It was 1st of April what we have popularly known as April Fool’s Day but this day was not just any ordinary April fool’s day for me. This is the very day I got to see Hagia Sophia ticking it off from my bucket list. If I ever wanted to visit Turkey then it was for two reasons once would be to witness Friday prayers at the Blue Mosque and second would be to visit Hagia Sophia.
The moment the door of the airplane flung open, I felt the Istanbul air. It was windy and the cool breeze was hitting my face like a thousand needles. Honestly, I never expected Istanbul to be so cold in April. It was brief stopover thus I had to make most of it; I hurriedly rushed to clear immigration counter and looked out for the board with my name on it. I had booked my airport transfer shuttle to not lose even a minute trying to figure out my transport options.
For quite some time during my childhood, we used to live in Bangalore (Bengaluru) and that means regular train travel since air travel was simply out of the question. One of the highlights of the train travel was when the train traveled right next to Chilka Lake. We as a family did quite a few trips to Puri but somehow always skipped a trip to Chilka. Forever I wanted to see the Dolphins and of course the charm of a long boat ride.
Every time the train would pass Chilka Lake I would peep outside the window trying to get a good look at it. Since only a small portion of the lake can be visible from the moving train thus the beautiful scenery would just zoom past. I would wish that someday I would get the opportunity to see the lake for real.
The first vacation that a Bengali family usually takes would be either a trip to Puri or to Darjeeling. For my family, it started with a planned trip to Darjeeling in the mid-1980’s. All the bags were packed and I was super excited especially to see Tiger Hills which I thought was a hill full of tigers back then at an age eight nothing could be more exciting. We reach the station to board our train only to find out that all trains to the hills were canceled due to recent agitation by some political parties.
Not to disappoint us my father made an impromptu trip Puri as an alternative. I still have some faintest memories like the beach, the railway station where a couple was fighting (the wife not happy with the choice of train seat) and the sweet meat selling vendors. Not to forget the sumptuous lunch cooked by my mom which included chicken, mutton and of course tons of fish. Yes, back then most families cooked their own food while staying at one of the several holiday homes. This was also a trip where my grandmother was also with us which I believe was the only time she had accompanied us during a vacation.
I had to reach home early as promised to my wife and as the clock struck 6 I dashed out of the office rushed to the basement to get on my motorcycle for a quick ride back home. Guests had already arrived at the house and I had been warned to reach as soon as possible. As I exited the main gate I was frozen cold with the sight that was in front of me. A huge procession of people across Park Street some dancing to the tune of a makeshift DJ atop a truck while some just dragged on. I got off my motorcycle only to realize that the procession was starching beyond my visual range in both the directions.
What I failed to understand as to what the people were celebrating since there were neither any gods neither any political flags. Upon asking one of the participants I was told that they were celebrating Bhim Jayanti which was actually the birthday of Dr. B R Ambedkar. The section of the procession which was passing in front of me constituted people from the cobbler community. From them, Dr. Ambedkar was like a messiah thus all the festivities.
The concept of a community-specific celebration or a place of worship is not that a new concept and this I got to know during my trip to Rome. My daughter was very much tired after walking for quite some time and she requested to rest somewhere. I found this quite place behind Capitoline Museums overlooking Roman Forum. It seems not many people come to this side and tourists after visiting Capitoline Museums either go towards the Colosseum or enter Roman Forum directly.
I am sure many of you who have watched the movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara have had the thought of going on a long road trip once in your lifetime. Fortunately for me, I have had that experience a long time back, to be precise 15 years back(2003) much before the movie popularized the concept of a road trip. Back then this was just another long drive and it is only now that I realize that it was actually a landmark in my traveling life.
It all started right after I finished my last examination in college where I was completing my Batchelor’s degree. There was a gap between the last examination which I still remember were Economics and the result date. I still hadn’t figured out what to do after graduation thus was completely relaxed.
Which state in India is known as the Venice of the East? This was not a direct question to our team and I eagerly waited for the question to pass it to my team. This was during our school inter-class quiz competition which we used to have every year. During school days I was an avid quizzer thus all these answers were almost at my fingertips.
For years I have known that Kerala is often referred to as the Venice of the east especially the town Alleppey (Alappuzha) which due to its waterways is often associated with the Italian town of Venice. It was really fortunate for me to have traveled to Kerala quite a few times and the experience was just amazing.
One fine day all of a sudden an opportunity jumped into my lap, a chance to travel to Italy and I knew which place that I had to visit. Traveling to Italy and not visiting Venice would be to visit India and skip a chance to see the Taj Mahal. The planning had to be perfect since Venice is in the eastern side of Italy and within a few number of days, I had to complete my tour of the country covering what all could be covered.