TRAVEL GONE WRONG: WHY 4 MONTHS OF NON STOP TRAVEL MADE ME HATE TRAVEL!

TO TRAVEL NON STOP FOR 4 MONTHS NON STOP! That was my travel fantasy when I was still working in Navi Mumbai in a 9 to 5 corporate job (Fine, make that 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. job). Sitting at my desk all day, I would dream of packing my bags to never return. My day dreaming would be assaulted with more official excel sheets (some of which I used surreptitiously for making my travel plans for next few months). Circa 2016! As I mentioned in an earlier blog, 2016 was a magical year for me travel wise.

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Me at Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang

Thanks to my new freelance lifestyle, I had the freedom to realize my dream of traveling non-stop. I had accepted a bit too many professional invites for Press Trips and planned many of my personal travels as well. So from August 2016 to November 2016, it was non-stop travel for me for 4 months. Between this period, I showed up at my brother’s house (I was staying with him till then) only for few hours. I would be back home only to wash and change clothes, rest or deliver already delayed projects before starting my next travel. I remember before my Amazing Trip To Ladakh, I took a post midnight cab to home, picked fresh clothes, unpacked and packed my luggage again and leave before 5 a.m. to catch flight to Leh. Within those few hours, I crazily packed my bag, answered mails and even submitted assignments. As I was unpacking and packing I realized much of my room resembled a war zone. I wasted a lot of time to find my things. Because I had had no time to organize my life!

COMPLETE GUIDE TO PARO TAKTSANG AKA TIGER’S NEST MONASTERY IN BHUTAN

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Offbeat Bhutan : Cycling in Unseen Thimphu

Since November end to present day (February 2017), I have been declining Media Trips because I want to concentrate on my writing, earning and other pursuits in life.  I will start traveling again hopefully towards the end of February 2017. Till then, I just want to be at peace. I used my sabbatical from travel well to write more articles for print travel magazines and newspapers, to burn lot of food every day in my kitchen (I am a hopeless cook), play with my friend’s dog, catch up on movies and dining with my friends, organize my desk. I caught up with food festivals, film festivals, book fair and restaurant hopping in New Delhi too. I had spent quality time at 2 of my friend’s quiet homes and offices to write pending blogs. The month of December was most productive as I wrote around 20 blogs in December alone, most of it on Jordan and Bhutan etc. I also managed my finances and raised pending bills and earned more. I further augmented more wealth for me by landing up for assignments for me. On one of the days, I wrote 4 articles in a day! And oh, I caught up on a lot of sleep too. It was a creatively satisfying phase and I hope to repeat it again.

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Click to read about the mystery behind Penis paintings on walls of Bhutan near Chimi Lhakhang

I have realized that I can’t be location independent. I realized that my fantasy was just a fantasy! When I actually tried to live my fantasy of traveling non-stop, I ended up cancelling my own trips. After being on road and in air for so long, I had realized that I do like a base to come back to. (Coz बाबा को base पसंद है). I also realized that no matter how much I love travel, it is not the only thing I want to do. I was itching to read lots of books, even newspapers (I am known for reading 2 months old newspaper even when not traveling), catch up on Bollywood and world cinema (I saw 15 Iranian films in between), meet old friends, spend time with parents and nephews and nieces. On most of my travels in this period I carried books to read. Not even once did I get time to read those thanks to my packed schedules during travel. I talk to my parents in Lucknow daily on phone since 2008, when I left home. I had to request them to hang up because I was too tired (mentally) to even talk)

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I went to a remote village Sehore in Madhya Pradesh to see how Delhi girl Sanjana Kaushik is changing lives in rural India.

Even places like Ladakh, where I had planned 16 days trip started to make me restless. Even though it was my first time in Ladakh, I was constantly craving to get back home. This, when I don’t even like Delhi or Ghaziabad, my adopted home since 1 year! I realized I started to enjoy travel less and on every travel, after a few days, there were moments when I just wanted it to end right there. Perhaps if I was a newbie traveler, I would have still enjoyed it but after having traveled to more than 150 destinations in India since 2008, most of it solo travel in shoestring budgets, I was near saturation. I didn’t want to kill travel for me and since December 2016 I took a strict sabbatical from Travel. Not very long ago (Till just a few month ago), I used to crave for such a trip. From being Fired for travelling too much in 2015 to Tired of travelling too much in 2016, I had seen a paradigm shift in my travel aspirations within a year, a bit too fast. Henceforth, my focus this year onwards is to choose my official trips carefully.

  • I don’t want to travel for more than 10 days in a month.
  • I also want to travel more and more with parents, friends.
  • That said, I realized how much I crave to go back to my original Solo Travel Style. I did manage some amazing Solo Travel experiences last year. I hope to plan some epic solo travels for myself this year.
  • I want to choose my Press Trips more carefully. I should be charged up about the destination before committing.
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Taj Balloon Festival near Taj Mahal Agra was the highlight of my trips.

This break from travel was also important because I finally shifted to my own rented apartment in January 2017. When I shifted from Navi Mumbai to Ghaziabad to stay with my brother in November 2015, I knew I would move out within a year. But I was unable to even find time to go apartment hunting because I was hardly seen at home. Much of January was spent in organizing my life and cutting the clutter. From August 2017 to January 2017 (staying at 2 of my friend’s homes) I was literally living out of suitcases and backpacks wearing the same set of clothes over and again. It was fun and challenging but also cumbersome.

Before Ladakh in September, a Media Trip to Bhutan for 10 days happened to me in August. After enjoying Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Haa Valley at leisure, I spent quality time with parents at Mussoorie and Landour.   September was marked with 16 days in Ladakh. After Ladakh, I made a solo trip to Mumbai, Bangalore and Agumbe, Ikkeri, Kaledi, Shimoga, Jog falls in Karnataka. It was a mix of flights, rickety buses and sleeper class trains. My train to Mumbai from Delhi was not even sleeper class. It was an overnight Chair Car journey in Gareeb Rath.  September was indeed my busiest month.

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Did you know about the Corn Village Bhutoli in Mussoorie? Mosaic Hotels helped me find!

By the time it was October, I had started cancelling my own travels. Never before had I stood at a railway platform with my backpack and cancelled my own tickets. As I sat in metro to Nizamuddin railway station, I was boggled by the amount of work pending. The horrific visions of messy desk and room nagged me further. Upon reaching, I just cancelled the sleeper class train ticket to Surat on my cellphone and returned back to home. I promised myself to travel to Surat next winter to sample the seasonal dishes Ponk and Oundhiyo. Never before in my life had I done something like this. I even cancelled my much awaited trip to Kolkata on Durga Pooja in October. I had wanted to do it since eons. When I was so close to realizing that dream, I cancelled the ticket myself because 1) I was tired and 2) I had so much of freelance work pending). Before this, I explored Madhya Pradesh (Satpura, Bhopal, Pachmarhi, Sanchi, Sehore and Bhimbhetka.) for 7 days. I also stayed at parents’ home in Lucknow for sometime during Diwali. I had plans to visit nearby Ayodhya, Faizabad and Varanasi but I was too tired and just wanted to chill at home and eat some comfort food made by mom. November was all about hot air balloon ride near Taj Mahal and a quick trip to Boat Festival in Goa. I almost said no to these 2 invites. But it was so tempting I had to go. This was the time when I started to slow down. In reality, my 4 month long non-stop travel thus had brief moments of rest at home, thanks to the cancellations.

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Alongwith Naropa Festival, I also attended the Ladakh Festival in Leh.

I don’t know if I will travel like this again (Though I still have some crazy travel plans) but for now I want to take it slow. Kudos to those travelers who spend months on road! Before this trip, the most I had travelled at a stretch was one month in Nepal in 2015 (Everest Base camp Trek and Kathmandu). I remember I was itching for a base even then.

It taught me that we should all understand what personality types we are and make travel plans which suit our personalities. I would love your views on this. Does the same thing happen to you as well or do you love living out of suitcases and backpacks? Do let me know in the comment section below.

This song from the Bollywood film Lootera sums up my current state of mind well.

ना उड़ने की इस दफा ठानी परिंदो ने भी वफा जानी. शिकायते मिटाने चली; सुबह बेदाग है!”

(“Having decided not to fly, even the birds learned to stay this time! I answered all the complaints; the morning is spotless now!”)

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I took some time off from Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart and went to see Sanchi Stupa. Mesmerised, I spent all day here.

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Spotting Gaur aka Bison and other wildlife at Satpura National Park, Madhya Pradesh

WARNING : COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

Offbeat Gujarat: Solo Travel to Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary!

Pic above: A local filling pots with water during sunset in Nal Sarovar Sanctuary.This picture won a photography contest and was featured in DNA newspaper.

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The curious cross was a favourite with birds (and photographers like me)

I took the smooth highway from Ahmedabad to reach Sanand. It is the nearest town which facilitates access to the offbeat Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary. Sanand is a dusty little town; its only claim to fame is that it is the manufacturing hub for Nano cars. I could not spot any Nano car. However, I found myself in the middle of a sea of Chakkdis in all possible colors; reveling in their kitschy glory. A Chakkdi is a quirky vehicle unique to rural Gujarat. It looks like a motorbike is attached to a wooden cart.

 

Pics above: Left- I was sitting in this doodh wali gaadi. View from my seat. Right-The gaadi stops, passengers disembarking near the sanctuary.

Giving a miss to the chakadi ride, I hopped on the ‘doodh wali gaadi’ instead. The vehicle originally meant for carrying goods was cleverly converted into a passenger carrying taxi. The driver waited for close to 45 minutes until he ensured that at least 3 men are hanging precariously from the rear of the jeep. As if this was the unsaid rule in rural Gujarat.

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It is not really the proper way to reach the sanctuary but I never skip a chance to travel with locals, in their style. In no time, I was accompanied by dozens of rural men and women occupying every inch space of the massive vehicle. Those who could not find a seat, hung from the rear of the vehicle, rest sitting atop it. 20 minutes into the ride, the driver stopped the vehicle for more passengers. I wondered where will he make them sit. Without a second wasted in discussion, 3 adults climbed atop the front of the vehicle and made themselves comfortable. Their soiled legs, dangling in front of the driver’s seat, were the highlight of my hour long ride to the sanctuary.

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Selfie of me and the boatman. Solo Travel kind of a picture!

The ‘as-smooth-as-glass’ road from Sanand to Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary passed though idyllic villages of Gujarat. The lush green landscape offered a glimpse into the lifestyle of rural Gujaratis who lived on the fringes of either sides of the road. One moment has stuck to me from that journey. I spotted a woman doing her chores as her kids and peacocks roamed nonchalantly around her house peacefully. My experience has taught me that such utopian scenes of man animal harmony is common in rural Gujarat and Rajasthan.

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A curious boat in the middle of the lake!

54 kms (from Sanand) and more than an hour later, I was dropped unceremoniously at the crossroads near the sanctuary. Eerily, the only tourist who was walking towards the sanctuary was me. I entered the main gate gingerly; my attention caught by the wetlands on either sides of the road. I was excited to see huge numbers of migratory birds perched on every inch of the vast expanse. A tout approached me with a Rs. 500 boat ride offer and I gave in. Containing my excitement and faking my poise, I hopped on to the boat. By the time I started my boat ride, it was already 5 p.m. and the sun had started to melt. I could finally spot more tourists in a distance, quietly enjoying the bounty of nature.

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The pirates of Nal Sarovar, eh!

A flock of unruly gulls gheraoed my boat from all sides, harassing me for food. Their cheap antics didn’t match their elegant beauty. White in colour, they were gorgeous; the touch of bright orange beaks and feet made their appearance dramatic. Their abundance did not take away from their beauty. Their ‘pirate’ act was an interesting spectacle.

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My Boat, setting sun and solo travel. I went speechless!

Nal sarovar sanctuary is actually a large lake which spans approximately 120 kms. Announced a bird sanctuary in April 1969, it is one of the largest bird sanctuary wetlands in India.

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The boatman jumped in the middle of the lake to get his oar and ‘mojo’ back!

The shallowness of the lake and the characteristic reed beds and marshes makes it unique. This helps a variety of aquatic plants and avian life to thrive. The oar of my boatman fell when we were in the middle of the lake. My jaw dropped when the boatman jumped in the lake and heroically picked up the ore as I waited for him, swinging on the boat, in the middle of nowhere. The water barely touched his knee.

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The cross at the sunset. The colors were breathtaking!

Observing my baffled face, the boatman educated me that the maximum depth of the lake was 4 feet. No wonder, the shallowness makes it the an ideal feeding haven for migratory birds like greater and smaller flamingos. Their main diet is blue green algae which are in abundance here. Come November to February and it’s a paradise for migratory birds and bird-watching enthusiasts alike. Migratory birds travel from as far as central Europe (upto 3500 kms.) every winter. Apart from the local birds, these migratory birds traverse to Nal Sarovar in order to escape the harsh winter in their homeland. An impressive 200 species of birds call this place home.

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For few months it is a safe home for birds like stints, plovers, grebes, black tailed godwit, brahminy ducks, bitterns rosy pelicans, white stork, sandpipers, crakes, waterfowl, different species of wader and herons. Different species of fish, insects and aquatic plants and insects are also food for these birds.

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Cormorant bhaisaab strutting his stuff!

I passed through many large numbers of different species of birds, as the boatman navigated the boat poetically. Incongruous ‘Cross’ installed in the middle of the lake intrigued me. Cormorants used the crosses to display their “I am drying my wings” pose.

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By now, the gulls had deserted my boat leaving me alone with the boatman and nature. Absorbed in the beauty of the moment, I suddenly realized that we had left not only the gulls but any sign of humanity and civilization far behind. We had ventured deep in the lake. It was one those moments I cherish in my travels- communing with nature in utter silence. For a moment, the thought of being looted did cross my mind. But over the years, I have learnt to trust the people of this country and rightly so.

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The avian seminar!

The boat swam languorously in the lake, crushing the aquatic weeds gently under its rough exterior.There were birds in every direction I set my eyes on. Thanks to a setting sun, they had congregated for their ‘End Of Day’  seminars! The flamingos or pelicans eluded me. Never mind, the boatman pointed out a large flock of flamingos heading towards a resting ground for the night. They moved poetically, in a perfect V shape. Their faint noise felt like a lullaby.

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Boatman pointing to the flock of returning flamingoes, flying in a perfect V

Nothing can parallel the extraordinary feeling of gazing at scores of birds returning to their home. The erstwhile silence of the place was punctuated with their collective sounds! The interesting aquatic plant life attracted my attention equally. I strained my eyes and spotted beautiful aquatic plants, some jutting out of the water, some with gorgeous patterns; some flourished beneath the water but easily visible.

I chickened out when the boatman offered to take me deeper into the lake. Though I was dying to discover more of this place, I politely declined as it was getting dark and I had no clue how to go back to Ahmedabad. I didn’t even know where I was staying overnight and what I was eating next. Practical logistic worries quashed my romantic indulgences and I asked him to return.

 

As we were about to return, a magical moment unfolded before my eyes. I asked him to stop the boat as I saw the Sun change hues from a bright yellow and orange to a mellower deep red. The Sun shyly hid itself behind the trees and shrubs, the water in the foreground reflecting its colors. The bewitching reflection made it look like someone had scattered gold in the lake. The birds lent an ethereal quality to the moment. They frantically passed the Sun many times. It seemed like they were taking turns to enter and exit the Sun.

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The Sun swallowing and vomiting birds!

Before I realised, the setting had hypnotised me. Casting a magical spell on me, Nal Sarovar had exceeded all my expectations. Till date, it remains one of my most beautiful winter evenings.

It’s not every day that I am surrounded by thousands of migratory birds with a breath taking background of an orange sun committing suicide. For hours, the only sound I heard were the flapping of wings and the sound of ripples every time the boatman gently caressed the water with his oar. Bliss!

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The surreal sun down is still one of the best I have ever seen. And I have seen many! The overwhelming beauty pushed me into a contemplative mood, encouraging me even to shed a tear. My travels have taught me that one absorbs more and feels the place more when one travels solo and is left alone to commune with nature.

 

WHEN TO GO- November to February is the best time. Sighting is easy at this time.

 

HOW TO REACH-  Ahmedabad is nearest railway station/airport. Nal Sarovar is 61 kms away from Ahmedabad. I suggest book a cab from Ahmedabad. Traveling like locals might land you up in travel. Post the boat ride, I was stranded in dark for hours. I will soon write a blog on that horror.

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TRAVEL GONE WRONG: CLICK HERE TO READ WHAT HAPPENED NEXT AND HOW MY SOLO TRIP TO NAL SAROVAR SANCTUARY WENT WRONG. I GOT MYSELF IN TROUBLE!

TOP TIPS:

  • For bird sightings the best time is morning and evening.
  • Don’t forget to carry water bottles and light snacks in the boat.
  • A binoculars and a good zoom camera is an advantage.
  • Mosquitto repellent and hand sanitizer comes handy here.
  • Arrive Ahmedabad via train/flight. Hire a taxi from Ahmedabad to Nal Sanctuary and back. There is no public transport post sunset and you will be stuck.
  • Timings are – 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Day Trip from Ahmedabad is ideal.
  • Visit Lothal and Little Rann of Kutch nearby.

The view from my #SoulWindow is nothing less than a poem!

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Me, my bag and my tanhai (loneliness). I was decomposing a guava in this bag which eventually killed my camera battery. Read about my goof up here.

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TRAVEL GONE WRONG: WHEN I WAS STRANDED IN PITCH DARK IN RURAL INDIA!

My stay at the wild ass sanctuary was nothing less than a misadventure. I didn’t know that my troubles were far from being over. I stood blankly on the crossroads in the dusty village for half an hour to find a suitable vehicle to reach Sanand, from where I would reach the Nal Sarovar sanctuary. Due to low frequencies, buses were hard to come by and all the ‘Chakadis’ and autorickshaws were already packed like sardines.

I had a premonition that my Gujarat adventure is going to the next level. Desperate, I prepared my mind to stand afoot on the rear of a jam packed jeep. Many such jeeps were passing by and I finally succumbed to the idea.

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However, the rear gate of the jeep I climbed was non existent, perhaps broken on purpose to accommodate more people and luggage. There was a ‘jugaad’ metallic extension jutting out of the base surface of the passenger’s seats. 181220101080-2

The metal extension was hanging in the air, bouncing every time the jeep moved. I had to stand there and hold on to dear life and the metal bar on the jeep roof. Once the driver vroomed, I had the best adventure ride, sans any security measures in place. The wind just blew on my open head and body as I struggled hard to stand straight on this super fast bumpy ride. I was smiling throughout the ride at my foolishness. It was the first time I was pushing my limits and abandoning my comfort zone throughout the Gujarat trip and that’s why it will always be memorable. It prepared me for more reckless adventures in future. img_5756

I was unceremonious181220101082-2ly dumped at a nondescript ‘Gayatri hotel’ in the middle of nowhere. I was told that the bus to Sanand will stop here and then I can board it. ‘Bus to Sanand’ be damned, I was dying with hunger as I had still not had my breakfast and it was already 2:00 p.m. I feasted on a filling ‘Gujrati Thali’ for a throw away Rs.40 (Roti, rice, lentils, mixed sprouts veggie, potato curry , roughly cut onions, popaddums and a trademark sweet and sour Gujrati curry with chass) It was very basic and the food was nothing to write home about but when you have not eaten since morning, every morsel seems Ambrosia, no matter how it actually is! Time to burp merrily!

 

My bus had also arrived just in time in the hotel premises. After an hour of a sleepy ride (The bus was empty, yayy yayy!), I had arrived at Sanand. Chucking the chakadis, I boarded a ‘doodh wali gaadi’ and had a memorable evening at Nal Sarovar Sanctuary. Read about it here.

Post the breathtaking boat ride, I was dropped on bike at the crossroads outside the sanctuary. I was standing there, smiling romantically181220101086-2 just thinking of what all I had just seen. But my stupor broke in no time and within 10 minutes I realised that, I was stranded in pitch dark and no vehicle was ready to go to Ahmedabad, just an easy 100 kms away. The romance vanished in a jiffy!

Its moment like these I thank my stars that I was born a 6 feet plus, brown male in India. It was just 6:45 p.m. and it seemed like midnight. There were just 4-5 more people apart from me, all of them waiting to pick someone. There was no buildings (barring the run down sanctuary office in the distance), no huts, no street lights, no shops (I was hungry as hell and had no food!), no civilisation. There were some huts afar but I chose not to go there and miss a passing vehicle. To make it worse the two dogs whom I could barely see in the pitch dark were fighting over some petty issues (Girlfriends? Food? Territory? Whatever!).

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To top it, one of them was playing Bollywood song on full volume ‘Munni badnaam hui, darling tere liye’ on his cell. I tried to strike a conversation with an older man. He said a ‘Doodh waali gaadi’ passes by at 8:30 p.m. If I am lucky I can get that. But I need to be attentive, lest I miss it. Soon the biker guy who took me inside the sanctuary also whizzed by. He refused to drop me at Ahmedabad but instead also suggested the 8:30p.m. jeep. I was running out of patience. What I feared was that people could mug me for as less as Rs.100/- or maybe my camera.

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I just wished and prayed this was the last of my Gujrat misadventures. I have already had many weird experiences for the past 2 days and prayed that this one should be the grand finale. I would hesitantly ask for lifts to every vehicle passing by. Some stopped but none were ready to go to Ahmedabad. After sometime a truck halted. He asked me for a whopping Rs.800/- I thought about it for a minute and refused. Once the truck left, I cursed myself for refusing it.  Long after it had gone, I was still standing there begging for lift. The fault was mine. I had not done my homework properly. I took it for granted that I will get some vehicle easily. Leave alone vehicle, there was not even decent accommodation available in the vicinity. I even asked a chakadi driver to drop me but he too refused.

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After an excruciating wait of 2 hours, one God sent jeep driver came to rescue. He peeped out of his window and looked at me hesitantly. I was sure he would refuse the way he was studying me. But to my delight, he let me in. Concealing me delirious state of mind, I hopped in without wasting a second. In that jungle, we had no option , but to trust each other. 10 minutes into the travel, he told me. ‘Aap shareef lage to maine rok diya, nahi to rokta nahi hoon.’(You look decent so I stopped, or else I wouldn’t)  Thank heavens for my superstar looks!

This was the only time we talked; rest of the journey we stayed awkward and quiet. After a ride of 45 minutes in dense dark forests, he asked for a paltry Rs.20/- I was taken aback at his honesty. We didn’t discuss money earlier.

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I thanked him and gave him Rs.500/- saying, ‘Bhai bura mat mano, but aapne bahut help ki, please take Rs.500 /- (Brother, please don’t take it otherwise, but you have been of immense help, please accept Rs.500/-) He was surprised and happy!!! And never before was I so relieved to see the city lights! Phew! After this incidence I have time and again put myself in silly dangerous situations and rescued by the kindness of people. Now all I wished was a Rs. 200 room near the railway or bus station!  My wish was granted as I slept in a cheap yet cozy Ahmedabad hotel room that night!

P.S.: The next morning, I was supposed to take a heritage walk in the ‘pols’ of Old Ahmedabad. I was horrified to wake up to a dysfunctional camera battery charger. I had left a guava in the same bag and forgot about it. The guava had rotten and……….But then, that’s just me being me!

 IT IS A 2 PART BLOG: CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL STORY ON NAL SAROVAR SANCTUARY

Disclaimer: This blog is based upon my personal experience. I do not want my readers to repeat the same mistakes. It was my foolishness and a lack of research which led to this situation. You might not get as lucky as I did. And I am not sure if you have the ‘superstar’ looks and a 6 feet plus height, lol.

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Email me for collaboration : abhinav21@yahoo.com

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