2013, the year of Travel revelations!

2012 was a year of many firsts in travel for me, but my first international trip became ‘the moment’. It was probably the realization of a childhood dream (and Angkor Wat was nothing short of that, an absolute dream!) that made it special to spend some unbelievable time walking through the magical time ravaged ruins.

When 2013 began, I made a promise to myself that I would make this a year of a many small breathtaking moments that inspire and honestly the year has been all that and more. Travel has always meant more than exploring new destinations. Meeting fellow travellers, connecting with locals, spending precious quiet moments without a distraction, experiencing cultures, experimenting with food and most importantly making sustainable living a reality for myself, travel in 2013 was a lesson at living life itself.

Here are 5 moments that made this year, the year of revelations for me.

1) Meeting Sandesh Kadur and Paul Rosolie.

As an organizing volunteer with the Travellers Meet in Bangalore, I had the opportunity of meeting many inspirational people who had made travel a way of life. Though choosing favourites would be unfair as every one of them was special, I was blown away by the experiences shared by Sandesh, Sankar and Paul. While Sandesh, an acclaimed wildlife film maker and photographer, spent 5 years in the Eastern Himalayas photographing and filming wildlife, Paul has dedicated his life to rainforest conservation efforts in the Peruvian Amazon.

Both of them focused on the important part travellers could play in reducing and reversing the impact that years of uncontrolled development have had on our planet.

You can even help Paul with his conservation effort by volunteering on the Tamandua expedition run by him. The proceeds collected assist the ongoing rainforest conservation efforts. More details HERE.

Paul Rosolie of the Tamandua Jungle Expeditions works on Peruvian Rainforest Conservation

Paul Rosolie works towards the conservation of the Peruvian rainforest.

Sandesh Kadur, acclaimed wildlife filmmaker and photographer.

Sandesh Kadur, acclaimed wildlife filmmaker and photographer.

2) Finding the perfect getaway, Thottada Beach.

On every visit home, a visit to the Payambalam beach had become a norm. Now, as compared to the super crowded beaches in Goa, the 3 km sandy stretch here is a definite winner if like me, you too don’t bother too much about conveniences. But then this place too attracts a fair share of visitors as it is the best known beach there.

Recently, I came across this beach called Thottada while browsing through TripAdvisor and the fact that this place had only one review about it became an instant draw. In today’s tech savvy world, if people hadn’t posted reviews about the place, it probably hadn’t been visited much! On visiting the 800 meter long beach, it turned out to be more than what I had expected; it was unspoilt, serene and the water was almost soothingly calm. I was all alone for a couple of hours and that, like they say in the popular commercial, was priceless!

Here are a few photographs of Thottada beach. To see more, go HERE.

Thottada Beach in Kannur Kerala India

Boats enjoy the relaxed late afternoon rest at Thottada Beach.

Thottada Beach Kannur Kerala India

The  fresh water lagoon created at the Thottada Beach attracts a variety of bird species.

3) Discovering that a great meal wasn’t about the food at all.

A friend of ours had a property on the Kalhatti ghats near Ooty and we decided on visiting it sometime in May. After a few kilometers of a winding drive through tea plantations and pine clusters, we reached the site. We sat there quietly on a big boulder on the property, the hills surrounding us on three sides and the fourth side giving us a stunning view of the expansive plains down below. From where we sat, we could see the old rundown cottage where we would later have lunch.

The cottage sat on a flat piece of land exactly in the centre where the hills met. We had been invited by Anthony, the caretaker of the house who also managed the vast forested hillsides that we were viewing. The meal was simple but we had the best lunch table possible. We ate our lunch sitting on the edge of the property with the sheer drop into the valley just a few feet in front of us. With bird calls for ambient music, soft velvety grass for chairs and the dramatic view for entertainment, this had to be the best meal I’d ever enjoyed.

Kalhatti Ghat, Ooty, India

The Cottage, cradled by the mountains and the view of the valley from inside the cottage,

4) Bringing sustainable practices back home.

In the past couple of years, I have experienced sustainable practices on many of my travels. From living on an off-the-grid farm in the Western Ghats to cycling in Auroville; from staying at and supporting a community run hotel in Cambodia to using public transport wherever I go, travel has given me the opportunity to experience to learn about an alternate positive lifestyle.

The problem that I had constantly been observing amongst most travellers who explored these choices was that these practices were conveniently forgotten once the journey ended. Once back home, we go back to our cars, to our plastic bags and our power consuming lifestyle. And this is true more so for us because Indians today still don’t see sustainability as a necessity; it still remains a choice.

Thankfully though, this is changing. In the past year, travellers have started following the lessons they learnt during their travels. On the personal front, I now either use buses to commute in Bangalore or just walk, cut down on the number of electric appliances and lights at home, don’t use the shower for a bath and carry my own cloth bag (the Small Steps bags from Auroville) wherever I go.

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

The Small Steps cloth bags are made by Upasana Design Studio in Auroville.

The Small Steps cloth bags are made by Upasana Design Studio in Auroville.

5) Finding out about Sankar Sridhar’s photography workshops.

The popularity of Ladakh has increased manifold in the last decade especially for motorcycle travellers and people seeking a bit of adventure. Ladakh in the winters though is still considered a bit too extreme even by the bravest of the thrill seekers.

For more than 6 years, Sankar Sridhar has been trekking the high-altitude Changtang desert at times of the year few others have. The passion he has for the region and its people is unparalleled and contagious. If there was ever a person who knew about winter Ladakh, he is the one. Sankar leads 10-day photo-research trips to Leh and its surroundings, the Nubra valley, and the lakes of Pangong Tso, Kyagar Tso, Tso Kar and Tsomo riri. Walking on frozen lakes with temperatures as low as -48C, waking up to magical mornings with snow covered mountain peaks in the horizon, every aspect of the workshop will make you believe that this has to be a one-of-a-kind opportunity.

Joining Sankar on one of his workshops is the latest entrant into my travel bucket list and this would have to be on top of the winter experiences that I would recommend. To register for the workshop, visit HERE. You can also view more photos HERE.

Pangong Tso in the deepest months of winter. Photo Credit: www.sankarsridhar.com

Pangong Tso in the deepest months of winter. Photo Credit: http://www.sankarsridhar.com

The wind picks up frozen waves and hoards them on a bend on Pangong Tso. Photo Credit: www.sankarsridhar.com

The wind picks up frozen waves and hoards them on a bend on Pangong Tso. Photo Credit: http://www.sankarsridhar.com

A sunny day at Tsomo riri is an education on the true grandeur of Ladakh's terrain. Photo Credit: www.sankarsridhar.com

A sunny day at Tsomo riri is an education on the true grandeur of Ladakh’s terrain. Photo Credit: http://www.sankarsridhar.com

With just a couple of weeks to go before this incredible year comes to an end, there might be just enough time left to end it with a bang. A year-ending solo trip through the mountains leading to the coast will be a great way of saying thank you to fantastic 2013 and welcoming another year of travel awesomeness!

*This article was originally written for thealternative.in

Belonging to God’s Own Country…

The Beautiful Side

Distinct memories of the summer breaks during my childhood are full off beautiful moments spent with my brothers and cousins in our beautiful, more than a century old, ancestral home in Kalliasseri, Kerala. Having been born in Gujarat, these vacations came as a welcome break from the dust and noise that the city brought with it. But then those were times when one didn’t really put too much thought to the spell-binding rustic charm that Kerala was all about.

Now, many years after those joyous summer vacations, every new visit to this beautiful place I call home brings with it a deluge of thoughts which tell me how, for years, I’ve taken so much for granted. It’s now the time to pause and thank my lucky stars for having been born into a house that gave me the right to call one of the world’s most alluring scenic destinations, home. Yes, I belong to Kalliasseri, a small town in the district of Kannur which is beautifully placed on the very scenic northern part of Kerala, God’s Own Country.

When I visited Kalliasseri the last time, it was a little after the monsoons and the place was like a dream with myriad shades of green and the most beautiful music being played by an orchestra of insects and birds. It always amazes me how the place hasn’t changed much in the last couple of decades and has yet managed to deliver all the basic creature comforts that most of its residents have become used to after having had stints of employment in foreign lands. Most of the locals, including my parents, have lived a large part of their lives chasing a dream in either some other part of India or in some foreign country (mostly the Arab nations!). But then, every one of them has always harboured a hidden dream of returning home and settling down amidst the beautiful trees and with clean air for company.

Kalliasseri, Kannur, Kerala

Home in Kerala

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that though this place is aptly called God’s Own Country, a lot of credit must also be given to the people who have doggedly worked at keeping their home as green as it is today. It has always been thought that Malayalis, as the people of Kerala are known, have always taken great pride in the resources that they have been gifted with.

The Ugly Side

But then these last few days have shown the world a side of Kerala that most outsiders wouldn’t believe existed. In a recent well-documented incident, a tiger that had strayed into human territory in Wayanad district was shot dead by forest officials, under pressure from a frenzied mob. As per reports, the tiger which had strayed into a coffee plantation was ‘murdered’ after attempts to tranquilize it ‘failed’. This bit shows the absolute inability of the forest officials to execute a task that they should’ve been good at!

The tiger, shot dead by forest officials in Wayanad, Kerala. Photo Courtesy: The Hindu

The tiger, shot dead by forest officials in Wayanad, Kerala. Photo Courtesy: The Hindu

What is even more appalling though is the fact that investigations into the incident have revealed that the tiger had been captured as a cattle-lifter less than a month ago but was released back into the wild the same day. The fact that it was a ten year old tiger in an emaciated condition and with serious injuries meant that it should have been kept in permanent captivity or should have been euthanized professionally. This is not amateurish opinion but the reaction of Ullas Karanth, arguably India’s most respected expert on tigers. (Read Article here)

The fact that the forest officials reacted in the manner that they did clearly displays the lackadaisical attitude of the authorities towards attempts at tiger conservation.

It is also shameful that the mob, comprising of residents of the area, pressurized the officials and demanded that the tiger be eliminated. According to reports, the dead tiger was kept on display for hours after it had been killed and the locals celebrated the occasion. This kind of behaviour is not only disturbing but also serves as a warning to everyone who believes that are an integral part of the forest ecosystem have a safe home in Kerala. The land that the world loves to call God’s Own Country belongs to people who have little respect or regard for one of nature’s most magnificent creations!

As much as I would like to believe that my affection for my land and the people has only grown in the years that have passed, today my head hangs low in shame as I read about the lack of intelligence and compassion that this so-called most-literate state of India has displayed!