reached “Jog falls” after 10 hours of a bone-breaking bus ride to realize that the falls were completely covered by fog and hadn’t been properly visible since 5 days. Disappointed, we sat at a wayside joint sipping tea. We could hear the loud thunder the water made as it fell from the cliff and had resigned ourselves to not seeing the famous falls. Just as we were to leave. I closed my eyes and fervently prayed to God. Suddenly, almost magically , the fog disappeared. And there right in front of our eager eyes was the most amazing sight of the highest waterfall in India.
jog falls, highest waterfall india, india travel blog

jog falls, highest waterfall india, india travel blog

  • Or the time at Kovalam... when we found ourselves on the wrong side of a gun! Earlier that day we had alighted at the local bus stand. A skinny guy had offered to show us a good “cottage”. The cottage was beautiful and located right on the sea and surprisingly well within our budget. After settling in we went, hand in hand for a walk by the deserted seaside. On return we found this huge man standing outside our cottage, gun flailing in his hand, making threatening gestures at us and speaking  a strange tongue. In an unknown land, surrounded on one side by the desolate sea and on the other by a group of threatening villagers who seemed bent upon using that gun, as complete darkness enveloped us, we were terrified. we told each other what we imagined were our final words. At the last minute a “kashmiri” (Kashmiri in Kovalam! Life is strange) came and rescued us. As he spoke to the angry group we sensed the tension lower, the anger lessen and the nozzle of the gun lowered to a point on the floor…rather than us! When he spoke to us in his broken hindi we understood, that the guy who had rented us the flat was a local “Afeemkhor” (Drug addict) . The cottage that he had so magnanimously rented to us wasn’t his, and the money we had trustingly paid him , hadn’t reached the owner . The  huge angry man determined to “teach us a lesson” Assumed, we had broken into his “cottage”.   unknown to us, the “kashmiri’ had seen the transaction and vouched for us. We stayed in that cottage still feeling vulnerable. But in morning, the angry man with the gun, became a friend and we ended up staying in his cottage for four days.
Kovalam, virgin beach, beach tourism, india travel blog

Kovalam, virgin beach, beach tourism, india travel blog

  • Or the day we felt hugely homesick. Tired of eating coarse rice, sambhar, tomato dosas  at small wayside eateries. Sitting in a small dhaba! A group of young men occupied the table near ours. When one of them approached us asking if were from IHM, we weren’t sure how to respond. Sids was wearing the IHM T-shirt and it seemed pointless to deny. A bit hesitatingly we accepted that he was an IHM, Bombay graduate.It turned out the boys were studying at the local branch of IHM. Backs were slapped, hands were shaken. And just like that we were surrounded by friends. They invited us over for lunch to their college the following day. We were served north indian food, family histories were exchanged, college stories were told  and we were homesick no more!
  • A couple of years before this trip the movie “Roja” had been released. Besides liking the movie immensely , my imagination was completely captivated by the round basket boat ride so beautifully captured in the movie. I just had to do it! But no one we met or asked knew anything concrete about it. The Lonely planet had one short line on it being available in a place called “Hogenakkal”. We decided to chase it.  Three bus changes, 20 hours later, we landed in “Hogenakkal” . At the time a small village like place. We could see no eateries or hotels. No tourists or any tourist amenities. When we asked about the boat ride, almost sure that we had wasted our time on a wild goose chase. Somebody nodded and pointed us in a direction. We walked on a lane flanked on both sides by vendors selling fried fish. Unlike the usual we had seen, these were finger size fishes dipped whole in a batter and fried. To me, a vegetarian all those fishes cooked whole with their eyes and tails looked eerie. At the end was a non descript river bank, we asked a thin, severely tanned man about the round boat, using signs. He gestured us to wait. Soon he was back with another equally famished looking man carrying a big round cane basket (the kind flower sellers use) only much larger.. on his head. And we set off. What a ride that was! I have been on many boat rides since.. glass bottomed boats in andamans, speed boats in europe, snake boat in kerala, cruise ship in Europe, even a luxury yacht, once. But nothing matches in my mind. The sheer joy and excitement of that simple basket boat that is rowed by one man using one oar. He spinned it fast enough to make me laugh, he tied it to a rock to let us see the most fearsome waterfall I have ever seen and each time land came in the way, he simply lifted the boat  to his head and carried it to the other side, to plonk it again and row away!
Hogenakkal, basket boat, Roja movie, offbeat travel blog

  • Or the night when dead tired and in the  mood to sleep in a proper bed, we approached hotels after hotels in Salem. But none would give us a room. Dog tired and frustrated, when the next guy refused, I demanded to be told why we were not getting a room? Red faced he said because we didn’t look married and he didn’t want any trouble by shielding “runaways”. We showed him a wedding photograph (That someone had smartly advised us to carry!). Convinced , we got our room and slept like never before.
  • Or the time we discovered that food in Kerala was very cheap. This was the pre “God's own country time” . Kerala was beautiful, but not really ‘discovered’ by tourists.  Munnar was still a sleepy town populated mostly by Tata tea employees. We were guided to the local restaurant. It was filled with factory goers. Water served to us was warm and flavored with jeera (cumin). Good for digestion we were told. We ordered the local speciality “malabari parantha” . Two fluffy paranthas with a vegetable stew that tasted divine was served to us at a princely sum of 15 Rs. We were shocked, but as we travelled to other parts of the state. We discovered that this was the norm, not an exception. The water served was always lukewarm and jeera flavored and the  malabari paranthas, always yummy. The only change being in the price. It got lower.. the cheapest we found were for Rs 2.. and every bit as delicious.
Munnar, olden days, tea plantations, Kerala, India travel blog
Kerala, olden days, tea plantations, Kerala, India travel blog, backwaters, boat ride

There are numerous memories of that trip in my mind. Memories that bring a smile to my face even this day, or make us laugh enough to bring tears to our eyes. The town where every hotel was owned by one smuggler, the majesty of the  chinese fishing nets that lined the sea side in Cochin, the “spice plants” we saw in the spice garden. The story we heard about the “sin door” tree. That it is a slow poison and no animal will ever eat it. It is applied by women on their forehead everyday in the hope that they die before their husbands. Sids made me promise that day to never use it! “I love you too much to live without you. If one of us has to go early… Let God decide. Lets not do anything to bias the decision!”. The pubs in Bangalore, The sunrise in Kanyakumari, The children using dingy boats to ride upto the buses that will take them to school in rain-flooded Kerala. The friends we made on the long train ride back home.. every moment of that trip is etched in my mind forever.

Almost fourteen years later, we have travelled, Sids and me, to many places. The beautiful but quiet sad valleys of Kashmir, the enthralling jungles of Ranthambore, the gorgeous Scotland, Historical London, Stunning Paris, Hitler’s Germany, breathtakingly beautifully Salzburg, Romantic Vienna, my all time favorite Prague, Dazzling Dubai, Children’s paradise Singapore... and yet the trip that I remember most fondly, the one that till date makes us laugh till our bellies ache, is this trip we took. No set destinations, nothing to cover. No schedules, no bookings. Nothing. Just a desire to see the world together. To travel!

The author is a social worker by training,  a change maker by choice. She is also a home maker, a stand-in designer for her restaurant, old music lover, a voracious reader, and passionate about writing. She blogs at justanotherwakeupcall.wordpress.com and tweets @justwakecall

For more stories off the beaten path in India, visit www.indiauntravelled.com or join India Untravelled on Facebook and Twitter. To contribute guest posts / photo essays to this blog, please send your story ideas to shivya@indiauntravelled.com


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