On the road again – to Memory EXPRESSWAY

The real voyage of discovery consists not only in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

A very famous saying indeed and true as well. One fine evening while sitting at our flat in Pune, Ruchi (my roommate) came up with the idea that on weekend we’ll go to Mumbai for shopping. We had been there before but this time we thought to drive. When you begin to love driving, all of sudden you want to go to every place by yourself.

No matter what happens in your life, nothing beats a good drive

Although I agreed but could feel cold vibes. Both of us had driven to nearby hill stations before but it was going to be the first time in a metropolitan which is notorious for space crunch and where we had always travelled by public transport. Unlike me, Ruchi had all smiles and was looking forward to do this.

Then a thought crossed my mind, “If not now, when?”, and my fear went away. Our day’s outing program was something like this; hit the road via Pune-Mumbai expressway – a 6 lane high-speed road of length 98 KM connecting the city of Bengaluru, Pune and Mumbai. We’ll have a short stopover at Haji-Ali Dargah and Siddhivinayak temple followed by Linking road – destination for street shopping.

All set, we were on the road again and started for Mumbai on a lazy Sunday morning. My roommate was driving  onward. After fuel refill and tyre air check at the gas station, we embarked upon our journey. It was maiden drive for Ruchi on this route. I had driven previously till Matheran. Her enthusiasm and frenzy was something to watch out for. As soon as we entered the expressway, she was clocking the speed of 110 KM/h. Today I had the seat with a view and was the DJ for this ride.

We crossed the high-speed road, tolls, kilometre long tunnels and Ghats section which falls between Lonavala and Khandala. I kept on checking in between if she needs a break or want to switch. She was so 🙂 and full of energy that we didn’t stop even once for the refreshments.

Just in 2 hours we were at Sion, entry point of Mumbai city. From there we started using navigation as our first halt was Palladium mall, where we were to park our car and go to Siddhivinayak temple.

Google maps in Mumbai city can freak you out if you’re in there on your own for the first time. A person definitely need to use their direction sense to determine which way is map pointing to. We drove to the mall using Eastern freeway which allowed us to escape the traffic. Now as per the map we had reached our destination but mall was nowhere to be seen. We asked a passerby and he was not aware of this mall’s existence, then a kid came running by and told us that Palladium is the second name of Phoenix mall and showed us directions.

I was so proud of Ruchi, it had been just 6 months when she began driving regularly and today she brought us till centre of glamour city. After we were done with the parking, came inside the mall to freshen up and have lunch. But the first store we saw was ZARA with SALE displayed on the entrance. We didn’t resist and entered the store, browsed the collection, tried few and picked them to buy. We were so glad that although sale was on, there was hardly any rush and clothes were all piled up neatly in their respective racks which is rare in Pune. As we were about to go for billing, realised that we left our cards in the car and were having just few hundred bucks in hand as the initial plan was to have quick lunch and go to the temple by public transport. 🙂

Quickly went back to the parking, picked the cards, billed and rushed outside Zara as by now both of us were craving. We grabbed quick bites at Burger King. As it was a road trip, there had to be a change in plan. 🙂 We decided that we’ll drive first to Haji-Ali dargah, now I was at the steering wheel. We’ll park wherever we can find space and visit it. Both of us were surely in love with our goggles and car’s air conditioner as it was extremely sunny and humid outside. Using the navigation we reached at the Dargah’s entrance, a thing I noticed by this time was that in Mumbai you cannot take a U-turn at every signal. Also If you intend to park your vehicle in open; thumb rule is that you’ve to be awfully quick. A second’s lapse and your space is gone. I realised this when second time today we spotted a space and it was taken away by someone else. Also most of the open spaces will have no parking sign boards but you can still park after paying in advance to the on duty traffic police. 🙂 I decided the other way round and stayed in the car while Ruchi went to visit the dargah. We followed the same strategy for Siddhivinayak temple as well.

By the time we were done with Dargah and temple, afternoon had set in and we had tons of thing left in out list. We gave street shopping a miss and drove through Bandra-Worli sea link. Cruising on top of sea through the cable stayed bridge at a speed of over 80 KM/H at dusk with amazing songs playing in the backdrop, Aha what a feeling…. 

Check out the video to see what I felt

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Visit to Mumbai is incomplete without going to Marine Drive.  So we went to Nariman Point in evening when the city was glistening with lights. This place is special to me. I always feel that just like those few people on whom you can always bank upon, so exists such places. Places where you’ll always find comfort and solace. With sea waves hitting the tetra pots and cool breezy air, I can end up sitting there all night.

Best way to look at a place is with the eyes of a local

A friend who was a localite came in there and the above saying turned out to be true. We were talking about Bade Miya, a very famous food joint to which I had never been before on the pretext that they do not serve vegetarian food. It was this friend who told that they do serve vegetarians as well. That became our venue for dinner and another iconic place covered.

Then there was this legendary place which I didn’t know about, Bachelorr’s – nearly a century old eatery. Although I could not eat anything here as I was already too full, but Ruchi had strawberry cream and she liked it more than what eateries in Pune has to offer 🙂

It was time to say good bye to the city and chota bachha’s turn to relax on the co-driver’s seat 🙂 We used navigation to reach Panvel from where expressway started. The below quote best describes my feeling.

Loved driving a car at night. You never see further than your head lights, but you can make the whole trip that way. 🙂

It has been a long transition right from the monsoon of 2010 when my bus to Mumbai didn’t arrive on time and I missed my flight to spring of 2018 when I drove back to Pune all the way without worrying about anything.

This blog is dedicated to my partner in crime here, let’s raise a toast to chota bachha (Ruchi) 🙂 Thank you for being with me at co driver’s seat right from my early days of driving, for bearing every sudden break, sharp turn, stopping abruptly at slopes and what not. Looking forward for many more memories with you.

Trip to Sikkim – Unwind ME

Previously in this story

We quickly checked in to the hotel as it had already been a long day. We made hotel bookings of entire trip through MakeMyTrip using their feature “Book Now, Pay Later“. This gave us the flexibility of confirmed booking without paying anything and cancelling it anytime up to 2 days before the check in date. Our decision of bringing in ample cash was right. In the nation gripped with the wave of demonetisation, everyone was grabbing every opportunity to get hand on the paper currency.  We were asked to pay for the room tariff in cash. We were happy as we had already anticipated this situation and were prepared for it. Upon enquiring about the North Sikkim tour transportation, hotel staff at the reception desk told they’ll connect us to the local tour operator.

First look at the room and it was nicee… Check out the room pics here.

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I always check the washroom first at any hotel/guest house. That way I ensure if the place has been cleaned properly before check in, it was super clean here. I grabbed the in-house restaurant menu and there came another pleasant surprise. The menu was full of vegetarian dishes whereas I was expecting that there may be just handful of them.  We quickly ordered for room service. Meanwhile our probable tour operator came in to meet us. Our idea of this holiday was not to rush anywhere.

Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is to relax – Mark Black

We wanted to see whatever was feasible by spending as much time as we want at a particular place of interest. We had a chat with the operator and decided that we’ll take private cab for our first leg of journey as North Sikkim terrain was extremely rough and in the next 3 days we’ll see the second highest lake in India, Yumthang valley and Zero point the last outpost of civilisation.

Cost and tour operator details

I called up my parents to inform that I’ve reached Gangtok and as usual they said “Enjoy”. I stood by the window for a while to feel the air. Although it was cold but it was pure. There was something beside the hotel which I could not figure out what it is as it was dense dark outside. But far away Gangtok city was glistening in lights. I allowed this cool breeze to fall on me till the time dinner came in. Surprisingly, I was not interested in watching television or browsing internet on my mobile although WiFi connection was available. Something magical had already started to happen. 🙂 After having yummy dinner, quickly went off to sleep wrapping myself in a cosy blanket with wind passing in from time to time. Yes, that’s how winters are in North and East India. No matter how thick your blanket is but the cold air will find their way into your rooms.

Sun rises from the east, it was an early morning for me next day. I could hear some voices outside the window. I got up to see what I couldn’t the previous night. It was a football stadium and a group of boys were enjoying themselves in a match, game extremely popular in East India. All of sudden it clicked that I was in home state of Baichung Bhutia ,God’s gift to Indian Football.

And what a place to build the stadium, under the shelter of mighty Kanchenjunga, third highest mountain in the world.

sdr

I turned back all happy and went downstairs to the reception to hand over the documents needed for permits. As we were to leave for Lachen by 9.30 AM; a town which acts as night halt for tourist intending to visit Gurudongmar lake, we got ready and had delectable complimentary breakfast at the hotel. By the time we were done with it, our cab had reached the hotel and driver had the required permits. Talking about the cab, since next 3 days would take fitness, stamina, endurance test of not only us but also the vehicle, so we had Mahindra Xylo, a beast at our service.

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Rainbow among pure air

We checked out, loaded luggage in the CUV(crossover utility vehicle) and embarked towards Lachen.

To be continued in next blog…

 

Attachment with the detachment

Previously in this story

In today’s world we can literally see any place without being there. The endless number of IP addresses listing the itineraries, photographs, video, forums and but of course social media has covered every corner of the planet where human reach is possible. Amidst this I thought to keep this holiday simple. Since I left the planning on Priyanka, I decided that I won’t browse through internet for any photograph or video of places that we were going to visit. I wanted my imaginary painting to turn into reality only through what my eyes were about to witness.

We were about to take this trip at the time of demonetisation.  Oh yes, it was a game changing scenario in India. Big currency notes were marked as illegal in the first week of November 2016 and there was shortage of cash across the country. ATM were going dry minutes after they were being refilled and banks had massive queue in front of them. Government was insisting on the usage of plastic currency and digital transactions but both of us were not sure that how useful cards will be in one of the remote corners of the country. We decided that we’ll withdraw cash from banks and carry at least 30K in currency notes.

I told my parents about my plan just couple of days before I were to leave. First words from them were Achha hain, ghoomo and enjoy karo“. “It’s good, travel and have fun. Yes, my parents are super cool especially when it comes to travel. Also these words of encouragement were so much-needed as this was going to be a trip taken by only 2 girls. That’s a big thing in India. I’m also very lucky considering the fact that my roommate was also supportive. Days passed by and 1 night prior to leaving, I started packing. My heart was thumping with excitement and the child within me was grinning like anything 😀

To know what all I packed please visit here

I left from Pune on 16-Dec and reached Bagdogra on the same day by tea time. As travel time between Bagdogra and Gangtok is 4 hours, had heavy meal at the airport restaurant. We hired a private taxi to Gangtok from the airport, now I was eager to have the first look of the state. Bagdogra falls under the jurisdiction of West Bengal. In about  half an hour, hill ranges began on both sides of the road. We had taken the aux cable from the cab driver and were playing Bollywood tracks. Here came an interesting turn,  the driver seemed native of Sikkim and he had not utter a single word till now. All of sudden he picked up the lyrics of the song and started singing, we were taken by surprise. I asked him what all language do native people speak and he replied “Hindi, English, Bengali and Nepali“. It was a stunner as being at the far-flung corner I was expecting a local language.

I heard water gushing somewhere near and for the first time saw emerald blue colour water. I asked the driver and he told that it’s Teesta river. It’s source is Gurudongmar lake and the river flows through Sikkim and West Bengal before merging into Bay of Bengal. At around 4.45 PM IST, it was near dusk and by 5 PM it became dense dark. We were still around 3 hours away from Gangtok and the magic is strongest between dusk and midnight at these detached zones. I had heard about unusually short days in European countries but haven’t seen any till now. At that point I knew that next few days will definitely be treat to eyes and I was glad at not browsing through the web for visuals of this place.

Let Magic Happen

We entered Gangtok by 8.30 PM and  it took us another 1 hour to locate and reach to our pre-booked hotel. Why? GPS is not very effective in Sikkim; even in the capital city due to proximity with international borders. On our way to the hotel, passed by the famous Sikkim-Manipal university. In the darkness of the night, surrounded by hills and on the banks of Teesta river, the entire university was gleaming with the lights. First look of the campus and I thought “How lucky the students are who get the chance to become part of here?“.  In spite of narrow, curvy and arched roads, Gangtok has footpaths across the city and the locals judiciously use them. Oh yes another thing that I noticed was that local people no matter what may be the age were fit and trendy.

To be continued in next blog….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trip to Northeast India: Why it was needed?

It was monsoon of 2010, I had just moved to Pune. Life was awesome. One afternoon when it was drizzling outside, looking at the water pouring down the glass of the office building, conversation began with a teammate over our list of places to visit and things we want to do across the globe. Out of nowhere both of us stuck at the idea of exploring North-East India. We were fascinated by the thought of exploring the most unheard corner of the country.

Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura and Manipur; 8 states off which I always had the difficulty remembering the capital cities in geography when I was in school.

The first picture that I had of this region was from this iconic video

No one in my circle had ever been there so I had the luxury of putting imagination into work and paint my picture. Most of the potions in this picture were in different shades of green and blue as all I knew was that this corner is lush green with mountainous terrain.

Time flew away, I never really tried to turn my picture into reality but still I had this inner desire to visit this unknown territory. In Mar-2013 my childhood buddy posted photographs on Facebook of her trip to Meghalaya. Whoa!! I was immensely happy to see those pics not only because the destination was in my To Do list but also as it was covered by my one of the all time favourite person. It was summer of 2015, I was well paid at my corporate job in IT sector. Something had been bothering me in office for quite some time now and one fine day I decided to quit and raise resignation request in the system. Although at that moment I did not have an offer from any other organisation but I felt light inside. As if a burden has lifted off my head. I told my supervisor and he immediately backed me for my decision to move on. Till date I’m thankful to him for not trying to stop me by giving reasons which he himself did not believe in.

Sometimes we need fantasy to survive the reality

A part of me desperately wanted to go on a long holiday, far away from digital world. I spoke to my buddies and told them that after I’m done with the notice period, I want to take a break and travel somewhere far. One of them who was this teammate of mine with whom I discussed the prospect of travelling to North-East 5 years ago immediately agreed to come along. As the notice period was due to end in July 2015, we decided to go for the trip in first week of August. India is a vast country, personally I believe that even if you take a break of 1 week every year and visit 1 state in that period, still it’s not possible to cover it fully. We narrowed down to the idea that in 1 week’s time we’ll try to cover any 1 state in north-east. I was super excited just at the thought of going on this expedition. I left the entire planning on the shoulders of this long time friend.

Couple of days later, we realized that destination had to be changed. Why?? Since our trip was due in August which is season for monsoon and north-east corner receives some of the heaviest rainfall in the country. Also due to mountainous terrain, it’s prone to landslides during that time. So there was a possibility that on our way to sightseeing, we might get trapped due to weather conditions.

So our destination changed to Rajasthan. A blog on that trip is definitely DUE 🙂 And the wait continues…

Read next

 

Trip to Northeast India- Wait ends

Previously in this story

I took separate trips to Rajasthan and Kerala in the monsoon of 2015. Time passed by, I joined another organisation after taking a break of 3 months. I wasn’t sure that if I want to re-join IT sector. A friend convinced me with the suggestion of giving myself span of 2 months in the new organisation and if I don’t feel good, I can start looking for something new.

I decided to give it another shot but time stopped at professional space. The good thing about it was to raise a toast to the job that was paying the rent and sponsor my short trips. The feeling that there is so much to see and I should not miss any chance to  explore the world and endless landscapes had long seeped in. In Oct 2016′ an old roommate of mine discussed the idea of taking a trip to SIKKIM.  It took me less than 10 seconds to say yes. Thanks to the world of internet and increasing trend among Indians of posting their travel experiences and details, she had found an itinerary consisting of places to visit and number of days needed.

I was thrilled at the prospect of my long pending dream taking shape. No way I was letting this opportunity go, we decided to take it in 3rd week of December so that we can escape the shooting fares during Christmas and New Year. Also it will give us at least a month and half to sort out the logistics.

I immediately called up Tuts (friend with whom I discussed first the trip to north east) and told him about this trip. He was married by now so I invited his wife too to join us. He too became super excited but had to deny considering that he already had leave plans during later that month. I remember his wife’s words (“Aap ab pehle jaa rahe ho, dekhna ye kitne dino tak rote rahenge“) (“Because you’re going first and it was a dream for both of you, he’ll cry for next many days“)

Keeping the online itinerary as base, Priyanka (old roommate) drew a map on paper indicating the cities/towns we were about to cover. Gangtok, capital of Sikkim turned out to be base city for this trip. She took on the responsibility of planning the entire trip. We decided that it will be 9 day trip including the travel from our respective locations. As both of us were living in west and south India, we decided that we’ll travel by air till nearest airport to Sikkim which was Bagdogra, a town in the state of West Bengal.

In the first week of November, she looked for the flights from Pune and Bangalore and ensured that we were reaching Bagdogra in the gap of 1 hour. We booked the flights at the same time and once I had the tickets in my mail-box, I was so overwhelmed that a tear just stopped at tip of my eyes. Both of us were shouting in joy over phone as first step was taken on sealing the trip. Now there was no looking back.

Next 1 month passed away quickly. I told my friends at office about it and they were excited too. Keeping the hand drawn map, online itinerary and reviews on TripAdvisor as reference, Priyanka fixed the itinerary by deciding the towns/cities to visit, number of days at each town and booked the hotels. Sikkim does not have app based cab services. Through online forums, we knew that North Sikkim was going to be most difficult part of the journey. We decided to keep things simple and explore the transportation once we reach Sikkim. As there were certain places to visit which were expected to be covered in ice, we took extra precaution to ensure that we’ve right kind of clothing. Priyanka carried the medications especially for motion and altitude sickness considering that we were going to an altitude of 18K feet to see second highest lake in India. I went ahead with carrying the eatables which included sealed packets of namkeen, dry fruits, cup noodles, chocolates and digestive tablets like Hajmola. We carried eatables anticipating that there may be times we do not get a food joint.

Visit the below links for logistic insights

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