Autoscopy 2014

Bandipur at Night

When we decided to make the road trip to Masinagudi, little did we realize that things could go this bad. In the time it takes to say the word “honeymoon,” things went from fantastic to horrible. Rani and I didn’t know each other when we got married last week. The first time we saw each other ten days ago at her parents’ place, we thought we were too young, too stupid, too immature – two completely different people thrown into the fray and told to live together and love each other, till death do us apart. And we weren’t brave enough to do anything about it. In whatever little time we spent alone, we tried our best to get to know each other as quickly as we could – I told her my hopes, dreams and ambitions and she was good enough not to laugh in my face. She told me that her passion were wildlife and Maddur vadas.

Well, as fate had it, we would experience both very soon.

The wedding itself was a very forgettable affair for me. She didn’t tell me, but I think she hated it too. There were too many people, too little space and the food was too bland. In the peak of summer, it’s never a good idea to cram too many people in a small space and not feed them well. But, it got done with, and the parents were satisfied that their duties had been completed. They were clear of their obligations and their only job now was to wait with bated breath and annoying interjections for my wife to push out a kid or two or three.

Being a mediocre, middle-class white-collar pencil-pusher, I did not have the means or the luxury to afford a fantastic honeymoon at an exotic location. I could afford no honeymoon and I told Rani this the day before we got married. I could sense the sadness in her voice as she told me that it was all right and that we could go sometime later, after saving up a bit of money. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that with my current income, the concept of ‘savings’ was as alien to me as color to a blind man.

A couple of days later though, a friend of mine told us that he was a member of a time-sharing holiday scheme and that he wanted to gift us a weekend getaway to Masinagudi. As a man whose best friend for long had been thrift, I jumped at this offer, told him how grateful I was (I was. I truly was!), and decided to surprise Rani.

I was still in the initial phases of the relationship – a phase where a lot of time and mental effort is spent in trying to surprise your partner with gifts of love and affection.

I didn’t tell her where we were going until we reached the bus station and boarded a bus to Bandipur. She was ecstatic with joy and hugged me so tightly that I thought I’d implode. I could see that she was happy. Though she’s a tough nut, I did see a few tears.

The bus covered the 250-odd kilometer trip in under six hours and I was thankful when it ended. Our only stop on the way had been at Maddur, where we had stuffed ourselves with the crunchy pieces of heaven known all over the World as Maddur vadas. My legs were cramped and my bladder was full and bursting when I relieved myself by the side of the road at Bandipur, oblivious to the odd stares. I thought to myself how lucky we had been to be given this break. I didn’t realize how badly I needed to get away from it all until I’d gotten away.

We hired a taxi from the station and started the 20-kilometer trip through the jungle to reach our resort. It was an expensive ride but we had no other option, given that the forest department would close down the roads at 6 in the evening.

The drive was breathtaking. The undulating roads and the clear blue skies danced a mesmerizing dance with the trees that lined our way. A herd of spotted deer waved us by and a group of monkeys looked on in curious disbelief as we drove. Soon, we crossed into the Tamil Nadu side of the forest and the jungle became thicker and thicker around us the deeper we went.

We were having a fantastic time. Rani snuggled up to me as the evening progressively grew darker and colder. With about five more kilometers to go, I thought nothing could dampen our spirits. That’s when I heard the dull, sickening thud that signaled disaster.

It’s a misconception that tires burst with a great big bang. They actually give out with a thud, and if the driver is experienced enough, he/she can manage the momentary loss of steering control. Our driver wasn’t and the little taxi lurched menacingly to the left before he over-corrected and sent us flying to the right, where our joyride came to a screeching halt as the car dove into a ditch, nose-first and stayed there. The sudden change in directions and the inertial forces acting on us as we impacted threw us forward, the front seat-back smacking the both of us in our faces with an inhuman amount of energy. Rani’s nose cracked under the impact, sending little bits of cartilage and bone gushing out with blood. My upper lip split and my two front teeth ripped themselves out of their oral prisons and flew into the air, and joined the million shards of glass and stone and metal hurtling about. The driver’s head arrested the momentum of his body against the steering wheel, and I think he didn’t have the time to let his whole life flash before his eyes before he died. The whole thing took less than 3 seconds.

As the sun went down and the night officially threw her cloak of darkness over us, we were too stunned and too much in pain to move or react.

It took me about ten minutes to get my bearings right and to realize that were quite vulnerable out there. I looked around at my wife, who was slumped in her seat. From the faint light of the remains of the dashboard, I could see that she was breathing, which was a relief.

I opened the door of the car, which yielded surprisingly easily, and stumbled out to the forest floor. I could hear the sounds of a million crickets singing around me, the occasional whistle of a bird going to sleep, the rustling of the dry leaves, which I prayed was due to the wind, and the occasional bursts of deafening silence. I was afraid. I was shaking uncontrollably with nervous energy and adrenaline pushed me to my feet. I hobbled over to the road and tried to spot any oncoming headlights. At the back of my mind was the knowledge that the forest gates closed at 6 in the evening but I kept ignoring it. Surely someone would realize that a car that had entered the forest hadn’t exited. Surely someone heard the sickening crash. All I could see was an ocean of deepening darkness on either side, punctuated by the ominous red glow of the car’s taillights.

I stood there for a long time, in the red glow, trying to figure out my next move, while my head reeled and my body cried out in pain in a thousand places. When I heard that agonizing cry of pain, despair and sorrow – a cry that would haunt me for eternity – I turned and ran to the other side, to my wife. I feared the worst. I reached her side and was about to open the door or smash the window if need be when I saw what had made her cry out.

I guess my teeth weren’t the only things that had dislodged when I hit my face. I almost lost my balance.  My legs felt weak and I held back a gag when I saw Rani, my wife of ten days, cradling her husband’s crushed head in her lap.

I really shouldn’t have done this trip.

Image Courtesy: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.in/

Two Zero Eight Four :)

I stood on the edge of land.

“I’m back, baby,” I whispered.

“I missed you,” she said.

“I missed you too.”

She responded by gently swirling around my ankles, gurgling as she withdrew and made way for another of her waves to wash over me. I had a smile the whole weekend in Gokarna. I’ve written about what it means to me, so I won’t do it again. I missed the sea, her warmth, her cold, her whispers and her screams, her love, her fury and her caress.

I made two wonderful friends this time in Gokarna. Here’s a shout out to Mahesh and Chris. Hope life takes you both where you want to go, and I hope Gokarna has been as therapeutic to you as it has been to me.

I was born on August 20, 1984. Or, in other forms, 20-08-84. A contraction of the same – 2084 – has always been a special number to me, at least for the past few years when I discovered it. It’s a perfect contraction, and aesthetically speaking, it feels beautiful and complete.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So, all my contemplation and thinking and chickening out ended on Saturday. I got my first tattoo, and I think it beats the shit out of any abstract designs!

Hampi: The Great Escape

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on the blog. Part of the reason was my persistent writers’ block. The main reason was that I had nothing interesting to write about. Sad as that may seem, I was living in mortal fear of having nothing left to write about. Then, on a windy Friday night, it all changed.

A call was made on my behalf to a travel agent and bus tickets were booked in my name to Hampi. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I can’t postpone my trip any longer. A loaded gun was held to my head and I was made to pack my bag and marched all the way to the bus station. I was violently shoved into the bus and the door was pulled shut behind me. I was on my way to Hampi, the cultural capital of the country.

I have a tendency to exaggerate a bit at times, and though my departure to Hampi wasn’t as dramatic as I described, it was still a decision I had to take despite a lot of leftover work. Half my mind was on my impending vacation and the other half was working on publicity strategies for my clients. I tried hard and put that part of my brain to sleep and told myself that I’d take it as it comes. I convinced myself that I needed a break. I looked forward to three days of blissful peace.

It was 6 AM in the morning when I woke up, jolted by a particularly nasty pothole and was aware of a painfully full bladder. I looked out the window and was stunned by the landscape we were passing through. in the dawn’s early, hesitant light, I looked at a river flowing in all her might, past the greenest trees I’ve ever seen. The scene was killed mercilessly by a burst of black smoke that the bus belched as it wound its way up an incline. I walked over to the driver and asked him if he could stop for a bit so that I could relieve myself. I was told that we would reach the final stop in under 20 minutes and that I should hold it.

I stood there, squirming in discomfort for the next twenty-five minutes until at last, we stopped for the last time at a place called Hospet. I rushed out of the bus before anyone else, ran out on to the other side of the road and experienced the second most pleasurable thing a man can experience by himself. With a satisfied smile on my face, I took a deep lungful of the clean, crisp village air and hailed an auto-rickshaw to Hampi, twelve miles away. I didn’t know it then, but my journey had just begun.

Mowgli Resort & Guest House

Mowgli Resort
Mowgli Resort
View from my room
View from my room

Hampi is a strange place, geographically speaking. The Tungabhadra river cuts the village into two clean halves, which are linked either by small ferry boats across the water, or, when the water levels are dangerously high, by a thirty mile road trip all along the river and over the dam. I had the privilege of taking the road trip.

The thirty miles seemed to pass in a blink of an eye as the auto-rickshaw tuk-tuk’d its way through small towns, smaller villages and some absolutely fantastic scenery. I saw a few semi-hot village chicks and waved at them as we went by, and saw them give me strange stares in return. We arrived at the Mowgli Guest House & Resort at around 9.30 in the morning and I dismissed my auto. I was quite surprised to find that I was the only guest there. I was even more surprised to find that the kitchen at Mowgli had been closed for a week and they were only now opening it up for me. Tourist season, I was told by the proprietor, did not begin for another month. I was early. Lucky me.

The guest house is a quaint place set in the middle of green paddy fields all around it, with a great view of the river. A typical backpackers’ destination, this resort and other similar ones in the area , boasts of an international menu at entirely desi rates. Imagine having a mouth-watering margherita pizza for Rs. 100! But, as luck would have it, being the off-season, the pizza wasn’t available.

I spent most of the first day lounging around, reading a good book and listening to the soothing sounds all around me – the insects, the birds, the wind and the river.

Scooty Streaking

The Scooty Streak
The Scooty Streak

I hired a Scooty Streak on the second morning and rode all over the neighboring villages. I covered almost fifty miles in under four hours, absolutely mesmerized by the landscape and the ruins. One of the strangest things I discovered about Hampi is the atrocious angles at which boulders sit on top of each other. It almost defies physics. it was one of the best mornings I’ve had in a long time. The open roads, the pleasant weather and the vastly amusing looks I elicited by the villagers all added up to a brilliant morning.

A three hour nap later, I went to a small, rustic restaurant that was quite ostentatiously called ‘Laughing Buddha’. With Bob Marley posters adorning the walls and ugly reggae music playing in the background, I sat by the river bank and had a very satisfying chicken sandwich and a much-needed cup of hot, sweet tea.

By the time I returned to my room late at night, I was highly satisfied and at peace. I was beginning to question myself about going back to Bangalore, back to my stressful life.

Hampi & Her Ruins

My Favorite Ruin
My Favorite Ruin

The last day was by far the most fascinating. I took a chance with the over-flowing river and paid a boatman a bit extra to take me across to the main city. After much hesitation and much negotiation, he got his boat out and ferried me across an angry river. I sat, clutching my life in my hands, as the boat rocked and threatened to topple over any second. Safely across, I met my trusty auto-rickshaw driver, and for the next seven hours, he took me on a comprehensive tour of all the sights of Hampi. The once-mighty Vijayanagar empire that now lies in ruins in and around Hampi is quite a sight to see.  For a glimpse of what I saw, check out the album.

I am constantly in search of peace, and more often than not, I mistake peace for momentary pleasure. Hampi is a place that has taught me quite a bit about peace and how to achieve that state of mind.

It is definitely a place I will keep coming back to.

Gokarna & Why I Go There

This one goes out to all those unfortunate, uninitiated and uninspired individuals. Get off your high horse and read this.

There may be a hundred reasons why a person goes to Gokarna. People looking to get laid, people looking to score and get high, people looking for a nice, secluded beach and people wanting to offer their prayers in India’s most sacred temple. I don’t know if there are any other reasons, and frankly, I don’t really care why people go there.

I go there for a totally different reason, and its none of the above.

I lead a difficult life. I need to balance my passion to work, my unceasing urge to travel and roam aimlessly across the country, my singularly fierce attraction to beaches and my bank account. Juggling these four volatile substances while playing air hockey with the family, the bosses, the peers, the juniors, the friends, the foes, the creditors, the goons, the loons, the whackadoodles, the geniuses, the crap, the stench and the slippery slopes of bankruptcy, unemployment and loneliness around every corner is taking its toll on my nerves.

There are very few things I’m passionate about, and those that I am passionate about, I am so with a vehemence unseen in anyone else, for anything else. I do not go to Gokarna to ‘do drugs’. I do not go to Gokarna to ‘sleep with women’. I do not go to Gokarna to ‘drink drinks’. I do not go to Gokarna to visit the temple and offer my prayers. I do not go to Gokarna for the sea food. I do no go to Gokarna for the rustic beauty of the village. I do not go to Gokarna to ogle at half-naked women lounging in the sun. I do not go to Gokarna because I love beaches and water. I do not go to Gokarna to swim in the ocean. I do not go to Gokarna to live. I do not go to Gokarna to die.

I go to Gokarna once every three months because I need to get away from the Greek tragedy that my life is fast unraveling to be; to clear my head of all thoughts – good and bad; to reboot myself. I go to Gokarna because its the only place on Earth that welcomes me without judging who I am or what I have done. I go to Gokarna because that is the only place on Earth where I am at peace. Completely.

I have a sea rock, which I call my own, ten feet out into the ocean, at Om Beach. Its a bit of a hike to get to the top of the rock, and once I get there, I sit, looking at the waves crashing into me on all sides, rising twenty feet high and spraying me with a mist of cold, salty water. I listen to the rush, the gurgle, the power and the wordless songs of the waves and as I stare out into the horizon, imagining a place beyond comprehension, where the sky kisses the ocean, I realize that I am peaceful, within and without.

Gokarna - kudle beachNothing of what is happening in life matters here. Time stands still for me, for the 48 hours I’m there. I put my feet up at a cafe, sipping sweet tea and reading a good book, or people watching on the burning, golden sands. I take a nice pleasant trek up to Kudle through thick brambles and open moors and I wade in the white sands until the sun starts to set. I walk back amidst the gathering darkness to Om Beach, walk all the way up to Half Moon and back again. As night descends around me, so does the peace, deeper inside me.

I need this. I can’t do without it. For the unfortunate, uninitiated and uninspired individuals, I recommend it. The only thing I get high on, when in Gokarna, is Gokarna itself.

How To Kill The Nerve Endings In Your Bum

It’s very simple, actually. Does not involve any major surgery, does not involve a great deal of torture. All it takes is a 6-year-old motorbike that has seen better days, a 220-mile stretch of a badly maintained road, total disregard for the well-being of your ass and the ability to risk peeing blood for a week. That’s all it takes to kill the nerve endings in your bum.

It was one of those Sundays that you wished was a Saturday. Wait, why does this statement sound familiar? Anyway, my friends and I decided to take our bikes out on a (very) long road trip this past Sunday, and it turned out to be a pretty amazing day. Except for the fact that I walked funny for two days after and couldn’t sit on anything for too long without my bum muscles cramping up. We were six of us, on three totally mismatched bikes – a Bullet cruiser bike, a Yamaha sports bike and a Bajaj Boxer. Yeah, the Bajaj Boxer was mine. (Non-Indian readers, FYI – a Boxer isn’t a type of underwear here. It’s the unfortunate brand name of a motorbike.)

We set out from Bangalore early, around 6:30 in the morning, and drove up on State Highway 7 towards Mysore. After frequent stops each half hour to regain blood-flow to our asses, we stopped for breakfast at Kamat Lokaruchi, next to a place called  Janapada Loka. They had a south Indian breakfast buffet and I did not miss the chance to stuff myself with all the vada I could eat. After deciding on the route to Talkad, we headed out and cruised along for the next hour-and-a-half. The roads were so good that even my rickety old Boxer touched 80 mph. That’s around 65 kmph, and that’s her limit. She tends to get a bit ‘cranky’ if I push her harder.

Talkad - Shores of the Cauvery River

Talkad was a pretty neat experience – sat on the lake shore, ate an enormous amount of cucumbers and washed them down with some ice cream. A local guide offered his services and we took him up on his offer, and for the next hour, we were treated to the entire history of the place, and a running commentary of all the six temples as we walked past each one. This is heritage site, according to a recent government declaration and it was quite interesting to see 2000-year old temples being resurrected.

Talkad - A temple in the process of being excavated

We had our lunch at a local ‘mess’ in Talkad – it was the best lunch EVER because we had an unlimited amount of rice, sambar, rasam and papad. The taste was not too bad either.

Once we were done with Talkad, we got on to our bikes and headed south towards a place called Shivana Samudram. The roads were atrocious and my bike finally decided to call it quits. Twenty minutes of engine cooling time and an oil change later, we were back on the road.

There are two waterfalls in this place – one was a mile-and-a half walk from where we parked and the other was accessible by road. We were so tired that we decided to ride up to the second one, and were thoroughly disappointed by the thin stream of water that we could spot with difficulty at a great distance. We decided it was the best time to head back to Bangalore.

Free Beer to anyone who can spot the water fall

Four hours and a very sore ass later, we finally entered home stretch on the Bangalore highway. I dropped off my friend at her hostel around midnight and headed back home to a warm and comforting bed. I could not sleep on my back for two nights after.

All in all, it was a fantastic journey. Everyone had a great time and one of the highlights of the day was when my battered Boxer overtook the Bullet cruiser bike on the highway at full speed. I was at full speed. The Bullet was standing still on the side of the road.

Money Pal :)

How does it feel to be at the very edge of the country, staring into miles and miles of nothingness, feeling the great landmass of the continent behind you falling away beneath your feet, the ignominy hidden under the chaotic blue-brown waters lapping gently at your feet… You reach out to touch the crystal clear cloudless sky, you feel the gentle zephyr ruffle every strand of your hair and every thread of clothing, you dig in with your feet and feel the cold, wet sand envelope your feet, carrying you away to another world… Your hands fall back slowly to your sides, and your right arm brushes against your right hip pocket, and the whole beautiful world comes crashing down with the realization that there’s not a single penny in the bulky wallet… How does it feel to be stuck in the middle of a picturesque nowhere with no money?

I guess I found out the hard way over the past three days in Manipal. It is a strange feeling – I haven’t felt that for a long time now, and being the end of the month, I was flat broke, with just enough money to return home. Budgeting my beer intake, making sure I walk rather than take the auto, sticking to a strict regiment of cigarette rationing, and other petty little things we do once a month when we fall below the poverty line.

But the event was a great success – I was given the Best Speaker award, which was a shock to me, because there were a lot of other speakers better than me. But I guess, I made quite an impression on the judges. Now that I’m back to being a boring old fart, I think I’ll restart my blog, reclaim my distorted life, and reorient myself to being a workaholic and drown my sorrows in coffee, tea, beer, blog posts and comments. Cheers! 🙂

The Land Of Beautiful Women :)

I felt like Johnny Bravo, trapped in a strange land with nothing but beautiful women all around. Everywhere I looked, there were hot, sexy women flaunting themselves, lost in the oblivion of beauty. And for someone like me who hauls from a concrete jungle where the only eye-candy is found in a mirror, I was irreproachably lost and felt a pang of jealousy for every man who walked the streets in that Paradise.

I was in Ahmadabad for the weekend, arriving in Bangalore only last night. The return flight was anything but comfortable. Indigo Airlines has a reputation for more heart-in-the-mouth moments than any other airline and last night, I experienced it first hand. The plane was rattling to the bone, crunching and creaking at every seam and the nuts and bolts could be heard deafeningly loud in the ear. The pitiful whine of the engines added to the mayhem and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one sitting hunched up, hugging myself and my dear life.

Indigo Airlines DeathtrapBut the deathtrap was worth it’s airfare as it dropped me safe and sound and in one piece in Bangalore, when I promptly fell to the ground, kissed it and flipped two big, fat middle fingers to the plane. As I walked down the rickety ramp, I could sense the huge beast breathing heavily and sighing with relief from the strain of being pushed to its limits for two-and-a-half hours.

Ahmadabad is a Paradise with a violent past and a glorious future, living in it’s quiet, picturesque present. The people are warm and fuzzy, and they talk about their Paradise with a pinch of salt, cringing every time memories come flooding back. Being a lion from a concrete jungle, I had no connect to their violence, no sense of belonging in a bloodshed past, and nothing to offer but a kind ear.

The women – oh god, the women there are breathtakingly beautiful. I felt so relieved that I was in love with the most beautiful woman in the world, because if I wasn’t, I would have been so tempted! Some of the places I visited were absolute thrills, and for a few minutes, I was comparing God’s creativity and Man’s imitation of the same – the women and the architecture, respectively.

The Architectural Splendor At Adalaj
The Architectural Splendor At Adalaj
Adalaj Step-Well
The Play Of Light At The Adalaj Step-Well

The step-well at Adalaj was so perfect in more ways than one – every turn and every bend boggling the mind with the complexity of the labyrinth; the light sneaking in at every turn, break and crack, throwing up fascinating shadows and reducing us to mere silhouettes; the throng of people, open-mouthed and yet, cautiously silent, awed by the hidden divinity of the place; and the beautiful women made the picture complete.

The Serenity At Sabarmathi
The Serenity At Sabarmathi
Rare Peek Into The Mahatmas Room
Rare Peek Into The Mahatma's Room

Sabarmathi Ashram was the other major pitstop I had, and amidst the quiet chaos in the heart of the city, the place had an eerie calm to it, ensconcing the visitor in a shroud of silence and almost forcing everyone to marvel at the power that Gandhi wielded without touching a single weapon, without commanding a single army and without having the luxury of wealth, office and politics. It made me feel proud. It made me feel small.

The obvious highlight of the trip was meeting three of the sweetest bloggers – Manushi, Sakhi and Alice. It was a different thrill meeting each one of them, and it did not feel awkward or constrained at all. The fact that each one had in them something different to offer to the conversation and add to that my fascination of finally meeting them, made what could have been a potentially disastrous meet into something akin to absolute fun. You three are great and I take my (non-existent) hat off to you.

Of course, the most prominent part of my trip was my reunion with a dear old classmate/friend/confidante/curse-buddy/beer-buddy/sutta-partner of mine – Chucks. She was back in India for a semester break during her MBA in Sydney, and meeting her was an absolute thrill that cannot be expressed. I raise my glass of beer in toast to you, Chucks, and hope that you succeed in whatever you do. Tiny steps, remember?

All in all, it was a great weekend. I got some quality work done, met some absolutely fantastic people and saw some breathtaking places. Ahmadabad must be on every traveler’s list. It’s worth a re-visit.

All images are taken by me, using my Nikon L12.