Like a kaleidoscope, the images flashed through my eyes.
Where memory plucked a piece of time to cherish,
From past travels and adventures and journeys.
An autumn leaf, a blooming cherry blossom and a fresh snowflake,
Shaded with hues left behind by a piece of myself.
Slowly chipped away to nothing as I meandered far and wide,
But shaped back whole by the memory capsules I carried back home.
Fixed with mementos, an imperfect solved jigsaw was I.
Ever resolving. Ever evolving.
I stumbled upon this cool challenge “Writespiration” hosted by Sacha Black where the prompt was Kaleidoscope which made me ponder over the numerous trips and journeys and how they change us – and often, shape us.
The trip is done. The bags are unpacked. I left something behind though and that was a good chunk of my heart.
Those twelve days managed to grasp a firm hold on my little pacing heart and insisted that just like I got a token of my travels back here, I leave a token of my presence in those mountains.
I was in Spiti – a cold desert mountain valley in the Trans Himalayan region. To put it in the words of Rudyard Kipling, “A world within a world”. The name “Spiti” means “The Middle Land”, i.e. the land between Tibet and India. While I was there, I used to think ofit as Middle Earth – the magical land from the mind of Tolkien. It is arguably one of the sparsely populated parts of the country with some of the villages having a total population of 27 people.
The minute you are in the valley, the altitude ranges from 13000 feet to 16500 feet (provided you are not attempting one of those mountain treks… which then touch even 20000 feet from what I recollect). The days are warm depending on the sun and clouds while the nights are cold depending on the winds and clouds.
It was a journey filled with trekking, volunteering and community living. I was travelling with strangers and interacting with people who I am probably never going to meet again. Yet there was something about the air that made us bond at levels that only travel can bring. Also the fact that we all had to struggle to get the basics like breathing and pooping made us a lot more inhibited. I mean, what role can worldly filters play when you need the human wall in order to pee properly in the wild.
Timing was something that went really went for me while soaking up the culture and traditions of Spiti. It did not work out so well when I stepped out in the night to catch the Milky Way. The floods in Himachal Pradesh ensured almost a consistent cloud cover through the night – it cleared up only a couple of nights. But it was more than enough.
The memories, the internal reflections and external realizations are something I will always cherish. It will probably take a few more posts to cover all the experiences. Right now, I will just leave you with a few photographs. I will catch up on posts and comments over this week 🙂 Thank you so much for all the love and support!!
My sister has been eating my head to put this up 😛 Stalking me everyday! This one is for her – Apologies for being off the grid. Will be around sooner!
From the cold of New York, D and I flew to sultry Miami. My sister was picking us and we had landed early. D got woefully reminded of my lack of machine knowledge when I kept calling out every second car as a BMW which apparently my sister has? Or wait.. was it Honda? I am not sure anymore. It was a nice car with butt warming seats – that meant D had to get out for every single errand as my sister and I refused to move our bums 😀
First evening was spent trying to molest my sister into giving me attention. I was dying for it after being deprived for five years! What was surreal was being with her in a setting that is NOT India and NOT home.
Next day we left for Orlando – two days of Universal Studios and Island of Adventure which translated in two days of Harry Potter. D and I used to be pretty insane about the series and this was our dreams coming to life. Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade delivered! We spent two days trying out spells with our wand, having butterbeer, going on those amazing multi-dimensional rides, catching Celestina Warbeck’s show, riding the Hogwarts Express and of course, wondering about our lost letters. Honeydukes was an absolute treasure as I sampled never-melting ice-cream, chocolate frogs and fudge flies. We also randomly roamed in other areas of the parks and especially enjoyed exhibits from Minions, The Mummy, Transformers, MIB and so on. By the time it was evening, we were dead on our feet but just not ready to stop. The place shone and twinkled with some wonderful smells easing our senses into a soft lull.
We got back to Miami and made grand plans of ferry, the multi-million homes and indulging in water sports. And because it was us, the weather played a spoiler and lo! We were greeted with THUNDERSTORMS in Miami! We made the best of indoors by helping ourselves to mimosas and wine and all day breakfast! And of course, shopping was on the cards – my sister is one of the best shopping companions ever. Her taste is amazing and this time she made sure I got my own stuff instead of raiding her wardrobe as usual! That felt like home ❤ A visit to Everglades worked out well as the weather set the scene for some thrilling time as we imagined being chased and attacked by those sleepy alligators. We also caught a show by the Gator Boys which was absolutely incredible! It helped that the guy was really good looking 😉
Sunday was my birthday (YAY!!!) and of course, the forecast was thunderstorms yet again. Basking in the holiday mood, we still confidently made our way to South Beach ready to take on the world. I caught two radically different versions of the beach that day. It was dark and ominous in the beginning and this powerful spell of showers drenched us in half a minute! Wet and dripping, we were well into our “happy hours” when the sun shone in full glory. D and I happily albeit unsteadily made our way back to South Beach and whew! I realized the true beauty of that place. There were shades of blue vying for attention and luckily the beach was almost deserted. We grabbed a pristine white spot as our tequila-led spirits led us into dancing madly 🙂
A quiet evening lovingly led us to the end of my birthday and the end of the Florida stay as we were all flying to New Orleans – our last stop before it was time to say goodbye.
The weather joked with us during our stay. Everywhere we went, our first leg was cloudy while the last day would dawn with merry sunshine. Some say the sun was celebrating our departure – I say it wanted us to see the places in every shade it created, clear skies being saved for the last!
Monday was warm with the temperature reaching 60s and the prospect of Central Park was inviting. It is almost a 2 hour train ride from Raritan which we spent catching up on sleep.
Rows of yellow, auburn, gold and brown welcomed us into their warmth and we pretty much let our whims guide us as we rambled through the park over bridges, stony formations and tree houses. Deeper and deeper we went, catching glimpses of cyclists, joggers, artists, dreamers and lovers. The diversity represented different parts of the country and perhaps even the globe. Perfect setting for people watching.
We grabbed honey-roasted nuts (for me) and a hot dog (for D). Side note: We make the perfect combination of herbivore (me) and carnivore (him) balancing the gastronomical wants.
Munchies done, we walked down the Mall with elms forming a canopy above us. Artists, jugglers, musicians, couples and children lined the benches as the statues on each side looked at us gravely. The iconic Bethesda Terrace and Fountain opened before us with the dim gush of the water. Boats slipped down the lake, couples kissed at the benches, dogs rambled past and babies crooned at the sight of the cherubs.
We grabbed a place near the lake where the ducks were having breakfast. Timeless were those moments spent sitting there. A couple was posing in their wedding trousseau complete with bow-tied bicycles. The fall colors would have made a perfect picture as they kissed underneath an old tree.
Our next stop was Strawberry Fields – the memorial for John Lennon. A group of performers were playing his songs and we listened to a beautiful rendition of Imagine. After that I let the bookworm in me take over and we walked chasing squirrels to the Alice in Wonderland monument. And it was gorgeous! It is surrounded by some memorable quotes from the books and I was reading them aloud to D. I think this was the first time I have seen him getting bewildered – in a nice manner. Ever the practical one, he had already made arrangements for my tummy as it had loudly started demanding food.
Wistfully, we made our way to the Zoo and the exit. I spied a mother and her young daughter playing on a blanket of fallen leaves, wearing matching hats – that was a perfect send off! That and Delacorte Music Clock. It was exactly one o’clock and the chime of a nursery song started with the animals rotating with their musical instruments. Outside, we saw the Confounding Clock with its rotating face and the sun gleaming behind it.
Wolfing down pizza and falafel, we covered a part of Fifth Avenue on foot with D firmly pulling me forward as I stopped a million times to gape. I was tempted to go inside Tiffany’s with its gorgeous holiday decorations, but D saved me from possibly bankrupting us. We had time to wonder at the constellations of Grand Central Station (and sample cupcakes) as well as visit the NY Public Library and see the Gutenberg Bible. Our night tour guide Tina had made a great pun on the library standing between the lions as “reading between the li-o-nes!” 😀
It was goodbye to NYC – who knows if we will ever see it again. But Miami and my sister were around the corner 🙂 So it was not very hard to say goodbye!
It was a bustling mid-week afternoon when we placed our feet firmly on a packed street of New York not far from Penn Station. We looked up and up and up not even bothering to hide our wonder. That we were in awe doesn’t even cover the happy incredulity over the fact that we were walking on the streets of NYC – arguably the greatest city in the world!
We were staying across the river in Jersey City at Newport with my cousin and bravely tackled the subway system. 33rd St PATH was close by and we managed our metro cards quite easily. No need for a copy of New York subway for dummies as we manged decently over next few days. We had an idea of destinations we wanted to cover and tried to follow the lines that ran through them. We also became skilled at asking for help – unlike our expectations, people kindly directed us to places.
The first night was spent hogging like starved maniacs at Shake Shack in Bryant Park. Cold shakes go well on cold nights I discovered. We also went to Eataly to freak out at the Nutella section … It felt like coming home! 😀 The last stop was the Empire State Building decked with national colors to mark Veteran’s Day. It was dark and freezing on the 86th floor observation deck but forgotten at the sight of the city spread around us like a twinkling blanket.
The next two days were spent touristy style in Manhattan. We did the Big Bus hop-on hop-off bus including a night tour and ferry ride. It was the best decision as it really helped in getting oriented with the city layout. Times Square became our main point as all loops started from there – we did not mind at all. It is every bit mesmerizing and energetic as claimed.
Downtown loop went through SoHo, Greenwich, Little Italy, China Town, Chelsea, Financial District and Battery Park. One World Trade Center and the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum were incredible. There were flowers next to some of the names on the memorial and we could not even fathom the emotions of the people who had placed those flowers.
Other key stops included the High Line which is a work of genius, Wall Street and Brooklyn Bridge (you have to walk from City Hall to get there). The ferry that goes near the Statue of Liberty is close by. We timed our Brooklyn Bridge to reach just before sunset – we saw the rosy colors as well as the skyline getting lit from each side. Awe and some more awe! Night tour follows a similar route but goes to just kiss the tip of Brooklyn and come back across the Manhattan Bridge. Uptown Loop was more of a “Oh My God!!” and made us realize how not deep our pockets are. Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center, Guggenheim, the Met and of course Fifth Avenue were covered.
Some key eating points include Waffles and Dinges, Georgio’s Pizza, Financier Bakery, Sophie’s Cuban Cuisne, TGIF, Bravo Kosher Pizza, Dos Caminos and super yummy food carts. Starbucks made good pee stops. Special mention to Magnolia Bakery as seen in SATC – the best chocolate pudding till date. We were randomly wandering down a street in Greenwich and accidentally happened on the apartment building as featured in Friends.
One day was spent in NJ where we visited Princeton – B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L. No other words. We also visited Morristown and saw George Washington’s quarters – interesting, quiet and pretty. Every place was pretty! Inspiration was everywhere.
But apparently people are too busy to actually take note of it. Our last day in NYC approached and we kept Central Park for that special occasion…
Coming up next, Central Park! 🙂 It deserves a post of its own.