Category Archives: explore

Indian passport

China, England, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Ireland, now New Zealand.


Fully prepared for my next expedition, I call Lyft and hand over my lime green backpack to the driver. Of course, he is a Sunday driver with no personal investment to get to the airport. He decides to take the scenic route and an oath to always drive in the slowest lane. What should have taken me <28 mins takes me a little over an hour. I had an urge every 30 seconds to say something but you must never piss off 2 kinds of people – a teenager who has the potential to spit in your food and a driver who would place your life in danger if he goes any faster than 37 mph. Even though I have global entry, getting to an airport with just 1:31 before the flight could be regretful. 

Thanks to my almost hand-typed Indian passport, even the kiosk scratches its head, shows me an augmented reality middle finger, and tells me to go see customer service. While now standing in a medium length line and with 1:13 left, I slow down my heart rate thinking that my security should be quick, I’m not wearing heels, and I will still be able to spray some free perfume at the duty-free. 18 minutes later, she greets me with a cheek2cheek smile and tells me I have no clearance to board. My eyes pop and my mind says ‘what?why?how?fuck!’ all at once. 

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the three peddlers

Every once in a while around 3pm exactly, we would get an urge to randomly go say ‘hello.’ And so, the three of us would start pedaling from Raj Nagar towards Kavi Nagar. I remember the very first time. Our dear friend had bunked an entire day of school and we wanted to catch him red-handed. The three of us at 12, 13, and 14, having absolutely nothing to do, decided to pay him a surprise visit. We had his address and used our clever ways to maneuver through the random streets. We finally arrived but couldn’t bring ourselves to ring the bell. We were basically scared of his father – what if he is a grouchy old man and chases us away with a stick? We even spent a good 5 minutes squinting our eyes towards the other two in hopes of finding a brave volunteer. The thought of ringing the bell and then pedaling at the speed at which only Lance would give us competition also crossed our minds. We were full of mischief but had never compromised our safety before.

With a brave heart and naughty eyes, we looked at each other, smirked & giggled, and rang that bell. His mom greeted us with a sparkle in her eyes and a smirk on her face. It was a total embarrassment for each party involved. Once we confirmed that he was indeed sick, we decided to repeat the experience and refine our art. We pedaled some more, this time towards Shastri Nagar to visit another friend. We again looked at each other, smirked & giggled, and rang that bell, only this time with confidence. His sister greeted us at the gate and yelled out his name. He came out, shook his head sideways in total disbelief, and filled up his next few sentences with a lot of silent cuss words. “Oh my holy Lord, why are these three here? These psychos are going to get me killed. What the @#$%!” – just one glance and we could tell the category of thoughts pacing through his mind. We sat on the sofa in the living room and just giggled.

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Our mission to embarrass our friend was yet again, a success. With eyebrows raised in accomplishment and pride in our bravery, we rode back to our respective homes. What seemed like a lifetime of cycling, apparently was just a round trip of 12 kilometers. Next week, again at 3pm exactly, we got an urge to randomly go and say ‘hello.’

an innocent little potato patty

It was a little over 8 years ago but I remember that Swiss morning quite vividly. It was chilly and while half my brain was trying to forget that I had just eaten beef in the form of what seemed to be an innocent little potato patty, the other half was focusing on the ticket machine. My goal was to purchase a ticket to somehow arrive at the Uetikon station in Mannedorf by 8:00 am. My only challenge at this moment was to understand German since English was not an option. It took me at least 7 minutes to connect the German dots and purchase the ticket. After switching 3 trains and eating 2 croissants, I finally arrived at the Uetikon station. During my 8 minute walk to the office, I stopped at several home gardens and tried to capture the beauty of a flower. This was my best attempt.

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The Rookery

I am Michael J. Fox and currently starring in the movie ‘Back to the future.’ At least, staying at the Rookery has transported me back 252 years to 1764. It was the time of the British rule across many struggling nations.

In America, the Cherokee Indians were still fighting their battles against the ruthless colonists. The Sugar Act was passed by the British that almost doubled the duties on imported sugar among other items.

In Ireland, the Vikings and Normans had had their share and it was now the British rule. By the mid 70’s, the English Protestants had take over 95% of the Irish land. Gaelic language was banned, trade forbidden, and Catholic Church outlawed.

In India, the British East India Company was ruling large areas of India with its own private armies. The Company rose to account for half of the world’s trade in cotton, silk, indigo, and opium.

While all this was happening elsewhere, some were architecting the Rookery and this very room I’m currently staying in. With old wooden stairs covered in a thick cream carpet, beautiful paintings all around, and chandeliers dangling in the library, I have been transported back to the British empire. 

median, average, or standard deviation

I smile when I see Tom & Jerry but can’t hide away my frown when someone denies me dark chocolate & raspberry truffle; I cry once a month but my own sense of humor usually cracks me up; I fear the unknown and at the same time, the unknown gets me excited; In one moment, I’m ready to take Karma into my own hands, and the very next moment, I see the advantage of the original problem. We each go through a multitude of moods & states of mind but we always find our way back to normalcy, back to the roots – a perfect analogy would be traveling to different countries and coming back home each time – lying down on your bed, driving your own car, and cleaning your own filth. The roots are what define us with little distractions every now & then.

Although, I do wonder what my roots are… what exactly defines me. Is it what I think of myself or is it dependent on others’ perceptions? If I survey 16 people about me, should I take a median, average, or perhaps a standard deviation?

Have you observed that every mirror in the world is different? Some make you look tiny, and some act like a camera – adding 10 pounds each time you look! There are 4 restrooms at my work and my confidence level could shift to 4 varying levels in a single day. Every mirror is different but what remains fixed is my weight, those stubborn inches, and how my jeans fit. Even the specific location for the camera pre-determines the result of a selfie – it’s after all, an exact science!

In the same manner, what others think of you is sometimes a reflection, a result of their roots. The water is colorless but the depth of the ocean, the purity level, and the ocean bed gives it its multiple shades of blue.

By the way, from all the bathrooms, my favorite is the one upstairs – it’s got dim yellow lighting… hides away everything – freckles, wrinkled clothes, extra tires, everything! •wink•

mornings in Istanbul

Mornings in Istanbul were a breeze of fresh air promising new beginnings. Each came with free motivation to touch the sky. The critically brainstormed to-do list was filled each day, with aspirations along with an estimated plan. While stuffing the very authentic Turkish breakfast, we held our heads high and with pride, prepared to conquer the list.

There was a joy in climbing down the beautifully laid down cobbled streets. The streets took us back to the Roman era influencing our temporary smiles. Temporary because we soon realized that the opposite direction on those same beautifully laid down cobbled streets would still be a moment, but not so much of joy. No matter how intrigued we were about the Basilica Cistern, or trapped into the Egyptian Spice Market, there was always a voice reminding us of the upcoming evil – the uphill. Little by little, one baby step at a time, we managed to distract ourselves – the park at Tophane, a yoga place to the left, and a little shop with fresh fruits & vegetables where each day we made analytical decisions of what not to buy so that we won’t have to carry it.

Evenings were a blend of empathizing with our tired bodies while patting on our backs for seizing the day – a check-mark on workout, and a promise to never do that again. Evenings were filled with deep sleep and reaching the state of zero consciousness, not even to realize that the morning awaits.

And then back to square one where mornings in Istanbul were a breeze of fresh air promising new beginnings.

Sigh!

the ancient city of Sobessos

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These 400 square meters belong to the structures built in the 4th or 5th Century. The area is divided into 2 rooms and a pillared main saloon. Each room has an intricate mosaic design laid out with geometrical designs made of different kinds of colored stones and glass. 

Around these 400 square meters, nearly a 100 graves were discovered. Only 10 were excavated. 9 of the these 10 had 5-8 skeletons belonging to little children. The 10th belonged to Diakon, Officer of the Church. No one knows what happened and why the population left but epidemics, famine, or invasions are the current estimations. 

hitch hiking in a foreign land

Yes, I’m not going to lie. Among the three of us knowing fluent Hindi, fluent English, fluent Urdu and a bit of broken Arabic, there’s been a language problem. It took us one full day to figure out where to get the bus from Istanbul to Cappadocia. The journey to Otogar (main bus station) just to find this out was an adventure. The local public transportation is solid, only if you know 1) where you are going, 2) how you are going, and 3) the bus number or the metro station nearest to the destination. There is no guide, no brochure, and no information center. And by the time you figure this out, you have already mentally crushed the plan. Stick to the guided tours, and if you are adventurous, you will need to be brave & patient. We enjoy a bit of adventure, a little too much at times.

Can’t believe this but this time, we hitch-hiked on a truck for 70 km. We had already booked and paid for the house and exactly as planned, we also arrived at the Otogar 2.5 hours in advance. But as luck would have it, the only bus now available was to Aksaray, 70 km away from Cappadocia. The explanation by the seller was too convincing “its only an hour away, you take any minibus and no problem, only 10 Turkish Liras!” The bus seat allowed a 45 degree angle, the Turkish MTV was not too far off in competition, the crew served us chilled Pepsi and even checked on the number of travelers after every stop. As soon as we became comfortable, we were unadopted in Aksaray at 5:45am at a gas station where the conductor pointed towards the buses 100 meters away. However, those 100 buses weren’t of any use to us. For a minibus that starts only at 7:00am, we were told to stand by the side of the road and stop one. After waiting and losing hope, we asked the 7th person (in Turkey, it is 7 times a charm) and he was the lucky one to give us a ride. 

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20140711-115637-42997643.jpg The sceneray all around was breathtaking but throughout the journey, I was scared and kept on replaying the fighting match between Papa & the potential kidnapper. Of course, my 3 months of crossfit should come in handy as well. There were thousands of sunflowers to my right, all facing towards the sun but I kept checking out the size of his muscles, tiny. He was pure lean mass which might actually work against us. I bet my friend Mandy would be able to beat the shit out of him! Every 10 km milestone raised my confidence. It was a smart thing that I had already verified the directions on my iPhone so I knew the turns beforehand. The board for Goreme pointed east but he turned north. “Hmmm” I said but then a potential kidnapper wouldn’t offer you freshly picked cherries. We arrived safely and I finally realized there are some honest people still left on the planet who just want to help. The experience gave me chills and added to my adventures, and it also gave me a trigger to write but I’m still not recommending hitch hiking in a foreign land where there has been a language problem.

unaesthetic architecture

As soon as there is a little crack on the plate or a small tear in a cloth, we are ready to take a trip to Good Will. A little to our disliking and our minds have been trained to keep the receipts in a safe & secure environment. Let me put it this way – how many glasses do you own? Glasses specifically for water, wine, margarita, beer, and whiskey? Champagne without a flute? Maybe not, those flutes might be hidden in the back. Now don’t forget cups for tea and/or coffee. If you trust me or even if you are just wondering, please go and count the total number you own. And yes, make sure to count those shot glasses as well! In true sense of the reality and for ones who do like to wash the dishes right away, what we really need is a couple glasses, may be a couple more for the upcoming dinner party. At the end of the day & your esophagus, does it really matter what you pour where? A couple glasses is how most of ancient civilizations lived and many current ones still do.

Saime, a young Turkish lady, hosted us for a week in her humble house – a little house that had the bare minimum, and in other words, just enough. No two spoons were alike and there was a sample of glasses, each carrying its own shape & size. The unaesthetic architecture of her house with all required functionality and her shyly spoken “oh, it works” words has made me rethink what we really need vs. what we are now used to. Instead of the shower curtain rod, there was a thin rope knotted at both ends. In fact, one more knot and the height of the curtain was adjustable. You can’t do that with a fancy Home Depot cut-to-the-exact-mm rod. I’m just saying, it’s not that I’ll invest in a rope as soon as I get back. I’m just saying. For 2 days there was no wi-fi and for an afternoon, no water. But her smile never faded for there are more important things in our life than to forever be connected. We gave her a warm hug and invited her to California and Delhi, whichever direction she chooses first.

Now go and count the number of glasses.

a cup of cay

Istanbul, amidst the hustle & bustle, whether in Europe or Asia, and despite of thousand vendors, has limited types of tourist attractions, limited food specialities, and limited ways to truly entertain yourselves, with an exception of Turkish sweet delights. I freely use the word ‘limited’ but only in a positive sense. When the number of options are low, you don’t pick & choose. The ‘pick & choose’ is the evil us humans have cultivated but some other day on this topic. When the number of options are low, you don’t pick & choose. When you don’t pick & choose, you end up absorbing every bit and at the end, you have seen a country with all of its main constituents – culture, religion, lifestyle, people, food, environment, trade, sports, etc…

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My favorite this far has been to watch crowds of a jillion people each securing a seat at the cafés and sipping on cay. Cay is a strongly brewed Turkish tea with a slightly bitter aftertaste. It’s the ultimate wind-down activity of day. It warms up the food canal and makes a clear pathway for your nutritional back-fill tomorrow. Instead of seemingly never ending texts on pof or spending hours gazing at topless men selfies, a boy & a girl share a face to face chemistry over a garama-garam (steamy hot) cup of cay. Old couples walking down memory lanes, adolescent boys cracking jokes, and couples falling in & out of love over a cup of cay. No iPads, no looking at the watch, no worries. Just a small little sip at a time.

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