Shiny new cab

Night breathes a new life into this city. The wind breaks against my face as alcohol resists the ambition fueled progress. Around me are vehicles driven by the helpless and the hopeless. Another weekend descends upon this undeserving populace.

The air is laced with dust from the convoluted development that happens in this city which is on the brink of destruction.

In my shiny new cab songs play from a bygone era that whisper gentle admonitions. My blood boils at the sight of those who break the rules by endangering the lives of many others. It’s an everyday occurrence.

Billboards coax executives into buying advertisements they don’t need and auto-rickshaws accentuate the ambiance with their gas fueled cadence.

Motorcycle riders defy death with their naked heads confident with the promise of tomorrow. Multi-axle trucks from hell barrel down the highway oblivious of those unfortunate few who sleep by the sides of these perennial arteries.

The songs from a bygone era continue questioning my conviction and my shiny new cab rides on.

The Arctic Dream

We leave crumbs of our wandering souls in every town we visit, waiting for other itinerants to rekindle them with a life of their own and wander all over again. We spend our lives hoping and dreaming that somewhere in those cities our laughter still echoes; and our spontaneous dreams still live on in the memories of passing strangers. And I still wonder – what is life if not a sum total of a million memories created by us and those deep in the sub-conscious of lives we once touched?

 

With mad dreams of living in every city we visit, we started walking on the narrow streets of Oslo’s down town. In these streets you would expect cars and trams to jostle for space and possibly be constrained by the design, but to our surprise, the traffic was as smooth as can be expected. Oslo was our first port of call in Norway as we embarked on a 10 day vacation to the land of the midnight sun. Continue reading “The Arctic Dream”

Vertical limit

“One thing that we share is the silence of God
We got nothing to do but wait out our trip
To the end of the world, you get used to it
And all we’re asking for,
Is nothing but the truth” – Coby Brown (Edge of Man)

The clouds tumbled down the lush green mountains as the first rays of light streaked through the dense skies. I stirred from my early morning stupor as the car lurched precariously along another curve. Beside me the soon-to-be chef slept like a log. On the other side, my soon-to-be wife, slept with her hair in tussles, beautiful and with a confident calmness about her. The beautiful landscape that rolled by at great speed was just a precursor to what we would see over the next 4 days. We hardly expected what came our way, but in the end we were happy about it. Continue reading “Vertical limit”

Just the beginning….

Elk

The strains of an African tune filled the car as we cruised through the wildly varying landscapes – from mountains to valleys, rivers to lakes and dense forests to open meadows. 700 miles of these over 5 days across Montana and Wyoming. We were graduating from being just good road trippers to real campers and adventurers.

It was nearing the end of one of the best years of my life. And it was the end of the summer of 2012. We decided to end it on a high note by visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton – two of the finest national parks in the US. Continue reading “Just the beginning….”

Of Bays, Sin City, Death Valley and Red Rock Country

Devil's Bridge

San Francisco to Lee Vining

The biggest attraction of our trip to the west coast trip was the epic road trip that we were going to do. For us it has always been the favorite aspect of any trip. Hence, when we reached San Francisco we decided to cut down our time in the city to just one evening and the following morning. It was probably the wisest decision we made on our trip. Large cities have never interested us. Small towns where you can breathe the everyday life of the people and feel their warmth are what excite us. Continue reading “Of Bays, Sin City, Death Valley and Red Rock Country”

End of Road

The Trip: Bangkok, Pattaya, Cambodia

Partners in Crime: Sid and Me

There always comes an end in a journey of wandering souls and the beginning of something new. For us it will be the fact that Sid is getting married in 2011. This was something of a last journey together. Something of a memoir to remember life as we know it. Things may not be the same again for both of us, but they won’t be bad. They will be different. The beginning of a new era. A new chapter of life. And what best way to end it than visiting Thailand and Cambodia in a beer-filled haze. Memories of many evenings are but a fraction of what we would usually have. The beer did the trick. We walked with Singha.

Day 1, 2: Bangkok

The build up to the trip was intense with the amount of work we were squeezing in everyday. That’s the best way to enjoy any trip. Work yourself up to a point of frustration and then you can really take anything that a trip would throw at you. We landed up in Bangkok on the weekend of the Kings birthday. Started off the first day with some awesome Thai food with a friend who was in Bangkok. She helped us out with some of our planning and also took us around to the Chatuchak market. Probably the only place in the world that can beat Khan El-Khalili in Cairo.

The two days in Bangkok passed by quickly with evening spent in company of Singha beer and thai food. What we were looking forward to was the next leg of the journey. The road trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Day 3, 4: Siem Reap

Monday morning presented a challenge. We had to wake up early and get onto a bus for Aranyaprathet – the border town on the Thai side. A 6:30 AM bus got us started off on the 5-hour trip to Aran. Although the trip was uneventful the border at Cambodia was one big scam. Luckily for us, we had read about it on the internet and being Indians we were used to getting scammed on tourist locations. We are naturally trained to be street smart while going out as tourists.

We got the visa the authentic visa counter of the Cambodian officials (they were very helpful and friendly) and avoided the scams going on  slightly before the border. Next step was to negotiate with a cab driver to take from Poipet to Siem Reap. It was a good 2 hour drive through the country side with small towns along the way – we started off with an Angkor beer which was really awesome. The driver gave us a taste of Cambodia by eating a bag full of insects in the car. Thankfully they were dead and fried – or we would have had a situation.

We slept off the afternoon to be ready for the eventful evening tht followed us. Siem Reap is famous for the number of pubs it has. There is a street near the old market which is called Pub Street. This is half a kilometer long and is lined up with pubs back to back on both sides of the street. There are all different kinds of pubs from Irish to Ghetto to Oriental to Hip-hop.

What followed was a rampage through the street – going to atleast 3 different pubs. At the end we settled at the Ghetto styled pub called “Angkor What?”. Funny name we thought. The bartender was a young guy with stories to tell of his travels. As the bar filled up so did we with beer after beer. We started chatting with some random Canadians and played several rounds of pool with them – of course towards the end we were kind of drunk and barely knew what was happening.

Its funny how closed we are while we meet strangers in our own lands but never exchange a word. Maybe all we share is prejudice for each other. Maybe its the way we’ve been brought up, maybe its the culture in this country. But when we travel we are different people. We are bound by the common thread of backpacking. Of being among the adventurous few. When we travel, we are no longer Indians or Canadians or Americans or Europeans – we are travelers. We share experiences, we share lifetimes. Its those memories that stay with you forever. I still remember my conversations with random strangers in Yulara out in the wilderness of the Australian outback even though its been nearly three years. It is these experiences that define a journey. Its these strangers that make your travels worthwhile.

On the second day of the trip we visited the ruins of Angkor Vat. These are the temples and the ruins that have witnessed centuries of struggle and genocide in a land where god abandoned the people. With the towering branches and roots gobbling up the Ta Prohm temple it almost felt as if various secrets are being protected forever. The eerie silence in these ruins weigh heavily on us and after noon and lunch we call it a day. On the way back to Siem Reap we are greeted by rains which are a common thing in afternoon in these parts of the world. The air is damp and we enjoy the ride back to Siem Reap and thank ourselves that it was not a car/ cage, but an open Rickshaw.

Day 5, 6: Pattaya

Welcome to sin city. Its a city that lives on sex. Sex is sold on streets, in bars, in hotels, in shops, on the promenade, in the alleys… everywhere. The beach road in Pattaya is something that I will miss the most after the crazy town of Siem Reap. Rows and rows of pubs interjected by small allies – yet again filled with pubs and go-go bars. They all end in one giant culmination called the walking street. Try to walk this street without being felt up atleast once and I will give you a thousand dollars. We walked around on the beach road and walking street, enjoyed all the sights and sounds of Pattaya.

We realised that it was cheaper to buy beer from 7/11 and drink it on the streets. After all it was all legal here. On the beach street, in every direction you look, there will be atleast one 7/11 (except of course in the direction of the sea). After two nights of fun and debauchery we were ready to return to Bangkok and end the trip.

Day 7, 8: Back to Bangkok

The last few days in Bangkok were uneventful but we had a lot of fun by going to different bars. Last night in Bangkok we went to a pub called The Rock which was really awesome with a live band playing some hits from Metallica and Megadeth. We were almost tapped out of cash by the time we got out of the pub. It was a long walk back to the hotel.

The nights in Bangkok envelop the city in an almost deafening cloak that keeps the good insulated from the bad. The bright neon lights camouflage the distress of the thousand of girls and the desires of men. Under its willing arms, Bangkok conceals a lot. I wonder what we would have discovered beneath the mask and the guise if we had but stayed on longer…..

…. But the secrets would have to wait as we bid farewell to the city that marks the end of an era for us. To new beginnings and to growing up…

(untitled)

Just hanging on to life as days crumble into the dark dust of the night. Its not the loneliness that drives me crazy, its probably the norms of the society that I try to follow – but fail miserably each time. These norms that form the very basis of human interaction take precedence over friendships that have developed over years, over relationships supposedly forged in metal. It drives me to desperation. Drastic steps to fill the void. The travel to different countries and cities forms the interlude that keeps the cycle from breaking; its what keeps me from disappearing into the sunset. Thoreau said, ‘Most men live lives of quiet desperation’ and I wonder how different am I.

As the sky turns crimson in anger at the setting sun, I sit here in my darkened room with thoughts of Thoreau and McCandless and Bukowski and I wonder what greatness beseeches those men in death that they couldn’t achieve during their lives. What drives us to the brink of abandon yet pulls us back? Why wasn’t McCandless ever pulled back?

All but specks of our imagination running wild into open fields – chasing winds and diving into valleys, afraid of falling, climbing the heights, teetering over the edge looking down into the abyss, heart fluttering, afraid of death, sights on the goal, pushing as hard as you can, what drives us? The challenge, a point to prove, but to whom? To those who have long forgotten you, but those mocking eyes still pierce your heart and as Bukowski would put it:

“Amazing how grimly we hold on to our misery, the energy we burn fueling our anger. Amazing how one moment, we can be snarling like a beast, then a few moments later, forgetting what or why. Not hours of this, or days, or months, or years of this… But decades. Lifetimes completely used up, given over to the pettiest rancor and hatred. Finally, there is nothing here for death to take away. “

Desolation Angels

What started off as a casual idea of us doing a road trip together soon snowballed into a plan and set off several things in motion. Over the course of 5 months, I got my US tickets, the visa and made a plan to visit my sister in New York. What hinged my trip to my travel philosophy was the lure of the road trip through 4 states. New York, Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

The route? New York – Winchester – Doughton Park (via skyline drive) – Great Smokey mountains national park (via Blue Ridge Parkway and Tennessee Interstate).

The drivers – Me and a friend from engineering days

The car – Chevrolet Cobalt (never ever rent American cars. They suck. Period.)

The start – Jersey City, New Jersey (0 miles)

The trip started off with a bounty-hunt trying to find the rental car in the sprawling West parking deck of Newport Mall. As she drove us out of the city, I could almost feel both of us slowly shedding the worries of work, the daily grind, the urban fears, the heartaches and everything that held us down.

First stop – Winchester, Virginia (250 miles)

When you are in a fairytale town and there are things you want to say, it becomes that much more difficult to hold them down. And I swear I could have cried in that little town. Not out of sadness but out of hysteria at the tipping point of the year that went by, out of the fear of the finite nature of this journey, out of the fear of pouring my heart out. We were living in a fairytale. We were two souls thrown together with a common purpose – to find ourselves through this journey, to find a way out and to change what we could not in the urban chaos. As we walked along the cobblestone streets of downtown Winchester, we saw the quaint little town in all its resplendent beauty. Little bars with happy and content trippers – maybe some travelers. An old man with a very familiar face gave us the best advice on relationships during the trip. The Irish stuff was slowly getting to me. I never wanted to go back, but the alcohol weighed us down after a while and we walked along the dream and back to our room. When I woke up in the morning, I could have sworn that last night was a dream.

Second stop – Bluffs Lodge, Doughton Park, North Carolina (650 miles)

What lay ahead of us was a 100 miles of the beautiful skyline drive in the dreamy Shenandoah valley followed by hundreds of miles of winding roads in the Appalachian range. The day’s target was to reach the only inhabited place along the 600 miles of Blue Ridge Parkway called Doughton Park. A million overlooks rolled by on both sides of the parkway. We stopped at a few to gawk at the sprawling mountain range and appreciate man’s creation jostling for some attention in the selfish show of nature. As I smoked a cigarette at one of the overlooks, I could almost hear myself breathe in that silence that surrounded us. The air, clean at this height and damp with the impending rains.

As I tired after a while she took the wheel only to be greeted by a dense sheet of fog, lashing rains and desolation. I wondered if this was her comeback. She battled the rains as it became a tug of war – sometimes the rain slowed her down and on others she tore through the rain with determination I had never witnessed. After her trial by the rains when I took over, we had a minor fuel scare. We managed to get through the situation nearly scraping the fuel tank in the process after which she slept sound only to wake up at Doughton Park. There was a sense of accomplishment as we opened the bottle of wine and chugged a few glasses before going to sleep.

As I stepped out in the morning, I was greeted by a beautiful panorama of rolling pastures and lonely scattered trees. A quick breakfast at a typical North Carolina deli and we were ready to hit the road again.

Third stop – Great Smokey Mountains, Tennessee (900 miles)

Every trip has a purpose whether you set out with it or you find one during the trip. Road trips are designed like that. For some people there is nothing glorious about driving a 1,000 miles to reach a camping destination – however what they don’t realize is that travelers do not seek glory. We do not seek acceptance. All we seek is answers – though we never get them. The day you start getting your answers is the day you stop being a traveler or it’s the day you die.

As we snaked along the parkway in the bosom of the Blue Ridge Mountains I knew the purpose of this road trip. Catharsis. I needed to change things about life. I needed to come up with things I wanted to do differently with life. (However, I didn’t come up with a list until later while doing the Highline walk in New York City). What we did come up with were lists of things we both wanted to do before we died. Our bucket lists.

Day slowly turned to evening as we finally slid off the Blue Ridge parkway almost saying a good bye with a heavy heart. We weren’t sure if we would ever be able to come back or if things would be the same if we ever did manage to return. A small Applebee’s diner in a Tennessee town saw us through our lunch and we continued onto the Tennessee Interstate tearing down to Cosby, TN. The goal was the reach the Great Smokey national park before the last bit of sun went out and the black bears came out to play. As fate would have it, it rained that evening and we ended up spending the night in the car – brought back memories of Australia when we spent several nights sleeping in the car. We did manage to light up a fire for a brief period of time and got high enough to be able to sleep it off.

Fourth stop – Gatlinburg and then back to Jersey City (1,650 miles)

The next day we headed towards another dreamy little town which finds itself ensconced among the high ridges of Great Smokey Mountains. We had an elaborate breakfast after which we started heading back to Jersey City. I found myself feeling depressed through a large part of the trip back, because let’s face it, the thought of a big city invariably has thoughts of the mundane life and the urban chaos associated with it. Though New York City has a charm of its own, I can’t help but feel boxed in. At the same time, the thought of ending the beautiful 4 day journey came bearing down on me. We stopped yet again at Winchester on our way back and we went to the same bar. We couldn’t believe it when we saw the same old man yet again! Winchester lifted up my spirits as we started talking again – talking about our heart-breaks, talking about where life was heading, about a million other things. As we sang along to songs we loved, we rapidly zipped through the Interstate highways at 80 miles an hour. The lights of Jersey City loomed on the horizon and it was time to say goodbye.

Lost…

A quart of whiskey. A pack of cigarettes. Life pissed away while waiting for something to happen. Loneliness. Hysteria of being alone. The search. The failure. The pretensions. The sadness. End it all. Drink it away. Wish you don’t wake up. Hope for utopia. Hatred for mankind. Where does it all end? Struggle. Constant struggle. Never ending, but always hopeful. Pass out……..

Turn the Page

Change is good :)

My apologies to all those people who had the patience to read my ramblings and post their wonderful opinions. I could not hold on to the comments. But sometimes its best to let go of the past and start afresh.