Last evening’s sunset made me feel like we really don’t deserve the glory that is this planet. And nothing establishes our completely undeserved privilege than travel to some of the remotest, untouched parts of the world.
Gratitude for the planet, nature and the abundance I’m getting to witness around.
I suppose this ought to feel really good, but the darn thing took so much longer than anticipated, and had so many untoward delays, and the waiting has taken forever, that neither VC nor I knew what to feel when we were handed the key.
I’m grateful for everything that’s gone into making this possible. Mostly for VC, because on my own, left to my own antics, I’m not sure I’d get down to doing anything to own a little place of my own.
All things considered, all said and done, there’s something so deeply compelling about how much I slow down in Goa. I know these are pictures of not the average “everyday occurences”, and not indicative of regular day to day life in Goa, but I’ve observed how much my being slows down, slips into an ease of pace that requires no rush.
I’m grateful for the chance for a year away to come back and appreciate all that I had grown to ignore towards the end of my last stint in Goa.
Second chances are rather life changing. I highly recommend them.
For the fourth time now, coming back to Goa has made me feel like I never left. It’s a comforting, welcoming feeling to know I can belong and yet have the distance I sought last year.
In the coming week, we will hopefully be tying up the loose ends on the home we now have here and much of this idea of feeling at home in two cities, both places, will probably begin to feel like reality rather than pipe-dreams.
It’s very serendipitous for me to note that I came back here to do two very crucial pieces of work (as far as moving forward in life goes) — finalise our home and do a two day workshop for the course I’m doing — on the very same date that I traveled to pack up my Goa life last year.
This feels like Im settling open ends and making new beginnings. And sometimes that comes with a second coming too, I suppose. As with much of my life, I’m welcoming and accepting the place for second chances and looking back at things if they present themselves, without letting old feelings and aversions cloud my judgement.
Basking in a spot of sunshine, I realise that this could very well have been a time to reminisce all that could have been, and instead it’s about all that is. And that shift is such a gift.
Feeling all kinds of aching heart looking at this Goodbye-Goa video that VC* made, pinched out of this post from same time last year, right after I wrote this post last week, and sent out a version of it as a newsletter** last night. Clearly, the melancholy hasn’t lifted. All weekend I’ve been running over a world of feelings and thoughts about home, about second chances, about belonging and about roots.
Right this moment, if someone were to present an opportunity to go back to Goa, I’d up and GO!
There’s also this video from our holiday in Sri Lanka, from this post two years ago. And it fills my heart with a longing to go back to this country I couldn’t get enough of, even after three trips.
Tomorrow, I will finish another whole year of being alive and clocking a circle around the big ol’ sun. In true Type A fashion (the vestiges still remain, and crop up time and time again reminding me I have still some more work to do) I’ve been feeling all omg-time-is-flying and putting that quintessential what-have-I-done-this-year pressure on myself. I wish I’d remember the hard-won wisdom I’ve stumbled on before, rather than keep slipping back to conventional and useless ways of measuring my days.
But right in time, just when I needed a reminder, N sent me this beautiful article last week about living long. More importantly, living well.
And surprise, surprise, the answer does not lie in eating better, exercising or any such thing, but in looking at our relationship with time, and what we do with what’s left of it.
If the goal is to have a longer life, whatever the dieticians may urge, it seems like the priority should not be to add raw increments of time but to ensure that whatever years remain feel appropriately substantial. The aim should be to densify time rather than to try to extract one or two more years from the fickle grip of Death.
Once again, a reminder to focus on quality, not quantity. On what I want to feel, rather than the stuff I think I want to fill my days with. On living mindfully, and with intention.
Every word in the article resonated, and had me longing for the wonder of childhood, when time stretched, even as it was filled with endless discoveries. Such a sharp contrast to adult years where every year seems like it’s flying by faster than the previous one and time is always short.
As I turn 34 tomorrow, I’m going to re-examine and add a resolution or two for the year ahead. This seems like a sane advice to go by.
We should be aiming to lead lives that feel long because we have managed to imbue them with the right sort of open-hearted appreciation and unsnobbish receptivity, the kind that five-year-olds know naturally how to bring to bear. We need to pause and look at one another’s faces, study the evening sky, wonder at the eddies and colours of the river and dare to ask the kind of questions that open our souls. We don’t need to add years; we need to densify the time we have left by ensuring that every day is lived consciously – and we can do this via a manoeuvre as simple as it is momentous: by starting to notice all that we have as yet only seen.
It’s getting impossibly hot. The only respite has been mangoes, fresh juice every morning thanks to my mother, and light dinners of roasted veg and salad.
Like some lunatic, I’m headed to Goa. Mad heat aside, I’m really, really aching for not just time away from this city, but specifically time in Goa. I’m going for a small bit of work for the course I’m doing. And hopefully amidst the sea, sun and sand, with friends I’ll keep practicing going with the flow and figure out what belonging everywhere and nowhere at once means, what turning older has in store for me, and how much I can bend time.
Being on our own time, bending weekends and weekdays to suit ourselves. The agility and ability to get up and go whenever a project demands it.
The opportunity to hit the road and travel to places I wouldn’t otherwise go to on my own. Salem it was, this time. Road tripping with VC is always fuss-free and easy, and I love this chance to make work and play blend.
Going really local, wherever we go. Last night we hit a super local mess and sampled some of the most amazing biryani, and assortment of meat specialties — essentially a lot of mutton and naati kozhi so goodthat made us declare, for the first time ever, that the chicken outshined every mutton dish on the table. There were spicy gravies mopped up with egg dosais, and stories of breakfasts of steaming idlis and meat curries that I really wished we were staying back for.
Learning on the go, things I wouldn’t have even attempted to try in any other “job” set up
I actually don’t remember the exact moment when I agreed to participate in the OXFAM Trailwalk. All I remember is curiously asking what it takes to prep, what it feels like getting through those two days, and how long it takes to recover. The next thing I remember is laughing loudly when I was told I give it a shot. At some point though, I’ve obviously said “Okay, let’s do this,” because I was registered and a part of a team, along with R, S and D. I’m not that much of a quitter, and to be honest, semi-masochistic challenges like this are kind of my thing. It’s how I found myself at the start line of a 100 km cycle ride with zero cycling preparation. I was banking on regular exercise to and a lot of inflated confidence to take me through.
Thankfully, it paid off then.
I can’t say I was banking on the same set of variables this time around. Because as the day inched closer, and it so happened that I had a terrible month of infrequent gymming in January, a proper worry descended. I had accepted and mentally prepared myself for getting completely fucked, physically speaking, and had therefore turned to psyching myself mentally, to just finish it come what may. At some point I even told myself, if I managed a 100 km cycle ride, this can’t be so hard.
On a cycle, the kilometres rush by, you thrust ahead, propel yourself forth and go places. Quickly. On foot, you’re painfully aware of every single step you take, and how small it is in the larger scheme of things. On foot, my speed is a fourth of what it is on a bike. On foot, the strain and pain is about four times more than it is on a bike. That said, fear and butterflies-in-my-stomach aside, I was severely excited in the week running up to the day. There was so much (unnecessary) prep we did, and much like the time I did the 100 km cycle ride, I tried to compensate for the lack of physical prep by doubling up on the food and snack reinforcement.
If all else fails, have a Yoga Bar and power on.
But there were other things to consider too. This was a 48-hour event. That’s two days of trampling through the wild. So we had a bag of extra clothes, reinforcement for shoes and socks, lots of Enerzal, warm clothes for the night walk, blankets for our night stops. This time around, VC (and P) volunteered to be our support crew, returning the favour I did when VC cycled to Wayanad.
Finally, at 4 am on the day, we were on our way to the start point, 1.5 hours away. At 6 am, even before the sun was out, we walked through an arch, over which stood a larger than life, and oh so incredibly gorgeous Milind Soman, flagging off the walk. From there on it was just…a lot…of…well, walking.
I wish I had a more detailed description to give, but really it was just that. Walk, walk, walk. One step ahead of the other. Onwards and upwards. Up and down, under branches, over rocks. Alongside lakes, beside eucalyptus groves. The weather started out beautiful, but as was expected as the sun made its way overhead, it began to beat down on us hard. The area around Devanahalli and Nandi Hills is largely arid, with large tracts of barren, rugged earth, with rocks and brambles for miles together.
Off and on we’d hit a patch of shady trees which would give some respite. But for the most part it was walking through shades of brown earth, clouds of dust surrounding us, as we trampled on.
We managed to keep a pace of about 5 kms to the hour, for the first 38, walking through the worst of the afternoon heat, before we took our first longish break. The event was rather well-organised. Every check-point had adequate water and snacks available, a first aid and medical station, a rest-stop which was a large tent with dozens of mattresses and blankets for anyone to grab, and the whammy — a physio station where hordes of physiotherapy students stretched and pulled and pushed at walkers, relieving our muscles of the strain and lactic acid build up that was bound to happen.
The walk itself, while arduous, was really a lot of fun. I have to say. Even through the muscle cramps, the hellish stretching in my calves, the twitching and eventual burn in and around my knees, the hips that began to pinch, I had an utter and complete blast. It had everything to do with my team, and that includes my support crew. Somehow, just being in the energy of the gang, I found the strength and willpower to keep going.
We chatted in some parts, of course there was an inordinate amount of giggling and laughing (mostly on my part), and a really good rhythm in terms of pace and teamwork between the four of us. This is where knowing your team probably helps. This isn’t an event you can do alone, or with a team you put together just to hit the numbers. VC and P showed up diligently at every check point, bearing food and drinks — bananas, upma, coconut water, dal rice and omelettes, and kept us going with motivation and laughter.
Five things I loved and enjoyed about the walk:
It’s been ages since I faced the elements like this, with no veneer to mask the effects. Punishing sunlight, gusts of wind, clouds of fine red dust, splinters and brambles in my shoes, the beautiful night cold that required me to layer up and get my gloves out — it was a bit mind-boggling to have experienced it all in two days.
All manners of trees. Some stubby, gnarly with twirly, unruly branches cut short, some ragged, half-eaten, some lush and full with an almost visible bounce, some stripped down with a framework of a thousand, wide-reaching thin arms spread in different directions, some mushroomy, airy and pouffy, large and cloud-like, some tall, minimalist, some just so furiously flowering with no time for leaves, some almost dead but still alive.
THE MOON. The moon! The night of our walk was just two nights after the spectacular Lunar Trifecta the effects of which lingered on. We watched the moon watch over us like a steady sentinel in the morning sky, long after te sun had rise on day 1. By evening, the a blazing orb hung low over the horizon, furiously large and intimidating, yet calming. The bright post-full-moon moon lit up the path for us, making it possible to turn our torches off for much of the night walk.
The sheer push it took to get going and keep going. In recent time, my life and the kind of experiences I’ve had have made me believe I’m not one for too much roughing it out. I’ve shied away from treks, trips into the wild and any other outing that required a little less than bare minimum comfort. I’ve completely stopped taking bus journeys for this reason. Of late though, I’m feeling the pinch. I’m feeling the pinch of having missed out on a lot. And this is pushing me to get out some more. Not just physically, but get out of this box in my head. The truth is I can rough it out. I just need to choose to. So while the walk tested my physical abilities for sure, it also pushed my mental boundaries, to do with lack of sleep, to go without a shower or brushing my teeth, to use a porta potty to take a dump — four times over! It’s no big deal, but I’m glad I’m over that small hurdle in my head.
The camaraderie. It’s very unlike me to put very diverse groups of my friends together, otherwise. I’m not the person who throws a party and brings a motley crew together, while I sit back and watch the fun. So it really amazed and thrilled me when I realised that with absolutely no effort on my part, four very varied sets of people I’d otherwise hang out with separately, somehow converged over the course of the walk. These are sets of people I haven’t taken the trouble to mingle with together. It happened, and there we were altogether, bound by this common goal to finish the walk. And we all came through, together. It was brilliant to watch how freely the energy flowed, and how by the end of it we were all hugging each other uninhibitedly.
That was the good news. Now for the bad news — I didn’t finish the walk. By the second morning, we were running on three hours of sleep and gunning on. When I reached the 65 km mark, I felt a surge of energy and 35 kms felt like a small number in the face of how far we’d come. Up until then I was just taking it one kilometre at a time, but at 65 kms, I actually saw the finish line in my head and believed I was going to make it. The strain was real, the pain in my legs excruciating, yet I felt like I could keep going, slowly but surely, with as many breaks as were needed. But very, very soon, something snapped. In my knee, to be specific. And I reached that uncomfortable place where I so badly wanted to stop after every kilometre, but the more I stopped, the harder it became to get up and start again. Truly like being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Eventually, when I felt a pinch at the back of my right knee, with every step I took, and I noticed an involuntary rotation of my foot that try as I might I couldn’t control, I had to will myself to quit for fear of doing some long term damage. In a brief span of five excruciating minutes I had to call it a day.
I made it to 81 kms, which took 31 hours, before I called our valiant support crew came to fetch me.
I wont lie, I’m very disappointed at having come so close to the finish and yet not making it through. But I guess that’s what next time is for?
D and R powered through for 7 hours more, to finish the 100 kms at 9 pm on Saturday night. What a rush!
The physical aspect aside, the two day experience was far more humbling and reaffirming in ways I didn’t expect. For one, I was happy I got out and made it. On the other hand, the six of us coming together the way we did was a bit like watching a real life experiment in letting go and being a part of a team you might not fully identify with at the outset. Once again, life seemed to be affirming how it is little about likeness, and more about the experiences that bring me closer to people, presenting opportunities to bond over commonalities that don’t lie at the surface. Commonalities that you wouldn’t discover over whatsapp, or sharing a coffee or beer, or even endless hours of chatting.
It is an incredibly privileged place to be, to be able to occupy my mind with matters of purpose and meaning attached to every experience. To see connections where I might not have even six months ago. To find common ground where I least expect it. To constantly time and time again find myself pushed into situations where I am forced to open up my heart some more. And the beauty of it all is that the more I seem to do it, the more natural and less like an effort it becomes. The more comfortable I get with getting out of the spaces in my head, the more life seems to push these amazing experiences my way.
Just popping in quickly to say I’m alive. The walk was an experience like no other, an experience I had no idea would thrill and break me in equal measure. But I’m back, with renewed respect for the human body, having discovered hidden vats of determination I didn’t know I had, and feeling equally victorious about having successfully used filthy porta-loos for almost 48 hours and actually walking a little over 3/4ths the journey.
Today has been a day for rest though. Unplanned. I have been staring at my computer all day but all I’ve managed to do is some basic paper-pushing, hygiene stuff. Nothing that requires me to apply my brain to it.
Sitting here, my recovering legs stretched out, reading my book and sipping coffee, I just wanted to say I’m going to be back with a full post about what walking the trail walk was really like, sometime later this week.
When VC told me he was meeting with R and R over drinks one November evening, “to plan our cycling trip,” I dismissed it as an excuse to drink and talk bicycles. But four hours later, when I caught up with them and they spelled out their well-laid plans to cycle 300 kilometres, over three days, all the way from Bangalore to Wayanad, I ate my words thoughts and kept my cynicism to myself. Because the second part of the plan, as I was informed, included me. They would need a support vehicle. To carry essential supplies, a bike rack for emergencies, and generally a fall back, should something untoward happen. Which is where I featured: designated driver or said support vehicle. At this point, I happily joined in what I thought was a mad plan from hell. I haven’t seen VC this excited in anticipation of anything, ever. Except this time, instead of his typical hyper-efficient, over-preparedness, he just had a lot of sleepless nights. Like an over-eager kid before a school picnic. I was a bit surprised to see he didn’t even dust his bike before the ride, forget getting it services or tuned up. They’d managed a few rides here and there in supposed prep for the long distances, but really, nothing that can actually be passed off as training. Anyhow, that’s what the support vehicle was for, they said. To jump into when the going got tough.
And so, on the long weekend around Christmas, they were off. The plan was to cover approximately 100 kms a day, over three days, halting along the way. Day 1 began at 7:30, saying goodbye to the boys as they rode off to battle Mysore road traffic on bicycles — all the while wondering why they wouldn’t just allow me to drive them to a point beyond the traffic jams, and then set off. But there’s no arguing with such determination. And stubbornness.
I had happily agreed to drive when this plan was first proposed, but on the morning after the boys had left, a wave of laziness came over me. I wasn’t so hot on driving all alone anymore. Slowly, over three days. What if I had a flat? What if I got caught by the cops (the car was GA registered)? What if I was just bored hahaha? Anyhow, too late to have second thoughts, I left a good four hours after them, and we merged about 10 kilometres short of Mandya, which was our first pitstop. On the way though, turned out my worries were unfounded. The car was a zippy Honda Jazz, and with absolutely no weight to carry around, some really good music and a better drive given less traffic at the time of day that I’d ventured off, I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed the drive.
I met with a very dehydrated R stopped on the side of the road, with a flat tyre, waiting for the other two to back track and come help him. We made it to Mandya by about 3, ready to check in to the hotel. It was super entertaining trying to explain to the hotel staff in a very straight-jacket, respectable lodge, why three men dressed in neon coloured lycra wanted to cycle from Bangalore to Wayanad, when a woman was driving along with them. Not nearly as entertaining as convincing the same staff that VC and I were in fact married, and the other two “gents” sharing the other room were just friends. The request to carry our bikes into the rooms with us probably did nothing to help our cause.
A terribly delayed lunch, a mistimed, extra-long nap and general disorientation from the schedule being so off meant we woke up bleary eyed at 8 pm, wondering what to do next. We drove off into the town looking for dinner. We circumnavigated the place three times before we settled for a seedy local stop that promised Bannur style biryani. It was delicious, but not the kind of place we could chill and eat slowly. In and out quickly, we then headed back to call it a day in lieu of an early start the next. But not before finishing the tedious task of fixing R’s flat – which he did in amazing sync to Block Rockin Beats that played, as we all watched, amused.
Day 2, despite good intentions, began late. It didn’t really matter to me, but the boys needed to beat the rising sun and make it to the next stop ideally before lunch time. But that was not to be. Traffic, a horrible head wind and then cross winds, plus the sun beating down hard, meant they took it nice and easy. I sped off, drove through Mysore, and found a nice little spot just 20 kilometres short of our next pitstop, where I pulled over. I popped open my kindle and read for the next 2.5 hours waiting for them to catch up.
It was a glorious day, had they got that early start, but with the sun soaring and the wind to beat, the boys looked completely wiped. At this point VC threw in the towel, mounted his bike on the rack and drove with me for the remainder of the journey to Gundlupete, our stop for the second night.
200 kilometres done, I couldn’t believe they were still up and gunning for more. Crazy, crazy boys. While the other two caught some z’s, VC and I ducked off towards Gopalswamy Betta, to catch the sunrise, but ended up mucking around trying to catch light trails, on the drive up instead. Which is to say VC pitched his tripod up waiting for the right light, and that trail you see are my tail lights speeding off into the distance.
After some much needed food, drink and rest, we convened for a round of drinks and other downers to set us up for a good night’s rest. The evenings were getting progressively cooler and I was excited to get to Wayanad the next day.
Day 3, the last third, commenced late once again. But, in terms of terrain and landscape, it was probably the best, most enjoyable drive for me. I know the boys thought so too. Undulating stretches of road, driving through not one but two states worth of national forest reserve, which meant a constant canopy of trees to hide under, gave them sufficient shade from the sun.
And thank god for the nice and refreshing first half of the ride, because the second half, once we entered Wayanad, was gruelling. Arduous ups and downs, punishing climbs, narrow hill roads in bad shape, unruly traffic. By the last stretches, we were halting every two kilometres or so, so they could give their legs and backsides a rest. VC, being VC had called it a day soon after the good bits riding through the jungle were over. He drove shotgun, and grabbed his camera to film what little he could of the ride. R and R powered through, all the way till the goddamned end.
We’d booked ourselves in a lake-facing resort with tented accommodation, which looked very promising online, as such things tend to. In person, it left a lot to be desired. Also, the resort was attached to a government tourism facility with boating services in the lake, which meant we had noisy, selfie-taking tourists traipsing around us all evening long. However, the view made up for it, once the facility shut shop for the day, we ventured out to sit by the lakeside, watching the sun go down, and a ghosty fog descend over the lake. The morning was supposedly gorgeous we were told, so despite three mornings of rising early, R, VC and I managed to drag ourselves out of bed while it was still dark, waiting for the sun to rise. It was stunning, and worth the few hours of missed sleep.
Wayanad is quite the stunning part of Kerala, and it takes a little scouting to find a nice spot tucked away from the humdrum of mainstream tourism, much like any popular destination in this country. But once you do, the sights and scenes are a feast.
The acres and acres of banana and areca-nut plantations, blue skies, palm trees and winding roads, are all reminiscent of the slow life. It was easy to decide we wanted to stay another day. And so we decided to delay our return, and set off on the look out for a place to stay the night. A place that wasn’t as “public” as the lake-facing resort.
We found another tented accommodation set along the steep slopes of a coffee plantation. A setting and a price that was honestly too good to be true. Happy for the opportunity, we settled in. Pretty much all day was spent indoors, and we only set out before sunset, for a walk that took us from the wild and rogue growth of coffee plantations to the immaculately neat style of tea plantations just across a winding village road.
A splendid sunset sealed the deal and we returned, to repeat our evening routine – drinks, downers, dinner.
The next morning, R and VC trekked off once again to catch the sunrise, and apparently had the best hike of the trip. R and I missed it. Because, sleeeeeep.
The boys, of course, had their share of fun. High on adrenalin from the ride, and the thrill of having finished what was only an idea just few months ago. However, it was a really good three days, for me too. After ages, I found myself amidst a gang of boys — a feeling I’ve forgotten. I realise it’s a different kind of easy-going, hassle-free fun. Maybe it’s my own newfound fascination to let-it-go and go-with-the-flow and see where it takes me, and these boys were probably the best boys to tag along with on this kind of trip, but I surprised myself. I wasn’t bored, I didn’t feel lost or left out, so much so that I didn’t even open my kindle for the rest of the trip. Whenever they were off the saddle, we chatted, listened to music, ate some good food, drank and made merry late into the night. Road trips of this kind, are the best kind.
This is a pretty accurate picture of what the holiday did for me.
My memory was jogged back to days in Goa, with the same gang (a couple other boys sorely missed) when doing this kind of spontaneous thing — a random road trip to a faraway beach, an unplanned but miraculously well-worked-out barbecue, a secret trip to a campsite in a neighbouring state, a monsoon trek upstream a river — was so passe, so normal, so regular. And so I took it in, happy to have had another chance to experience something I had pushed far back into my mind. Like I also said here. And here.
The best part, for me was how relaxed and devoid of rigid plans the entire trip was. Aside rom setting off to cycle every day, little else was fixed and we played it entirely by ear. There were several stops for chai, coconut water, pazham-puri, and on our return journey, toddy — which I’d never have ventured out to try on my own. I’m glad I did because I really, really loved it.
It was truly a trip that was more about the journey than the destination. And perhaps because I was meant to tail the boys and always stay within accessible distance, I was forced to slow down and enjoy it that way.
VC, he made a film, so we can always go back to it and remember the trip for what it was.