Bidding goodbye to any year is never without mixed feelings. On one hand there is an excitement about planning for the new year anticipating new possibilities and potential opportunities. While on the other, there is a sadness like bidding goodbye to a good friend (time!), who has been a constant companion through the year, seen us through life’s ups and its downs, taken us to new shores, helped us grow another bit and discover that one other aspect about ourselves which we didn’t expect to find.
And 2014 was a good year and friend to me.. I visited some new shores (personally and professionally), learnt many new things (not all nice and some the very hard way), discovered loads of new nooks and corners in my own city (Mumbai) and met numerous interesting people. So it’s not surprising that my first blog draft to review 2014 was 10 pages long. But then common sense and brevity prevailed; and instead of a full blown review I decided to just write about my best travel moments in 2014.
In February, I finally reached the beautiful shores of Orissa (east coast of India) and visited Bahrampur, Gopalpur, Puri, Konark and Bhuvaneshwar. Though it was a short trip, we had some fabulous experiences. I loved my first sight of the magnificent Konark temple that I otherwise had only seen in my school text books. It was such moving experience as I couldn’t imagine how artists’, in the past, managed to create such beautiful pieces without any modern day equipment and comforts. I also loved the afternoon that we spent in a small village near Puri and learnt about the art and nuances of the Pattachitra paintings. It was a lovely treat to watch simple strokes and colors come together and create beautiful paintings of Lord Jaganath. The beach side in Orissa is also popular for surfing and, if stories are to be believed, it was the most popular place for Russian’s in the 70’s and some locals still speak Russian!
Then in summers this year I did my very first tiger safari at the Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh and loved every minute of it. Kanha is an enchanting forest that provided a variety of experiences and I saw beautiful landscapes, some gorgeous birds and animals, learnt the sounds of the jungle, the art of tiger tracking, and witnessed the mesmerizing animals, specially a tiger, in their own habitat. Obviously the cherry on the cake was that first sight of the tiger along-with its two naughty cubs that just left me spell bound and speechless.
May also saw me take my longest flight to the US and spend a week – split between Washington DC and New York (NY). While I liked Washington DC with all its history, museums and architecture; I was absolutely blown away by New York, especially Manhattan. Stepping into Manhattan and seeing the beautiful art-deco buildings all around and some of its famous landmarks was love at first sight for me and of finally having arrived in life. I loved its buzz, the movement, the energy, the mix, the sights and sounds… basically everything. I walked all around Manhattan and discovered many hidden gems and ate a different cuisine each night from Ethiopian to Turkish to Korean, courtesy my brother, and hold your breath – I am a strict vegetarian. Since I did a lot of random things, that are completely non-touristy, I still feel that whatever I saw in NY was my very own.
On my way back from the US, for some reasons, I missed my connecting flight from London to Mumbai. Missing that flight was one thing, but the treatment that the airlines met out to us was wrong and unacceptable. So, on my return, I wrote a post about it that went viral in a matter of just a few hours. And that entire episode was one huge learning. I actually understood the power of social media today and learnt some of my most precious lessons of the year – on better planning and execution of trips, similar experiences of others, feedback on other airlines, and also on how people can be online bullies without knowing a thing about you.
Then in August I went to Montreal, Canada for work, again my first visit to Canada. And though it was an extremely short visit I still managed to explore some parts of this quaint and slightly ‘French’ city. The limited parts of Montreal that I saw were vibrant, colorful, impulsive and surprising. But more than anything else I was completely taken by surprise with the concept of temporary restaurants here. I saw this theme-outdoor restaurant that actually disappeared in the night and reappeared in the morning. No it didn’t have wheels. Intrigued? This was a restaurant set up for limited time in the summer months. Everyday morning the owners would set up tables on the road, add some décor (in this case lovely trees and floor mats) on the roads and the sidewalks and viola the restaurant was open for business. It was fascinating.
In September, I found myself in Hong Kong for the nth time. As it was a work trip and I had explored a lot of it already, I didn’t have any specific expectations from the trip. But I was lucky and met an awesome bunch of locals who took me to all the local eating places in Hong Kong, followed by an amazing night partying all over in LKF. We literally kept walking into and out of pubs and kept meeting new people and kept loosing people. At one point we even found some lost people. Overall a mad but super fun trip. It was also on this trip that I lost my cell phone in a cab and I was travelling to China directly from HK, I was without a phone for around two weeks. And I never thought I would say this, but it was such a liberating feeling – no connectivity meant no contact with work, no unnecessary disturbances and a discovery that it’s possible to happily survive even without connectivity.
I extended my HK trip and went to China for the first time in October. I travelled solo for a few days and was then joined by my brother and his family (who are based there). This entire trip was a surprise –my preconceived notions of China were completely wrong – and the natural beauty of the country is stunning. I covered Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao and quite a few parts of the Yunnan region (Kunming, Dali, Lijiang and Shangri-La). This was one trip that I can’t pick the most memorable moment because there were so many of them and each one of them special in their own way. But if I absolutely have to choose then it would be traveling back in time in the Shaxi village and being a part of the Tea Horse Road. A visit to Shaxi was like living in a time centuries ago (the town has been so well preserved) that I could actually imagine horses and donkeys walking past me laden with tea and other wares. It was incredible indeed.
I firmly believe that travel should always begin with your own backyard, in other words, from the city you live in. But we all are so busy exploring new locations all the time that we forget or ignore the unique sights present in our own cities. So this year I spent a lot of time exploring my home, city of Mumbai, and amongst all the things here, the best was the street art initiative with St+art Foundation in Dharavi. It was a learning experience witnessing the small positive changes that a simple thing such as street art can bring to the lives of people and the pride they take in their surroundings.
And last but not the least my first visit to a literary fest in Mumbai. I know technically this is not travel, but I’ll request for your indulgence on this as it’s about my favorite travel writers. During the Times Literature Festival in Mumbai in December, I had a chance to listen to, meet and personally interact with two of my favorite travel authors of all times – William Dalrymple and Pico Iyer. I loved their take on travel and some of their statements, but the two favorites were –
“You don’t necessary need to go somewhere to travel”
“If you love someone, instead of Hawaii take them to Afghanistan. It’s only when they go through hell that they are prepared for the worst in life”
Their talk on travel writing was supremely inspiring and I hope to incorporate a lot of that in my own travels and stories to come in 2015.
Overall a good year but there are many things that I missed from my travel resolutions of 2014 especially traveling a lot more within India, running a marathon and updating the books section of the blog. So I am not setting any new resolutions for 2015 but will look at completing this existing list itself.
Plans and bookings for Q1 of 2015 are already done and its now fingers crossed for many more such successful trips. In fact one starts from tonight itself where we’ll bring in the new year while on our way to a small eco-resort at a quaint beach in Konkan, India
So here’s wishing everyone a happy new year and many more travels in 2015.