Saturday, October 16, 2010

In Xanadu

I have just finished reading 'In Xanadu' by William Dalrymple and this has put me in a fairly restive mood. For the whole of today, I threw all caution, studies and application forms to the winds and sat (or rather lay) spell bound, reading about WD's amazing journey across 12, 000 miles through Central Asia from Jerusalem to Xanadu in Mongolia. I guess the restive mood is prompted by the fact that I have always wanted to make a journey like this.

Having several deadlines to meet, I tried to sleep but was quite hungover the book. Cold barren deserts, fierce turbaned Afghans, jagged mountain peaks and great domed mosques all flashed before my eyes. Ever since I read about Peshawar in Afghanistan in I think 'Shantaram' followed by Dalrymple's own 'Age of Kali', I have wanted to go to central Asia and visit the great bazaars, travel through maze like alleyways lined with mud brick houses and (for some reason) watch bearded Pashtuns parade around with their AK 47s. 'In Xanadu' rekindled that longing in a big way. I grew depressed thinking that my current line of study was singularly unsuited to travel on this scale. 5 years in law with small vacations spent interning and now this MBA with no vacations did not throw up vast opportunities for a long journey using buses, trucks and walking as the chief modes of transport.

Indeed, even my dream of backpacking across North India looks a little doubtful. I have always wanted to (this phrase has appeared for the third time in this entry I think) journey from the west to the east - across Gujarat (well I am there now, but no time!!), through the Rajasthani desert (romantically on a camel, braving sandstorms), upwards through to Punjab (may be I can spend more time in Amritsar) and into Himachal Pradesh moving on to Kashmir, before coming down to Delhi (a one week pleasure stop). Then I would press on to UP - through Agra, Allahabad and Ayodhya into the great Chambal valley in MP. Somehow I would emerge from there and move into Jharkhand and Bihar (and probably make a foray into Nepal). There I would finally reach Bengal, visit the mountains in Sikkim, pay homage to the tea gardens of Assam and the rock music in Mizoram. From there I would fly, exhausted, back to Bangalore and renew myself on a strict diet of dosas and beer. Dreaming thus, I started wondering - if only I had studied history at Cambridge (like Dalrymple), if only I was white (these damn white people get clear passages every where), or better still - if only I had been a journalist, if only I hadn't taken up such strenuous courses and done arts at DU instead....As the ifs started crowding into my head, I switched the laptop on and decided to rant on this blog.

I Googled some of the places visited in 'In Xanadu' and then Googled Xanadu itself - the town where Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan received the Italian explorer Marco Polo, thus cementing the latter's legendary status as the first European to have first penetrated the Far East. In fact, 'In Xanadu' recounts Dalrymple's fantastic attempt to retrace Marco Polo's footsteps across Israel, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China i.e. through the famed Silk Route. The book is rich in detail, full of anecdotes and seems to indicate that Dalrymple faced a considerably harder time than Marco Polo as he was travelling in 1986, when both Iran and China were extremely suspicious of Westerners (my white person wish is more to do with the fawning attitude adopted by most Orientals towards Occidentals in recent times, cha). Kublai Khan is of course known to us mainly through Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem which we all would have studied and recited in school - In Xanadu did Kubla Khan, A stately pleasure dome-decree... etc etc. I never really liked this poem for some reason. It wasn't half as exciting as 'The Highwayman' or 'Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner'. Anyhow, on Googling Xanadu, I found that it was the name of a 1980 disco musical starring Olivia Newton John. Initially dismayed by this, my curiosity soon gained the upper hand and I ended up reading the Wiki entry about the movie (a refreshingly random plot involving a nightclub, a Greek muse and a painter of record covers who falls in love with her and asks her father Zeus for her hand, all set in Los Angeles) and watching the title song for the movie on Youtube. It was the usual gaudy disco affair, full of disco balls and strobe lights and Olivia Newton John at her 'Physical' best. Ah well. Music leads to travel and travel leads to music. Where does an MBA fit in?

The MBA will sponsor my travels and show biz career. Just you wait.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Top 18 Travel Memories

My next post might also be in a list format, can't tell.

  1. The Maid of the Mist ride into the Niagra falls. The falls are horseshoe shaped and the boat takes you into the middle of the horseshoe. For about 10 minutes, you are surrounded by roaring water, a fine mist hitting your face. Quite an overwhelming moment in some ways.
  2. The Kraken ride at Sea World, Orlando. The roller coaster last for about 2 minutes and has 7 loops! I went twice. An incredible adrenaline rush.
  3. Watching Chicago in New York. Broadway has been one of my various showbiz obsessions for a while and watching Chicago on Broadway was almost spiritual.
  4. My first first sight of Times Square. This was when I had gone with my family. We took a cab from Upper Manhattan and got off just before the actual junction of Broadway and 7th Avenue. A few paces took us in the midst of a whirlwind of noise, colour and people. The sheer exhilaration of being there made me want to jump around.
  5. The Wayanad trek. It is definitely one of the most unique experiences I have had. The long trek upwards, subsequent qualms about going further and the final trudge to the heart-shaped lake and our photo taking session on top. One of the cooler things I have done (I hope to do more of them!).
  6. Paris. I can't really pin-point anything specific moment here - everything was so awesome! But highlights definitely include the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower and Roland Garros.
  7. Wimbledon and Strawberries and Cream. Our old time British guide took us on a good one hour tour of the entire Wimbledon grounds. We then had baked jacket potatoes and strawberries and cream for lunch. I could literally picture text from Enid Blighton books before my eyes.
  8. Hong Kong Disneyland. Though it is called a poor man's Disneyland, we visited it over two days and met almost all Disney 'characters' including Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and of course Mickey and Minnie themselves. It was quite satisfying in that sense :).
  9. Our private beach experience in Thalaserry. Yes, it was incredibly hot and yes, we got terribly tanned but the feeling of having the entire beach to one's self was empowering. And of course all the games of hand-sand.
  10. Lying on Om Beach at night and looking at the stars. No explanations needed, it was simply beautiful.
  11. A mad canal ride through Bangakok. This ride was made more exciting by the fact that it had rained very heavily that afternoon and the canal was swollen and the water quite turgid. Our boatman, without a care in the world, made the both go so fast that its prow was rising out of the water and it seemed about to take off. The rather exciting but slightly scary trip was completed when we later found out that due to the swollen river, a couple of tourists had been drowned while exploring some caves. Psycho shit!
  12. Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. I can't really describe how I felt looking at those frescoes except for the fact that I was incredibly awestruck. Each figure seemed to come to life in the flickering candle-light and each panel had a story to tell.
  13. The entire Dresden trip. Being the first phoren locale I had visited with friends and my first hop-on/ hop-off tour (which went on to have a profound influence on Anwesha and my lives), it was a fun and interesting trip helped by the fact that Dresden is an incredibly beautiful city.
  14. The dash through Charles de Gaulle airport to catch the Frankfurt flight. Man I hate that airport! It was fun though :)
  15. The tequila experiments in Pondicherry. Our extreme belief in the power of tequila and subsequent disappointment is something I will never forget!
  16. Driving to Mysore. Mainly because of my driving powers and all those photo moments.
  17. Breaking into random song on the slopes of Munnar. This is something I have been wanting to do for a while and I was lucky had two worthy individuals to accomplish this feat with :D
  18. The thrill of travelling to Disneyland Paris without a ticket and actually fooling the ticketing machines. I still marvel at it sometimes!
The list ends at the somewhat random number 18 because these experiences undoubtedly stand out from the entire bunch of adventures one has on any holiday. I am honestly hoping one comes my way soon - something longer than 4 days. Major break required!