Friday, September 2, 2016

A Hidden Gem called Slovenia

Once upon a time there lived a sad girl in a faraway village hidden by the mountains and very dense clouds. She hadn’t seen the sun in a very long time. Every day she would wake up with a heavy heart, and go to bed at night with unshed tears.
And then one day, she packed a bag and set onto find Neverland.
Slovenia, is my Neverland.
Having reached the third leg of our exciting Europe trip, we were already a tad upset that our vacation days were now numbered. With Heavy bags and heavy hearts, we were let off by the bus from Ljubljana at quite a distance from our stay at Bled. For some reason, people in Bled have dreamlike houses, with rose bushes, and hanging plants and the most picturesque balconies. We were already jabbering about how pretty ever darned thing was. But, you just know your time at a place would be amazing, when random people catch you staring at their house, and wave at you, with an excited “Hi” from their window.
That was our first observation – Slovenians were a super nice bunch, welcoming, charming and warm. And we loved it.
Our hostel was just five minutes away from Lake Bled on foot, and it didn’t take us much time to freshen up and head towards something we hadn’t expected would be right out of a photograph.
Lake Bled
Lake Bled, is a lake in the Julian Alps, and the entire water body surrounds the pretty Bled island. It is a beautiful (for lack of better words,) walk around the entire lake that can be managed in a couple of hours. But I bet you won’t. 
It is simply that breathtaking. The lush greens, the earthy browns of the surrounding mountains, the aquamarine waters, and that little island in the midst of it. This is right out of a dream of a place where you would hope to retire after you have lived out your years of toil and sweat.
And while you are at it, do not forget to swim in it. That was our highlight. Jump into the lake (freezing waters) and take a few relaxed laps. It’s the whole idea that comes in your mind as your read this – that crystal clear water, a warm sun, people calmly fishing by the banks, or some swimming inside the lake, along with the ducks – Bled is exactly a perfect vacation; away from the din of life, from the rush of traffic, or worries. It was just day 1, and Slovenia had managed to win us over totally. We knew we would be coming back to escape again, or just to hide away from the world, someday.
Incidentally, The World Rowing Championships in 1979, 1989 and 2011 were held at Lake Bled.
As the sun set on the dazzling pristine lake, we made our way back to the hostel. An acute observation that needs to be mentioned here, is how safe the entire Bled town is. We were not only assured of this by the locals, we personally felt safe too. The banks of the lake light up with music and lamps, and an infectious festive mood sets in after dusk hours. All around the Bled and surrounding areas there are numerous monuments like the Bled castle, and other churches which add dimension to the captivating landscapes
Unimaginable bliss, a detached quietude and a place where everyone, even strangers greet you with a smile – Bled stole away our hearts. Even as I write this piece, I can transport myself to that beauty and find solace.
Lake Bohinj

Another mystical, and an even larger lake, called Bohinj, is a bus ride away from Bled. Roughly about 3 times the size of Lake Bled, it is the largest lake in Slovenia and located within the Bohinj Valley of the Julian Alps. A haven for hikers, swimmers and people who just want to be lost in the wild beauty of the place, Bohinj too, turned out to be much more than our expectations. Even the fishes were friendly, hovering around our feet, as we soaked in the cold waters of the endless lake. 

Savica Waterfall
Another bus ride took us to the majestic Savica Waterfall – whose beauty I will deign to not describe. I would falter miserably with my words, adjectives and emotions. I will let my pictures do the talking. It is quite a climb to reach the viewpoint of the fall – rough cut steps hewn out of the rocks in the greenest of woods, it makes you feel like you are following the trail of a mysterious fae, who leaves behind a magical route of sunlight blending in various shades of green, mixed in with the soft sounds of the forest. It tests your endurance, sure, but it is worth it.

Our concluding feat was a 3 km ride uphill to the Vintgar Gorge. Given our fitness level was well below the lower limit, we struggled as we rode our bikes up to the parking area of the gorge. But we were pretty confident that Slovenia wouldn’t fail us at all.
Vintgar Gorge
 The entire enigmatic gorge measures around 1.6-kilometer and is carved by the Radovna River, which has created many erosive features such as pools and rapids. A wooden observation walkway has been constructed along the gorge for public access. I will urge visitors to walk the entire bridge, to view the mesmerizing green waters fall and rise, create pools and silent streams all along the way. It is truly a magical experience. A couple of fellow travelers were mad enough to venture a dip into the freezing water. Even though I loved swimming in any water body I could get my hands on, I avoided to jump into the river, given my aforementioned friends had turned all shades of red in the sheer cold waters.
Slovenia, in itself is a little place tucked in the map of Europe, neighbouring its more famous cousin, Croatia. Consequently, at times, the number of people frequenting places like Bled might turn out to be favorably less. And if you are looking to get away, Slovenia is the place to be. The whole country has a greeting card vibe to it – pretty sloped rooftops, flowered balconies, majestic mountains, and sparkling streams, the best of hiking trails, and peaceful roads to bike on. I know i sounds too good to be true. We had thought so too. But it was just as I had seen in pictures when I had googled Bled in my browser. I would say it turned out to be even more beautiful. We were fortunate to be in Bled, during their music festival, which added flavor to our already seduced minds. Live music, food stalls, chattering people, sun baked streets and fresh trout from the lake. Need I say anymore?
If Europe is on your agenda, I would plead with you to make some room for Slovenia. It will surprise you, and entrance you. Almost to an extent that you wouldn’t want to leave till you have had your fill of the peace that the place exudes. It is more than the pristine beauty of the place, it is the laidback, warm charm of the it all and its Kremsnita (cream cake) that touches you.
The sad girl found her little cottage by the lake, or so she tells me. A little wooden thing, just off Bled, and also a job in the nearest bar where the music is always good, and their music system even better. She isn’t sad anymore. She is alive.

That is what Slovenia managed to do to me. Make me alive, give me my element back, of the dreamy nature loving loner spirit that I used to be. Untainted by economy debates, and business dilemma. Who knows? Maybe someday, I’ll find my cottage by the lake too.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mystical Praha

Prague Castle
Have you read this book by Laini Taylor, I would ask? A beautiful tale of how a devil and an angel fell in love. Of romance, and dark spires, of fumes of magic and colours of life mixed in an imaginary pallete.
That is exactly how I would describe Prague. The living beating heart of Europe, streets bustling with life and music. The city of a hundred spires, looming towers and clocks, of masks and bridges, art and culture.
Needless to say, Prague had always been on my to-do list, I had to stand at the exact spot where Akiva and Karou had flown down on the Charles Bridge, and just soak in the fantasia of magic and dreams.

A complete romantic, yes that would be me. Would I waste this space to narrate how Praha is? No. Hundreds of enthralled tourists will do that for you. You would need to hear about that magical realm from a rosey-eyed dreamer like me.
Prague’s public transport is surprisingly easy to get, and there are no dearth of blogs helping you out to figure out the transit from airport. The best part of the city is how you can traverse on foot to all the monuments on your checklist. Of course there are nostalgic trams that cover the city, and give you a nice view of Praha’s districts.
But where’s the fun in that?
So there we were, two friends celebrating their ten years of friendship, of battling adulthood and adolescence, daily headaches of jobs and the struggles of life. In our best clothes, our cameras and the best walking shoes. Ready to explore. Step into the trip of our lifetime.
St. Vitus Cathedral
What Laini has done incredibly well in her book is painting the city in her words– the enamor, and the faint scent of mysticism of it. And she was right certainly. I cannot emphasize enough what the spirit of Praha does to you, as it quietly brews into your subconscious, lulling you into an ethereal plane of dreams, stories, and fantasy. You feel like there was an elf that was following you perhaps, or a gargoyle watching you as your crossed the street. The cathedral and the castle towers piercing the sky, bathing the city in the hallowed moonlight, as stories conjure up in the shadows of the night.

Fairy tale city. Just the right amount of sorcery, wishes and darkness.

We weren’t ready to be awed by each of the corners we took, or the streets we walked on endlessly. It almost felt like every building spoke volumes, captured history worth tens of books, a different character in its spires, murals and carvings. The colours and lights, and especially the old cobbled streets, full of stories about alchemists and magicians who would have roamed around years ago, or how the streets witnessed as invading armies stormed in during war times. Parts of the city remains untouched by the monstrosity of modernization, or from the twenty first century quirks. Dominated by hundreds of beautiful gothic spires, the city has a breathtaking view no matter where you turn your head. Of course the Old town square is the liveliest part – street performers, musicians, the incessant buzz of the tourists and flashing cameras – you get the idea. 

Frankly, I don’t know which of the monuments I should list down as a must visit for future tourists. What I can say, is go without a set plan, or a very rudimentary one. What Praha has established splendidly is the element of surprise, even in its deserted corners. You cannot get lost in its magnificent streets. And you will run out of time, and you will not stick to your plan. You will want to explore the daylight avenues, and lit up bridges at night. We did have an itinerary, but we had more fun simply breathing in the air of the throbbing city.
The Petrin hill is a nice quaint spot that you shouldn’t miss out on. The rose garden is gorgeous, and you are spoilt for choice of photo ops. The view from the Petrin Hill Observatory Tower needs a mention. You see the Vltava River, crisscrossed with bridges, and the red tiled houses in daylight – even from that distance the Charles Bridge stands out – it looks like the travelling wizard who is back from his battles with his scarred, fatigued yet cheerful face, brimming with stories of joy and horror, of tales of beautiful people and lands stored in his veins. If you are an escapist, spend endless hours on the bridge alone, with the tourists, artists, the river below, and the dazzling Prague castle lit up at night. It disconnects you from your woes, your worries and transports you into a different realm altogether.
The weather, thankfully favoured us throughout the three days we spent in Prague (too less, if you really are there for the vibe and not just to check it off your list). We covered most of these areas on foot, cameras clicking incessantly, as we just couldn’t get over how charming this small city can be. And just then, when you take a right turn after the endless walking, you come to graffiti wall. Nothing out of the ordinary you would think?
John Lennon Wall
An entire wall dedicated to the Beatles, and more to John Lennon is what you see. The Lennon wall in itself spewed so much exuberance in its colours, its hard not to be cheered up when you see it. You have people singing the Beatles hits, and some leaving their own impressions on the wall. Most of these sights are best viewed in daylight of course, but then that’s taken care of by the sun setting at around 9 PM.

Czech cuisine is meat heavy, and I loved it. Don’t forget the Angelato, of course – the tiramisu flavoured gelato was drool worthy, and worth the wait in a very long queue after a long day of walking.
I fell in love with Prague, with its bohemian waves, with goulash, and the touch of alchemy in its air. The ability to make dreamers thrive in its hidden cool corners of the Gothic towers, walk a million miles on its cobbled pavements and not feel a thread of exhaustion. It makes you feel like you are exactly where you need to be, right now, at this moment in your life. Where you need to flee, taste a morsel of free air, and bite into the beauty of art as it seeps into your taste buds forming permanent memoirs to be ingrained in the lines of your palms.

Prague gets stored in your mind like a page from an old book that you have reread several times, that one page which made you feel happy, and safe, its words touched your heart, as love triumphed, and hope conjured the magic of stardust,  each time you read that page with the need to escape. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Knocking on Heaven's Door

“Token no. 89330011294297667?”
The guard with a very silly wreath on his head stares at me, as I hand him over the torn parchment with my token on it. It was generated, as soon as I died.
“Child, we are still at numbers starting with 3…, are you sure this is correct?”
Ask your Daddy dearest – His queue machine gave me that, I say in my head. I nod at him again, reminding myself my sarcasm would get me into trouble here.
“You will have to wait till the numbers before you are done – the machine must have malfunctioned. No worries, see that park there? Go wait out – you will love the place, your transcript says you love nature and painting. You will have plenty to keep yourself busy.”
For an angel, he is quite chatty, and I hate his plastic smile. I take my parchment back and glide over to the park.
I am not exactly surprised that my number isn’t up. I take a nice deep breath in – the cherry trees are in full blossom, in January nonetheless. The grass crunches beneath my feet as I find my spot beside the smooth steel sheet of water in the lake.  There is already an aisle, some sheets and paints waiting for me. The perk of being dead, I think to myself, is that you no longer need payment gateways.
The other people, or souls that come after me, wave at me at times, or simply trudge through the gate to Heaven, after handing over the token to the guard. I feel pity for him, quite a boring gig. He would have done well as a model for Vogue.
“Your brush strokes are lovely Mia. You must be so talented.”
I nod. I smile. I know the drill. I did that when I was alive as well. I check the ornate calendar hanging on the wall by Raffe’s station. For an angel, his name seemed cool. He had hideous choice of wall décor though.
One month, 24 days since I died.
“Your friends miss you - Tanya and Yvonne. Even Jay. Such a pretty boy he is.”
I wish he would stop talking to me. I have never responded back. I guess nonverbal communication is just as sucky here as on Earth. Tanya has a son now. She won’t miss me. Yvonne is busy with her dreams, she couldn’t make time for my funeral.
And Jay. Dear Jay. He had all the time in the world to fall in love with me, but would only realize that as I lay in my coffin.
They were all waiting for me to be happy, and getting tired of it. I was too. My death was well timed I think.
I sigh and check the pile of books beside me. New books have already been added overnight. I clap my hands at the dragon shaped bookmark fashioned out of steel.
Two months, twelve days.
I look at the meandering queue in front of me, and their tokens still starting with 4. I think how their lives have been – sad, happy, triumphant, pathetic. Atleast death was seamless. No waiting around in the park and sharpening your hobbies for them. This anomaly had happened only twice before me, since the birth of man.
Ain’t I lucky?
Four months, five days.
The sky always changes colours here, blue, inky black, purple, red. The Powers-to-be gifted me a husky last week, who is always around. Nipping at my feet, licking my face. I love Hugo. And I know, my wait has just been extended.
I am used to waiting, I tell myself. I nod, smile and wave as I should. Raffe gets promoted to some other post, as I don’t see him anymore. As the year turns, he is replaced by Amy. She is nice and quiet, and would sometimes come sit with me by the lake and watch the earth go around the sun, ever so slow and consistent in its pace.
I see my room being used by new tenants in our old house. The appointment letter from Ogilvy was thrown away in the dumpster. It had arrived a day after my accident.
I see Jay getting married. I hear his sad monologue by my grave. I don’t feel a thing. He isn’t the one who had to live without being loved back.
Yvonne and Tanya have become best friends. That didn’t irk me. I had always felt like a filler with them. Tragedies seem to bring people closer.
The huge oak trees in my neighbourhood are cut down, despite my initiative to save them. I guess, whatever I did when I was alive, crumbled down miserably at the end. I laugh to myself. I realize, the larger part of my thirty years of existence was spent in waiting for things to happen. For the reader, this must sound sad. Why didn’t you make things happen?
I did. I went to Europe. I worked at an animal shelter. I rescued a bird.  I tried dating apps, gave it my all. I read so much. I loved Jay like Icharus loved the sun. I created five different resumes. I lighted candles in the church. I studied products, and business, and marketing. I cooked. Painted a lot. Danced.
And then I waited.
Enough efforts, and effort to be enough are two different animals altogether. And somewhere in between, I was stuck in limbo, counting down or up, I never seemed to know.
One year, twenty days.
The park seems just like my life sometimes. Frozen, beautiful on the outside. Perfect in its dimensions. Glowing with adulation. But you delve deeper, and you see no life of its own. It is as it should be to each waiting soul. A library to some, a jogging track to others. To me a park.
Five years, three months, two days.
You would think with the number of deaths in the world, my turn would have come eventually. I’m sure it will. As I’m sure you always had a plan for me.
But with the stated arguments above, or rather with the detailed journaled case that I have sketched for you, I reject your offer of being admitted to heaven.
When I died more than a year back, I had thought I would be at peace, just silent, as always, but above tears, and heartbreak, and the hopeless chasm of living. But the offer came with an additional burden of replicating what I had seen as I was alive, and that doesn’t suit me anymore. I understand that no soul can just drift around to survive on its own.
But sir, let me take that chance. As I am done waiting the chance to come to me. I don’t want chances anymore. I just want to separate myself from the rut of the so-called competition for jobs, for love, for entry to heaven to rest in peace. I lose either way, alive or dead.
I’m rather tired. Even after dying.
Hence, please accept this as a formal letter of rejection.
Raffe and Amy are brilliant soldiers of your cause, and they have been good friends to me. I leave this letter with the parchment token with her, respectfully declining to be a part of your games. As unnoticed as I have been all my life, I hardly think, my absence would cause any inconvenience.
I would make sure, though, that you are aware of my location – I won’t make things dramatic by completely disappearing.  My postcards would be with Amy. I apologise, but I will take Hugo with me as well.
I hope we meet some day, over tea and cupcakes, and discuss about life, worlds, origins and everything.
But I am not waiting for that.
Soul no.: 89330011294297667

Monday, January 25, 2016

More or Less

As a kid, there would always be someone, be it parents, role model, the neighbour’s cool kid or your teacher, who told you to be more. More than just an average Joe, more than a good student, or a passable singer. More than just a good human being, more than loving. You always needed to be more than where you were, or what you were. Success, would be scaled on how many mores you climbed, or how many such levels you crossed. Social, academics, spiritual or emotional. Hence, growing up, you never rested with just 90% in your grades, or just one friend or a degree. There was so much more outside your window.
However, after 27 years of being alive in a world full of mores, I have realised how we forget to tell our children to draw the line somewhere. That sometimes, being lesser works for the best. Works better for him. We don’t tell him that with all the mores that you accumulate in your hat, you are pushed farther away from others and from the normality defined by our skewed society. We don’t teach him how to separate the mores that are accepted by people as good, wanted, and those that just make him weird or too much to handle.
You cannot be too good, too sweet. You cannot be too open or too strong. Too talented, or an over achiever. Not to the extent that people around you feel uncomfortable. For being normal, in the banal definition of the world, the standards of more are defined as well, and the moment we exceed that, the red lights of “Outlier” flashes on our heads.
We don’t tell him that somewhere down the line, in 20 years, people with lesser range of emotions, lesser range of achievements, somehow end up happier. Content. We don’t tell him that at the end, being happy is all that matters.
So, after a mindless struggle of conforming to nonsensical rules, and being torn apart by others’ expectations and our own responsibilities and desire, we reach at a point to wonder, was it worth it at all? It isn’t enough to be more. It isn’t enough to want to know more, be more, and learn more. Explore or feel more. You have to eventually garner the strength to tolerate isolation. As this is the breed that is never satisfied with the mundane normal levels. They look up to the sky and feel the need to fly. To travel to a thousand worlds on an imaginary ship made of shells. Or paint pictures of the sea on the sand with a permanent dye. Intensity and passion is what their blood is made of. Their minds are beyond cages of normalcy. Yet, such a thing is dangerous. So many levels, so many layers to a person is exhausting, it is a thing of fear. It doesn’t excite people to take the pleasure of peeling such layers off that person, to know a different version every day, every night.
To know that today she is the lamb, tomorrow the vixen.
That today, he is my saviour, and tomorrow my destruction.
In a world that is over simplified with science and technology, with intelligence and detachment, why would such a wondrous task not fill us with enthusiasm, the joy to look forward to learn of more such dimensions, to tear through till we reach the core, and hold his/her beating heart on our skin to warm our own. What is the point of extending our reach to more than just three dimensions in reality, if, in life, all we are up for is dealing with one dimensional humanity?
No, don’t get me wrong. I have no objections to simplicity – in liking just one flavour of ice cream, or just one movie. Having read just one book end to end. Or being simply nice. Or completely evil. I am not advocating to complicate your life just for the sake of it. For the sake of being more. The thin line separating those two existences, of why we don’t fully grasp the concept of accepting it as it is, worries me. Simple. Complicated. Circle. Square. Hideous. Fresh. Straight. Jumbled. It just is.
So, I would tell my children, that it isn’t enough being more. That there is a clear choice in being different and being accepted. I would tell her to have the strength in order to be a misfit. In order to be complicated. If she likes both blue and green, it presents a problem to the concept of simplicity. If she wants to be nice and slutty. If she enjoys parties and her isolation. These questions, these mere thoughts cause confusion, a hassle to people, as loving her would be exhausting, and require so much efforts to just know her all. I would tell her, to be prepared to be alone, or to bear the pain of breaking her bones to fit in the box. I would tell her to not look beyond the simply sweet girl for a friend, to only be reliant on make-up hobbies but not to cherish a monster truck fetish along with it as well. I will tell her to reduce the number of dimensions she adds to herself, as it makes her exotic – a thing worthy of a 10 minute discussion, or jealous whispers, but never a cherished possession, or wanted company. Very few would dare to delve into her depths, or find joy in the layers she adds to the diurnal mundane walks of life. I will tell her, not to be too much. Too much to be herself and be rejected. Or be rejected, and yet find that happy bubble of self-worth to keep her life afloat, even when I am not around anymore. I will tell her, the world is only ready to walk on moon, and understand the core of the earth. That the world wants to fight over God and be moved when animals are slaughtered. But they are yet to understand their own need for acceptance, an insane desire of being a part of the society when most of them are misfits. They are yet to overcome the fear of isolation, of being associated with that weird kid in their class. Of being responsible of understanding and embracing the many layers within them and others.
Simplicity is a treasure to enjoy, and cherish. Of course. But were we made to be simple, at all? With 206 bones, and the inexplicable lines on our palms, with the grey and white matter both, and an appendix that can be removed with no visible harm to the body functions. If nature designed us to be a complex jumble of sweat, blood and bones, of emotions and wisdom, why do we settle for lesser, why do we force unwilling participants to join an abysmal race of normality? Where is this book of normality anyway? Who wrote it? Why do we adhere to it with such fear and vigour?

Why do we always aim to fit in the box, when we could fly to the stars and conquer our dreams? Why reduce the purpose of being alive to commit to the rote of monotone, when it was to enjoy and bask in the wonders of the world? Until our wings fall off, or we are burnt away to cinders. Until there is so much love connecting us, that no one is left alone. Until we stop defining the mores and lessers.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

For the love of Thira

If I were to sum up 2015 in a few words – I would say, a crappy year. That’s it. But, then, I will take a pause, breath in and let my mind astray into the closed box of memories that I keep away from the reach of my monsters. And there, by the end of the lane, where the bulb in the lamp post flickers incessantly, while the rest of the area is plunged in darkness, I arrive at my hidden portal. It houses those bits of happy places that still warm me, when the cold outside is biting or the heat is intolerable.
Amongst the sheaf of memories is my Christmas of 2015. Amongst those very heaps is my new year of 2016. That snowy night, counting down to midnight in a small club by the road, hidden from view by more of those pretty houses and the rocky roads. A shot each, with best of friends. Music thumping in our ears. Pretty, pretty Fira. You stole our hearts, locked it away for good in your mystic enthralling air.
A note here for the people who plan to visit Thira – everything is closed on January 1. We walked on for endless miles in search of highly reviewed eateries, only to be disappointed. Not even the towns, or churches were open. But that’s the catch, as, dear traveller, I cannot begin to tell you what that does to you. That you are there. In the cradle of that unsurpassable beauty, alone. With no sounds of modernity, the din of human intervention. You are there, alone, to absorb in all of that intoxicating aura, undisturbed. That your voice echoes through the small steps leading up to a blue domed church. Pine cones litter the streets, and you walk on them to reach this place, where, as the sun spreads its splendour in the horizon, the colours brewing in front of you make you feel small and yet so lucky.
So, before we start, even the idea, that I can describe Santorini and pen down an experiential treatise, is laughable. This can only be a mechanical journal of the places we covered. Because, to write down, what that experience actually did to our minds, is an impossible feat for mere mortals like me. So, just take my word, save up a little and take that trip that you have been planning unconsciously, when those blue domes and white walled pictures creep up on your social media pages. Nothing can do justice to what you behold when you are there. The caldera, the calm sea waters and standing aimlessly at the Ammoudi Bay. That is exactly what I did. Stared.
And I walked. Walked in those narrow lanes of white walls, looking over the sea, and a hint of sunlight bouncing off the bluest of domes, and that stationary windmill. I heard my heart race, and my breath mist in front me, swirling into shapeless forms, dissipating in the chilly winds, and the shallow snow. I was blinded, breathless, almost as if my soul, at that moment left my body to fly over that mesmerising sight. Oia, that little village of those ethereal pictures captured by travellers. And I stood in its narrow lane, trying to memorise every particle of that moment in my air, my taste buds. The magic of the gods and humans to create such a thing of pure joy and wonder. The touch of two shades blending in with nature to burst in your eyes into a plethora of all things good. And finding that little book shop, tucked in its corner, a smiling cat and a happy dog.
A slice of heaven, is what I would say if someone were to ask me to describe that moment. For it is a place where colours come to life and dance mysteriously to hypnotise you. Where rocks, water, trees and earth twist and turn to make you wonder at how such beauty is even possible. The red sea, the black sea, the meandering passages of those little towns of Firostefani and Immerovigli, the village of Pyrgos. I don’t think I can ever cease this list of the secrets of Thira. The secrets that you unravel with your stay, the little moments of pure awe and then a feeling of thanking your stars for this moment in your life, where nothing sad, no misery can touch you. Thira makes you feel special, beautiful, it makes you embrace all the happy parts in you and hug yourself in joy. You don’t want to leave. You don’t really want to leave.  
It was, in a way, truly fortunate, that we chose to visit at a time, when Santorini isn’t crowded. At all. It almost felt like we were the only people there, basking in all of that majesty. Summers would definitely have a lot of holidaying crowd. But I am told, early December, is an ideal time to visit this breath taking Greek island as well. Although, if you were like me, you would have fallen in love with the isolation, and the feeling of getting lost in those pine shaded roads, or the white washed little homes, the majestic volcano view and the bright and riveting Aegean Sea. No man can return from Santorini without realising what true beauty is, without being awed to the marrow of his bones. Without wanting more, a slice, a morsel of that, forever in his blood. Without leaving his heart behind, to mesh in with the air.

Somewhere down the line, I would like to hope that petty money matters will cease to be the purpose of my life and, marriage and children wouldn’t be the sole destination of my existence. No, they aren’t unimportant. Don’t start bickering with me on that. But a 21st century female participant of the rat race, is hardly a master of her destiny. All I say is for hungry souls like mine, for thirsty eyes like I have, for taste buds that want to forever churn the salt and sugar of wonders and fear, for ears that yearn for the sounds of magic and the tinkle of fairy dust from the church bells, for brains whose nature is too volatile to be contained in jars of jobs and happy homes – that we take that one way ticket, get a job in the bakery round the street in Fira square, right next to the music store and never come back. Till the senses have had their fill, till the art in your veins have flooded the air, and you have soaked in all the glory of the place. To be lost to something of worth, of dreams. Just once, for a while.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Istanbul's invisible magic

I have often wondered about déjà vu. How some things would suddenly feel like a part of you, like they have always been under the skin – running through your veins quietly. How you have been here before, maybe aeons ago. Or many lives ago.
Istanbul. Having read so much about it, to prepare for the dream tour, and, more so in one of my comfort fantasy novels, nothing could have prepared me for the pulse in that city. Like one of those echoes that sometimes rings through your soul. The ones that go unnoticed. The regular day job of living, leaves no scope of listening to those unnerving sighs from within your heart. It just doesn’t.
But Christmas 2015 was like a trip to the boulevards of my mind. Istanbul, you have made me more than the usual invisible wreath of bittersweet blossoms that I paint myself to be. More than the whining winds that rattle in my head. There is a place between the mysteries of the times past, and the fast paced modernity of the present – a place where time stops at wonders, smooths over rough patches and flows on effortlessly. Yes, Malachi had it correct in his words. Istanbul calls out to your soul.
Was I biased to the streets and monuments that I had read about numerous times? Istanbul was a place, where angels fell in love. How could I not be? Just with the vibe. The air. The music. An almost physical presence that I could, if I wanted to, reach out and hold for a beating second.
I don’t think words would be enough to summarise my three day visit to the magical city. I don’t think it can be summarised in three days. I would take a week to just walk around in Sultanahmet – the old roads, the tram routes, just walk past the shops, the little cafes, the road signs to different cities of the world. Walk aimlessly. The food that you see through the glass, or the thick black coffee.
Hard bread and cheese. So much cheese.
And you stand near the Hippodrome, surrounded by the majestic architectural wonders of Topkapi, Blue Mosque or Aya Sofia. And you breathe in the old air, with the cackling electricity of life's secret - the way all religions had been churned together to create such glory.
So, all you can do is walk and soak in. The summer air, the winter chills. Not too cold. Not hot at all. The buzz. The talks.
The incessant sounds of the Grand Bazaar. The colours. The vibrant, seducing colours. Some muted, or incandescent. Shining bright from the glass shards in the lamps in consecutive shops. Or the flavoured teas, so many, calling out to us tea lovers. A cacophony of life, music and joy.
I don’t want to pen down a travelogue, about the mystical Aya Sofia, or the Galata tower. And the effervescence of Istiklal. The ancient charm that still kissed some parts of the city, yet the present times meandering through Beyoglu. I would rather talk about that constant presence of something, a spirit, a whisper, in the streets there. A mix of everything that I can think of to define life. Of sometimes a glimpse of the misery. Of people in love. Trying to escape. Just being. Different colours. Tongues. Of a fleeting moment of joy in finding a Bengali trying to refill her Istanbulkart. Of the man by a restaurant balancing 5 wine glasses on his head, in tune with the street musicians. There was never a moment vacant. Of not wanting to explore more. To stop.
There was nothing empty there.
Could these be the rantings of a tourist? Yes of course. But as I stood there, staring at the cavernous, magnificent Underground Palace, wishing a little wish, watching the fishes swim past the coins, I would always be filled with awe for that moment. That breathtakingly, still moment of my life, where I was a character of history, fantasy and dreams. Out from the book, looking at the normal people. Basking in the magic. I almost had wings. Or maybe fins. Red horns. Maybe a blue beak. And feline eyes. A mythic creature, in a mythic land. And then again shape shift into a human to melt into the streets of the bazaar, the city.
This article wasn’t meant to be a journal to point out what you should definitely try, or the tops 10 things to do in Istanbul. It was more on what you would feel. Just beyond the horizons of beauty, the wonder and the city itself, the realism of the brick and the roads, is that realm of magic that you would feel inside you.  I hope that you do. Atleast once. No pictures, or pen would do justice to what the city is.
Istanbul, you chimera. You have bewitched me. And I would crave for that magic in every turn of my life. And I would suck on the spirit that I borrowed from you to imbue in mine. And carry that charm, in my blood henceforth.
An awestruck, hungry-for-more tourist, signing off.