McLeod Ganj was not on my agenda, it just happened without any plans at the end of the trip to Kareri Village. I was talking my bus back from McLeod Ganj. We started early from Kareri and reached McLeod Ganj around lunch time, which is the best time to arrive there in my opinion.
Even though I am no foodie, I still remember McLeod Ganj for its excellent food from a trip in 2009. Ravi was our local expert. He took me to Hotel Tibet and I ordered a Veg Chetse Detse along with veg momos.
I got a big bowl of soup with flat noodles and vegetables. I liked it a lot and I finished to the last drop. That was accompanied by excellent momos. By the time we finished lunch, it was time for Sohan ji to leave.
They dropped me in a nearby cafe, Kunga, which had a roof top seating with lots of sunshine. It had free wifi as well. The wifi was excellent but the apple pie and tea were just passable. And I really find it a pity if I do not like an apple pie, because most places do it well. For tea I feel I should have asked for adrak wali chai even though it was not on the menu.
I spent a few hours at the cafe, sitting in the sunshine and reading an Agatha Christie. But after a while I got increasinly fidgety. I had to buy something for Chhavi, she waits for a ‘gift’ with a lot of delight when I come back home. So, I went off the streets of McLeod Ganj. In the end I bought a few chocolates and a fridge magnet for her. She has caught my fridge magnet craze.
I asked the fridge magnet seller about a peaceful route to for walking and he suggested the Bhagsu Nag road. So Bhagsu Nag road it was. My back pack was left for safe keeping in a shop, which was possible once again because Ravi knew the shop owners.
Ambling along for about half a kilometer on the Bhagsu Nag road, I left the concrete behind. I could once again see the kind of high rises I like!
The road was well used, I shared it with a lot of fellow pedestrians. Construction work was going on as well by the side of the road. I turned back when I reached at the beginning of Bhagsu Nag as I had a bus to take. I know there is a waterfall in the region but it has to wait!
I noticed the recycling appeal, proudly adorning a wall by the road. I feel we need more such initiatives. I have to go and check their website too!
The moon was also peeping out, even though it was still day time. I wonder who was it looking for, coming out that early in the day!
I could see the Dharamshala cricket stadium in the distance from the Bhagsu Nag Road. I was more mesmerized my the layers the hills made in the distance.
I found this happy car quite close to the McLeod Ganj bus stand. I wonder what was the idea behind it? Looked like something to do with Jewish celebrations but could not be sure.
And that is how I spent my six hours in McLeod Ganj- Eat, Shop and Walk. Walk was the most interesting part for me. It always is.
I stumbled upon two very pleasant countryside walks in Oxford. I love walking. These were the kind of walks that just keep going straight, there was very little chance of getting lost. They were my kind of walks. What I wish to write about today though is them doggies.
Imagine walking serenely on a path with the Thames on one side and open fields on the other. You will meet people strolling, cycling or running from time to time. There are flowers to be clicked and admired, in that order. The weather was mild (gave me a mild sunburn later as I was not using sunscreen) and all is at peace in the world! Right? Wrong.
It was them doggies. In the countryside, people let their dogs off the leash. And that is a source of unmitigated terror to me! I am really truly completely afraid of dogs, even the tiny miny ones. So, on this walk when I faltered for the first time, predictably it was when I saw a huge dog let off the leash ( a labrador, deep down I know they are harmless). I looked to my right and asked a young lad if it would be alright to walk ahead and if the path leads somewhere? He gave his go ahead. Then he asked me something from afar and cycled around for a while but finally vanished. The dog owner could probably sense my tension and told me they were going for a dip in the river. The dog of course was running towards water without even sparing me a glance. That is the best thing he could do for me!
Then there was another man throwing a Frisbee to his dog, thankfully in the opposite direction. And of course the dog was quite interested in the game. Again I hurried past. This was the last of the doggies on the Oxford-Sandford walk. Lucky me? Not so soon.
The day after I did the Oxford Sandford walk, my original plan was to do nothing. That means walking around aimlessly around the accommodation in my lexicon. After wandering for a while I remembered a wooden gate that I gave a miss during my previous visit to Oxford. Not to make the same mistake twice (maybe not really a mistake as in October 2007 the sunset was really early around 4.00 pm and in June really late around 9.00 pm) I walked through the gate. The walk seemed promising till I encountered my nemesis.
On the narrow path there were two ladies on two high horses (literally) with their dog running ahead. Of course he was interested in me and I for sure was not. Not willing to offend anyone, I politely put my small shoulder bag in front of my legs and the intelligent dog understood my gesture. He went his way and I went mine, thanking my stars. Too soon, it turned out.
Can you see the serenity above? I was walking without a care. A few minutes later and then heard some footsteps running furiously. I turned back and my heart stopped. There was a dog taller than me (or so I thought) being chased by the dog with the ladies on the high horses! I was silently telling myself, “You had it, who the hell asked you to walk alone?” A moment later I realized the tall thing was a deer outracing the dog with an effort that clearly bored him to no end. Did I turn back? No, because as one of my professors aptly remarked that I like to “walk with a vengeance.”
Next were two really tiny miny dogs and as they bounded with glee towards me. I said in a croaking voice to their oblivious owners, “Please call them back, I am quite afraid of dogs.” Their faces contorted with surprise but they did call the dogs back. Was this the end? Did I turn back? Not quite.
I walked ahead for quite sometime and met no dogs. That gave me courage on my way back to venture into a forest like area to my left. I was desperately trying to remember the way full of mild turns. After a few turns I decided if I got lost my colleagues would have no sympathy for me. I turned back and there he was. He had a crooked front leg and a dirty color. The collar round the neck gave me some confidence, I resorted back to my shoulder bag trick but this one took offense. While he ran away, he let out blood curdling howls from a safe distance. Heart thudding in mouth, I negotiated my way. He kept barking after my shadow. After a long time he concluded that I was way too far away to do any more bag tricks.
The end of the country road was almost in sight. There were the two ladies on their high horses (literally, no pun intended) again. But these lovely ones had no doggies with them. What sweet ladies. I considered this a good omen and made a dash to safety of my room.
Venice has been my dream destination since childhood. But my primary purpose for visiting Italy in the year 2003 was to attend an academic conference in Modena, and not tourism. The trip to Modena was possible because I got sponsorship from the University of Modena, Italy and Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) New Delhi. But Venice is close to Modena and I had to visit it!
Photo Credit Canadastock on Shutterstock
So, I went to Modena and when I realized Venice was two and a half hours away, I decided to go to Venice (of course, on my own money). But it was to be packed somewhere in my hectic schedule. I arrived in Modena on September 11, 2003 1.30 p.m. Italy time. September 12 was completely devoted to the conference and later in the evening was the conference dinner. September 13, I had my paper presentation and after the lunch the conference was over. On September 14, I was taking a flight back from Bologna at 10.30 a.m.
On September 11, though I was completely jet lagged I decided to visit Venice, so that if I got delayed on 13th due to some reason I would not be going back home without having seen Venice. Now a few of you might think- why not to stay back after the conference instead of this mad rush? Well, my conference organizers (University of Modena) paid my hotel rent. I live in India and earn in Indian rupees and they do not go very far in Euro or dollars.
I checked the schedule and took a train to Venice. The approach to Venice is really beautiful. Suddenly I found that every one in my car was standing up and pulling the windows down (it was non-AC train). That is how the approach to Venice affects people. There was only water as far as I could see and a faint outline of various objects of the city. I was quite awestruck by the view, so much so that I forgot to stand. I could hardly wait to get into the city.
Photo Credit- Valentina Photos at Shutterstock
As I got out from the train station and it was raining lightly. Right in front was a fountain and kids were playing near it. Beyond it was a canal, and I started wandering in just any direction that caught my fancy. I started walking on my left and there were a lot of shops selling glass souvenirs and Venetian masks. The display windows of the mask shops look very curious and eye catching. I had no particular thing in my mind while I started my stroll.
There were various boats (water taxies) and gondolas in the canals but I did not try any of those for the simple reason that I knew that gondolas are very expensive and I am very fond of walking. I really liked the atmosphere of the city a lot. I was so tired after my journey from New Delhi to Modena and then to Venice. But the sight of water, houses, churches and bridges large and small cheered me immensely. I went to the famous Rialto Bridge on foot and was barely back in time to catch the train back to Bologna.
On September 13, once again I came back to Venice and this time I rolled the windows down, stood up and watched the sunset as I approached the city. It was raining harder this time (but it stopped after a while) and it was dark as night was falling. I was really hungry and decided to try a colorful restaurant with seating arrangement outside. It was magnificent to sit by the canal and see boats and gondolas moving on the lake.
Photo Credit- Mapics from Shuttertock
Then I tried to resume my walk to Rialto but there were very few people and with all those narrow empty roads somehow my courage failed. Instead I took a walk around the areas near the station and Venice looked different at night with all those lights on. I picked a few souvenirs from a shop at the train station.
It was just before 11 p.m. and I decided to proceed to Bologna and spend the time at the airport and it was here that I was in for a shock. When I came to Venice on September 11, there were trains to Bologna from Venice Mestre after 11 p.m. but not on September 13. There are many trains going from Santa Lucia to Mestre. I decided to try my luck there. I reached Mestre around 11 p.m. only to discover that the next available train to Bologna is in the morning at 6.30 a.m. There were many people on the station and just for variety; I decided to spend the night there instead of checking in a hotel.
It was somewhat cold that night at Mestre. I had only a thin woolen sweater, which was pretty adequate for indoors in non-AC surroundings but not for a night at a station. One of the passengers waiting at the station was having a Heineken. After a while he tried to strike a conversation with me. I was not in a mood. He started the conversation in Italian and to put an end to it I said I speak English, which is true.
That was my undoing. He could somehow guess I was from India and so was he. He kept on getting drunk and speaking not very complimentary things loudly in Hindi, which only I could understand. I kept on ignoring him and feeling cold. I took a walk outside and saw many hotels just across the street including a Best Western. I stayed on the station but I would have moved to a hotel if at any point the station were to be deserted. That drunken Indian boarded a train after 2 hours or so. I caught my train at 6.30 in the morning and safely caught my plane back to New Delhi. In the plane, after the lunch I was so fast asleep that when I got up after some 2 hours I could not figure out where I was.
I traveled to Amsterdam from New Delhi in the summer of 2002. Almost all my foreign trips have been in relation to some academic work. This particular visit was sponsored by the Department of Economics, University of Groningen, as I was appearing in an interview there. Amsterdam, actually, was less of a travel destination and more of a stopover on my way to Groningen. And Amsterdam Red Light District was never on my agenda!
The landing at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport itself was exciting because I saw windmills from high up. My plan was to travel to Groningen the same day. On making queries, I found out that the first available train was after three and a half hours. Such delays may be inconvenient for many but they are heaven sent for me. It meant three hours in Amsterdam and I decided to venture out.
Taxies are a big no-no for me because of the expense involved. Fortunately, I have a penchant for walking. But the problem is that I can get lost even in a telephone booth if it has two exits. To avoid getting lost in a strange city, I decided to explore the areas just next to the station. I followed my instincts and tried to get out of the station on Damrak Street. From what I had read on the Internet, it is the city center and all the regular tourist amenities like cafes, money exchange and so on are located on it. I also had to book a half-day tour of the city to take on my way back from Groningen.
What a view greeted me! It was a bright and cool summer day. A light wind was playing on a stream flowing next to the road. But after walking for a while I started feeling confused. The street that I was following was pretty deserted; it did not look like a city center at all. I decided to head back to the station and ask someone for directions. When I asked a gentleman about it, he advised me to get inside the station and exit on the other side. But then he spoke in Urdu all the time, guessing quite correctly that I can understand it. He asked if I was from Bangladesh. I told him I am from India but I understood what he said. Thanking him profusely, I hastily made my exit.
I followed the crowd pouring out of station this time and correctly reached Damrak Street. Again, a canal was flowing right in the middle of the road. I started feeling pleased with my decision to take a walk. Keeping on the right side of the canal, I meandered to the Dam Square and Madam Tussaud’s via open-air cafés and souvenir shops.
I considered going into Madam Tussaud’s but my shoestring budget prevented me from doing so. You see, my hosts at the University of Groningen paid for my hotel and travel fare. On my own, the 17 Euros entrance fee seemed to be a big luxury, which I could not afford. After spending half an hour in the square, soaking in the atmosphere and music, flowing out of various instruments and artists, I decided to walk some more.
Wandering far was out of question as I could easily lose my way. So, I decided to turn back and explore the other side of the canal by crossing a small wooden bridge. I noticed some people sitting on the railing giving me queer glances. It puzzled me; queer glances are more common in India, particularly for a woman walking alone. Even some of the shops had vague signboards. I got confused and decided to head back to the station and later reached Groningen safely.
Fast forward to my day in Amsterdam after coming from Groningen. I turn up for the tour and take a seat in the comfortable bus near the central station. The guide explains that in front of us is the post office and the station and on the right side ladies and gentlemen, is the famous red light district and went on to other things! So it was just because of the signs on the shop I was saved a shock. I never knew it was located so conveniently next to the central station! Now I have told you where it is. It gives no indication from the outside as to what it is, so it is possible just to stumble there, as I would have had the shop signs not made me hesitate. Anyone who would like to walk around in cities unfamiliar can end up there! So now my boring tour of two hours in the city and one-hour boat ride (this was interesting) got over I had no clue what to do next! The boat dropped us next to the station around 6.00 in the evening. Now sun goes down in summer in Amsterdam at some crazy hour like way after ten at night (In India it goes down around seven in the evening and even earlier in winter). So I knew it would be day light for quite a few hours.
I am quite timid by nature but now my curiosity was tickled. I tried going into the red light area, I knew it is a tourist destination and safe but when I started from India it was never on my agenda. I tried walking there but then walked back on the pretext that I want to eat something. Two bananas and a few strawberries later, I headed again but decided to take a stroll in some other direction. I started clicking a few photos and found that roll was jamming. Now for the third time I headed back to the other side of the street to get another roll of film. But by now, I was convinced that I am a chicken and I am hesitating to go into the area. A new film loaded in my camera, I told my self firmly I would go in this time, come what may! And I did.
As some of my agitation subsided, I noticed other people walking through, with their cameras and other touristy telltale signs. That gave me courage. I started reading shop sings and while much is not to be repeated here, on offer was everything from drugs, to massages, shows and much more. But the most prominent sign was ‘NO PHOTOGRAPHS’ on every glass window. Some of the vacant windows advertised contact numbers in case anyone was interested. After ten minutes, I dared to look up in one of the windows where there were sings of life. The lady occupying it looked perfectly comfortable where she was. I lost more of my agitation. I walked on those lanes for a while, proving my courage, to myself, as there was no one else with me to prove it to.
All this while, I still had the track of the direction I had to take to go back t
o the railway station or so I thought. I took my leave of various things ‘Red’ quickly, and crossed the bridge; only this time it led me to another place. My heartbeat almost stopped but mercifully from that place, too I could see the station, though at a completely different and crooked angle. I understood a new meaning of relief that day, as Amsterdam’s Red Light District was the last place I would like to get lost in. Since then there had been many other places and other walks but never this ‘Red.’