E For Explore

Vietnam is probably on every travel-addict’s Dream Destination wish list, and I’m no exception. Well, you could replace Vietnam with almost any place in the world, and the statement would still hold true for me, but I was in Vietnam this month, and so Vietnam it is!

It was that kind of a trip where the destination doesn’t matter, because of the people you travel with! Well, actually it does. It needs to be inexpensive, because even after four years of practicing architecture, we are all still broke. And Vietnam was a wonderful place, “international” enough and did not burn a hole in our pocket! (Umm?)

So, after immense planning, adjusting, discussing, pushing, scheduling and re-scheduling, we finally landed in Ho Chi Mihn City to realize that we could have very well gone to Pune. Oh my! The number of bikes this city has is obnoxious, even by Indian standards!

If you know even a little about the Vietnam War history, I recommend you take a tour of the Củ Chi tunnels on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City and experience the underground guerrilla network for yourself. Crawling through the hot and narrow tunnels will give you a momentary sense of what conditions must have been like during conflict. What an experience!

We left the city setting to explore central Vietnam. From beaches, to lakes and rivers, from the very romantic Hoi An to the Imperial City of Hue, from a day full of water-sports at Nha Trang to a quick excursion through Hindu temples at Myson, the Vietnam vibe is contagious, and everywhere you look, it feels festive, almost like a celebration is on its way. What’s not to love?

Generally, when people travel to a place with an unknown language, they tend to learn how to say “Thank You” (at least) locally. But when you are a vegetarian travelling anywhere outside India, you learn to say ‘No meat, No egg, No fish’ as well. In a country famous for its street food, local beer, coffee and “Pho”, Vietnam did not disappoint us vegetarians also. Though their local delicacy – Hot Pot – pretty much gave us an idea as to why Vietnamese people are so tiny!  It was even more evident when we went to their well-stocked night market, just to realize their largest size will fit only an Indian ant.

At first, when you enter this country, it pretty much feels like India. But only when you live and experience the place, you realize it is rather more developed, much more cleanly and with a better general civic sense. Post war, actual economic liberalization in Vietnam came in the mid-1990s and really got moving in the early 2000s. And India with its almost 70 years of independence still has a long way to go. I understand it is reasonably unfair to compare India to Vietnam- given the size, population and scale of everything, but we definitely have a benchmark to accomplish even before we look at the developed nations!

Well, when you are on a vacation with long-time friends, few of whom are planning to get married in the coming “wedding season”, there is a lot that happens, which cannot, should not and would not be told, and definitely not announced in the newspaper! Until next time Vietnam, cảm ơn!

Suitcase-d

Well well well!

What a great ride last one month has been! Right from surreal Spiti Valley to absolutely magnificent United Kingdom, from sky-high mountains to soaring sky-scrapers, from the heart of nature to the magic of mankind! Wow, the contrast is just uncanny!

Rudyard Kipling famously quotes, “It is a world within a world, the place where Gods live.”, referring to Spiti Valley. I couldn’t agree more. Spiti valley is, by far, the most breath-taking place I have ever been to! Literally. The oxygen percentage was so less, that even the thought of doing a little work was tiring enough to make me pant! Phew. Hats off to people living there, sprinting from one point to other, one peak to other in no time! No wonder Kipling indicates it as a place where Gods reside, hinting the extremely difficult conditions for humans to live there!

Opened very recently to tourism, the place is not exploited, infested with tourists, honking cars and tons of garbage! They still could maintain the traditional way of their lifestyle, and are being able to balance the incoming tourist crowd, and their routine activities beautifully! Except for the bigger towns of Kaza and Tabo, all other towns have homestays, and even traditional pit-toilets, which, by the way, are way more hygienic than the clay tiles public toilets found in cities!

Staying with a local family, in the local clay houses, and getting a hand-on experience of their routine life, is one of the reasons why I opted for the volunteering program offered by Ecosphere- an organisation working for upbringing the life of these villages! And this experience of working in the farm, or making a drain (yeah, we did) while being surrounded by almost unreal, photoshop-ed view on all sides was the best thing ever! Just when I though I could never get enough of these mountains, the Spiti night-sky shows up! Oh my! It truly, indisputably was a blanket of stars! So many, just so many!

After my stint with these gorgeous mountains, biking through the twisted roads, alluring chandratal, glittering night-sky, serene monasteries, adventurous mountain roads, no network, hiking between villages, peaceful life, what more could I ask for? The immediately following trip to UK wasn’t so exciting as it should have been – only till I reached the airport!

And then gears shifted, excitement back, and I could really ask for more after-all! Contrasting to Spiti Valley, this was a very comfortable trip! Road-trip in Scotland, world cuisines to try, from highlands to beaches, an evening listening to ABBA while watching the super fun Broadway Mama Mia, chilling at Hyde-park, it couldn’t have gotten better! Get up – dress up – show up was the only mantra, so that we could click-click-click-click all through the day! Like they say, London is always a great idea!

This last one month has taught me to appreciate diverse contradicting situations! Everything has its own charm, if only we are in the frame of mind to accept it!

Besides, I am absolutely loving my life, living out of a suitcase!