Ahmed tried to capture the picturesque scenery through his Canon DSLR camera, however everything looked hazy and out of focus, or was it just his teary eyes! Only he knew what he felt inside his heart, at this moment, in front of the Dal lake in Kashmir, standing along the empty pier, the ‘shikara’ (boat) tied to the end of it. The sun had not yet come up in this quiet and lazy winter morning. He had stealthily sneaked out of his house, in his dad’s old wooden boat, to feel the freshness at the dawn. Even though it had been almost two decades that he was away from home, the known smell of the fresh morning air, made him selfishly nostalgic. The pink lotuses on the not-so-blue Dal lake, the grey sky, the infinite horizon, the fishing net curled up inside the boat and the strange silence around him, made him feel at home.
As a child, he often went out with his dad, who was a fisherman at dawn and a tourist guide by the day. Ahmed was a happy kid and loved meeting tourists from all over the world, while his dad took them around the ‘heaven on earth’, with a gleaming pride and a modest smile. His mother was a beautiful woman who looked after the needs of him, his brother and his father. She loved Ahmed and taught him to be kind. Ahmed also enjoyed playing with his little brother Faruk. Life was simple yet good, until that evil moment changed it all.
Little Ahmed and his dad rushed home after fishing, as they heard the treacherous news of terrorist attack in their area. As five-year-old Ahmed ran and pushed open the main door of his house, he saw his mom and two-year-old brother reeked in blood, lying on the floor and still. Ahmed did not know what to do and was trembling from inside. The furniture was all broken and scattered and there was a strange smell everywhere. Broken pieces of glass and blood was all over the wooden floor. He saw holes all over the walls, similar to the ones on his mother and brother’s body. His dad immediately covered his eyes with his cold and shaky hands and held him tight. Unable to fathom what had happened, Ahmed shook off his father’s hands and ran to his mother, and started shaking her body to wake her up. His mother’s warm body felt as cold as the fear inside him. Then he ran towards his brother who was lying on his tummy, his clothes drenched in blood and his body ice cold. When neither of them woke up, Ahmed turned and looked at his father with teary eyes, hoping his father can do some miracle to wake them up!
The incident left its deep mark on both Ahmed and his dad. In two years’ time, his dad suddenly looked very old, all his black hair turned grey, he walked slowly while he stooped a bit and the talkative tourist guide hardly spoke a word through the day. Ahmed had nightmares all through the night and the emptiness of the house overshadowed the desolation of his life. He contemplated whether he was lucky or unlucky that day.
Ahmed left Kashmir three years after that incident. They had distant relatives in New Delhi, and Ahmed stayed with them. He completed his high school and eventually graduated in Photography. Often in the cold nights in Delhi, he missed his mother’s warmth and his brother’s giggles. He was regularly in touch with his father, who had lost all zest in life. Soon his camera became his best friend and he bagged an internship with National Geographic magazine. He travelled many countries and loved seeing the world from inside his lenses, he felt safe that way. When his editor asked him to go to Kashmir to cover a story, he agreed immediately.
After two decades as Ahmed tried to click this beautiful scenery, he imagined his mother, little brother Faruk, his father and him sitting together in the small boat and looking happily at the camera, smiling away and saying “cheese”!
In the busy Melbourne life, suddenly I got two weeks break while changing jobs. Being a traveler at heart, immediately decided that am off to somewhere for a week! Considering its winter in July in Australia, the cheapest and best option was New Zealand. Within couple of days I booked my week-long trip to South Islands, New Zealand.
I wanted to have a relaxing trip and hence decided to visit only two cities – Christchurch & Queenstown. This was a solo trip, so I kept the itinerary simple. In no time I found myself in the JetStar flight from Melbourne to Christchurch! I had dozed off during the flight and woke up with the Captain announcing that the flight is landing. I opened my eyes and looked out of the window, the view was breathtaking. Something inside me said that my trip was going to be amazing!
The TranzAlpine train trip
Checked-in to Ibis, Christchurch. The hotel is located at the heart of the CBD (main city). My day 1 was just walking around the city and getting myself used to the cold. I called it a night pretty early as I had an 8am Tranzalpine train to catch the next morning to visit Arthur’s Pass National Park.
The Kiwi rail personnel picked me up at around 7.30 from my hotel and dropped me to the Christchurch station. The Tranzalpine train was already standing there and looked very striking and impressive. This train is operated by ‘The Great Journeys of New Zealand’ in the South Island over the ‘Midland Line’; it’s often regarded to be one of the world’s greatest train journeys, for the scenery through which it passes. The journey is 223 kilometres one-way, taking almost five hours. I had decided to go half way till Arthur’s Pass and then return back the same day.
The train left the mainland and soon was running amidst the mesmerising Southern Alps. We crossed snow clad mountains, rivers and waterfalls. There was a pantry inside the train, from where I got a nice coffee while I enjoyed the views. It felt both peaceful and exciting at the same time! The co-passengers were from different countries and they seemed to love New Zealand as much. With every turn the train took, there were more mountains and sometimes tunnels, overall this was my best ever train journey!
View from the Kiwi Rail
Arthur’s Pass National Park
The train reached Arthur’s Pass at around 11am. Few of the passengers got down here. The scenery was breathtaking! I couldn’t believe nature can be so beautiful.
It was freezing though, but I was all wrapped up in my jacket and beanie. I found my way to the Visitor Centre, collected some maps of the area and chose to do a hike to the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall. My return train from Arthur’s Pass was around 4.30pm in the afternoon, so I had around five and a bit hours to myself, to explore this beauty.
Started my hike, there was ice on the way but no one else around! I was very excited as I have not seen much snow in Melbourne or in the other countries I have visited, so it was a very different experience. Kept walking on the trail, was getting exhausted as it was uphill, but then I met some tourists coming from the opposite direction, who said it’s worth finishing the trail! The track crossed through a sparse forest and I could see snow-clad mountains from some points, the cold was getting intense but when I heard the birds chirping yet felt the silence of the place, I was feeling happy and ignored the cold. It was an experience I never had before! Finally, I reached the Devil’s Punchbowl waterfalls.
The Devil’s Punchbowl Trail
Waterfall forming a stream
Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall
The waterfall was massive and really worth the hike! On one side was the waterfall and on the opposite side was this huge snow-clad mountain. I felt an immense happiness inside me. Nature had waved its magic wand again and made me ecstatic! I spent some time by the waterfall, just hearing the sound of water gushing down and then forming a stream. The return trail felt shorter as I was already so gratified and had all my energy back from the picturesque magnificence around. I reached back to the base and grabbed some food in the Wobbly Kea Café and Bar. Then I explored around little more and soon headed off to the station for my return to Christchurch. Chatted with the co-passengers on the journey back and shared my solo journey experiences with them with a glass of wine! Nothing feels better than telling your stories to strangers, who are your friends in a strange way! Arthur’s Pass had made my day and so did the transalpine train journey. After a quick dinner at Christchurch, I crashed off to bed.
The city which recreated itself
As many of us know, the intense earthquakes in Christchurch in 2010 & 2011, created widespread damage to buildings, infrastructure and human life. My third and final day in Christchurch was exploring the city and enjoy a laidback day before I head off to Queenstown. I walked down to the Canterbury Museum after a sumptuous breakfast and coffee.
The museum had a beautiful adjoining garden and some really amazing piece of architecture. After spending some time there, I walked up the street to do a punting tour on the Avon river. It was a perfect day for punting! A leisurely trip along the picturesque Avon River, being punted by a friendly, informative guide felt very relaxing. There was lovely scenery in the Botanical Gardens. We were given blankets and hot-water bags to make us feel warm. The short half an hour tour felt even shorter when the surrounding was so breathtaking!
After the punting tour, I walked across the ‘Bridge of Remembrance’, dedicated to the soldiers of the World Wars and then reached the Christchurch Cathedral. As I got to see more of the city, I noticed how much damage was caused by the earthquakes and how the people here had accepted that and bravely rebuilt the entire city! Met many locals, who spoke of their loss during the earthquakes, but they loved this city and embraced all that they had to face because they felt Christchurch is where they belong! Many of them were immigrants from Afghanistan, Israel, Bangladesh and India. You learn so much, when you travel!
I was pretty tired by late afternoon, had some food but kept thinking of how brave the locals were and how much they loved this city. I reached the hotel by evening, went to my room and packed by bags as I had an early flight the next day. I went out to have some dinner in the Indian restaurant just opposite Ibis, called Mumbaiwala and had a happy tummy!
When reality strikes!
It was around 9 pm and I was watching the television in my room, almost half asleep, considering I walked a lot around the city that day. My mind was full of thoughts and my body was tired. Suddenly, my bed, the television, the tables, chairs and everything in the room started trembling horribly! My first thought was that I was dreaming, since my mind was full of those broken buildings which I had witnessed throughout the day. But it took me couple of more seconds to realise, that it was an actual earthquake!!!
I held the bed frame strongly and was scared to death, started thinking of my family back in India and every fraction of second felt like ages! After around 30-40 secs, the shake stopped. I was still immobile on my bed and was having a brain-freeze too. As I regained my senses, I jumped off the bed and dialled reception. The lady from the reception seemed pretty calm and said there is nothing to fear, this was just a minor tremor! I was freaking out on the other side and immediately hung up and rushed to the ground floor! Saw many frightening faces like mine in the lobby, all with the fear of what that city was infamous for! The receptionist calmed us down and after spending an hour in the lobby, anticipating another tremor, I was too drained out and returned to my room and felt asleep!
From the first day itself, Christchurch won my heart! The way this city has faced the most dangerous natural calamity and has accepted that fact and rebuilt itself, is sheer bravery and courage. Rebuilt not just buildings and infrastructure but also their minds, their hearts, their history and their future.
Life’s never easy but happy are those who face their fears and move on! No wonder the receptionist that night was so calm! She has experienced much more intense earthquakes than that minor tremor. Christchurch taught me that history and culture of a place is not only to treasure what was created by our ancestors, but it is also what we create as we progress. The history of Christchurch is not the infamous earthquakes, but it is the people who love that city more than their lives and properties. They say, ‘a thing of beauty, is a joy forever’, and Christchurch, you will be the most dangerously beautiful city I have ever been to! Stay safe Christchurch, until next time!
This blog post is dedicated to all the brave hearts who were sacrificed in the Christchurch mosque shootings, March 2019. I have visited this city and seen how brave are the people of Christchurch. My heart goes out to all the families who have lost their near ones in the shooting. May they rest in peace wherever they are! Hope the world becomes a better place one day.
My friends and I decided to travel to Noosa this year January. Noosa is located on the southern end of Queensland, an Australian state and is in the Sunshine coast. Noosa Heads, a town and suburb of the Shire of Noosa is located approximately 136 kilometres north of Brisbane, the state’s capital and is in the main hub.
We flew to the Sunshine coast airport from Melbourne and then rented a car from the airport and drove down to the Peregian beach where we had booked our accommodation. It’s a scenic 24km (approx) drive along the coast with the sea in sight now and then. We had booked our stay through Airbnb and must admit that it was one of best houses we ever stayed!
On the way to the Peregian beach we stopped for lunch and had some wonderful Thai food. The weather in January was hot and a bit humid too. However, the sunshine was welcoming and the beautiful beaches stole our heart.
The beach was even more mesmerizing in the night! The starlit night, the lashing of the waves, the quietness and the companionship made us cherish every moment and feel at peace.
A Day well spent
The next morning, after a good night’s sleep, we decided to explore Noosa by ferry. We boarded the ferry from the Noosa Yacht & Rowing Club and there begun a wonderful journey in the Noosa river waters. It was a beautiful sunny day, the sky and the river water was clear blue and the weather was impeccable for a river cruise. We disembarked at the Sofitel Noosa Heads and gallivanted in the Hastings Street famous for its boutique shops and restaurants.
We had a wonderful Indian lunch at Kali Gourmet Indian restaurant . The restaurant had delicious Indian food and warm and welcoming staff. We then explored the beach at the Noosa Heads and the colourful boutique shops in the Hastings street.
We took the return ferry in the afternoon and then decided to view the Sunset from the Laguna Lookout in the Noosa National Park. It was a spellbinding sunset. We were captivated by the landscape and life felt good!
Fraser Island – Adventure reloaded
The next day we had planned a day trip to the famous Fraser Island. The Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island stretching over 120km. We got picked up by the tour providers at 6am and then headed off to our first stop where we boarded a four wheel drive tour bus. We crossed the Noosa river in the cable barge and stopped at the Rainbow beach for morning tea. It was a scenic journey so far and the rainbow beach was true to its name.
Next, we had a rocky ride inside the forest area to the crystal clear freshwater Lake McKenzie. It was an absolutely beautiful lake with tropical turquoise water, fine white sand and surrounded by forest. After our rocky ride, the lake was welcoming and we immediately jumped onto the water. We spend time in the lake exfoliating ourselves with the white sand and splashing water on each other. It felt like we voyaged back to our childhood! Soon we felt hungry and were served delicious “Aussie style” bush barbecue with a varied assortment of fresh salad and drinks. We stuffed ourselves and soon it was time to head back to the mainstream.
On the way back, we dropped by the magnificent Rainforests. We walked inside the cold, dark pathways of the forest. It was thrilling and we praised nature at every step. The luxuriant canopy of palms and vines made each moment memorable.
We returned back by evening, tired yet rejuvenated!
My friends and I have a busy life in Melbourne like many others. We planned this trip to Noosa with an agenda of relaxation and holiday. On the last day of our trip, we had checked the boxes! Noosa is not only one of the most beautiful places we had visited but it felt like the sea, sand and sunshine have hitched to make Noosa magical! If you love beaches, Noosa is where you should be! Every moment we spent here was full of awe! Australia has many beaches and I have visited many of them, yet Noosa had its own appeal and will make me come back again when I want to liberate and revive myself! Noosa, you stole our hearts with your charm, see you again someday! Till then, keep travelling!
Sometimes when I walk on the road, I suddenly look back, as if some known one is looking at me. But then I find no one. Sometimes someone crosses me in the crowd and I sense a known smell, but then I can’t find anyone. I question myself, what am I looking for? Whom am I looking for? But I don’t get an answer.
One day, while I was in a deep colloquy with myself, I realised that I must be waiting for someone, someone from the past. While I should enjoy my present, am still living in the past. I tell myself that while I walk on the road, instead of looking back, what if I bump onto someone interesting at the next turn! That person might be a new friend and much more interesting than the unknown person am waiting for! This thought makes me feel happy for the moment.
Life is like an ice cream, the more you have, the more you crave for. We don’t acknowledge the things we have, we don’t treasure the people we have, instead we all are running for the mysterious happiness hidden in some horizon. There is no end and we always shape up a new horizon. Why does some things and some people leave such an unfathomable mark? Sometimes a good memory and sometimes a bad one but then the word memory itself is a past tense! What we have now is a moment, a precious moment. The search of happiness in the past or in that unknown horizon is much more painful than even the worst present day.
Have you had a meal? Do you have a family? Do you have shelter? Are you grateful for you are living the day? I keep asking all these questions. The answer comes, “Yes”. Then what am I looking for if I have everything. Why can’t I be happy? Maybe I am looking for happiness in wrong places, in wrong people, in mistaken memories. Happiness is when I wake up every morning and realise that all the people I love are with me and are healthy and alive. Happiness is believing that I can spend the rest of my life with myself.
I need to stop waiting, stop looking back at that stranger who doesn’t exist and realise that more than one person can smell the same! I need to look forward, make new friends, talk to strangers who smile back at me, search for happiness inside my soul than in someone else’s life. That horizon, that known smell, that someone looking at me…does not exist. We all wait for that sunrise when the sky would look the best, but we forget that even in the cloudy days, the sun rises as usual but is just shadowed by the clouds. The sun doesn’t leave us, just hide sometimes and shines bright again. Is it that challenging to acknowledge the moment and live a content life? I don’t have the answer, but I would continue to walk till I bump onto the more interesting ‘someone’! 🙂 Keep walking and soon the sun will shine brighter! 🙂
I have a friend at the coffee shop. I don’t know her name but she knows mine. She also knows what coffee I usually order. Every morning, one of the motivations I have, to come to office, is my coffee and a small chat with my friend. We talk about everything, about the weather, the food, my evenings, her evenings, about flowers and life in general.
She is a beautiful young lady with a warm smile. She talks to everyone very nicely; everyone likes her I believe. She has very beautiful eyes. Just the other day, my hands were very cold and I was freezing in the Melbourne winter. When she met me for taking my order, she was feeling bad for me and said I should buy gloves. Later, when I was going out for lunch, she offered me to wear her gloves, in case I am too cold. I felt really gratified with her gesture.
We don’t know each other well, neither we spend so much time together, but the small gestures of love make my day warm. Such are the effects of ‘being human’.
Today when I went to grab my afternoon coffee, the café was quite empty. My friend came over and offered me a cookie from her own share. I gladly accepted. Then she said today is her last day in this café! I felt a gush of sadness crept inside me. I didn’t know what to say! I looked at her and she smiled and said, “You’ll make new friends”. She said she is travelling to Northern Australia and after she comes back, she would join some other café, somewhere else. She also shared her gratitude towards me and said how nice its been talking to me all these last five months in this café.
I finished my coffee and walked up to her to say the final good bye. She gave me a hug and said, take care. I started walking back to my work and didn’t turn back.
They say, “Goodbyes are never forever”. I wonder why I felt bad when she said she is leaving, why I never asked her, her name. This is life! We make friends and then bid them farewell and then make new friends again in the journey of life. Sometimes you suddenly don’t see that same face you see everyday and search for it, faces change, everyday. Sometimes you can’t even say good bye to everyone you love. That’s the truth.
Just be nice to everyone you meet, say hi and ask how are they doing. Life is too short to have grudges. I will miss my friend at the coffee shop tomorrow, but who knows, maybe I will see another warm face saying, “What coffee would you like”? 🙂
They say, “Everyone has their own song”. A song that connects them to eternity, to love, to life and to themselves. Similarly, every relationship has its own song. A song that is reminiscent of time immemorial or of something exceptional. A song is your own because it relates to some specific personal event, it is own because our life finds its rhythm and music in that song. Whenever we hear that song, we remember the event or the person to which this song is allied and treasure our solace at heart.
Some songs remind us of a journey, some remind us of home, some of our parents or grand parents, some songs remind us of friendship and some of love. Sometimes the tune of an old song takes you back to the memory lane and you even land up making a call to an old friend or a lost love. Some songs make you cry while some make you smile but every song stirs a feeling inside your heart. The tears are the witness of some painful incident with which this song was concomitant. The smile on the other hand is the evidence that this song is part of some happy memory. A song reflects the state of your heart at that instance of time and that in turn makes a song your own. You hum the tune when ever you want to revisit that occurrence of time.
Humans are very possessive. They don’t want to let go of time. They want to cling on to time either in form of a photograph or a song or a video or something tangible that takes them back to the memory lane. A song is a way to capture a moment forever. Sometimes on a gloomy day, I remember the lullaby my mom used to sing for me when I was a child, it’s a vent to revisit my childhood days. When I miss my best friend, I remember the songs we sang together on our journeys and in many of our memorable trips. My favourite songs have changed over time. Some new ones have become my favourite now and some old ones are slowly fading away from my memory with time.
I guess life is also like a song. People come and go, some stay forever and some fade with time. Lucky are those who find their song and for the rest, have you tried finding your song yet? 🙂
I am missing you a lot. When suddenly your pages were over, I was crammed with a sudden vacuum, despair, and fear. I shuffled through to the previous pages in the hope of coming across another blank page where I can write my thoughts down but there were none! You were suddenly over. I still started scribbling in the white spaces on the top of the margin area, or wherever I could find any half-filled pages. I just didn’t want to let go of you. I wanted to hold on to you till all the white spaces were filled with my thoughts, words, emotions, and feelings. I was possessive. Knowing the fact that I can always buy a new one, that there are millions of diaries being sold in this world everyday, I just couldn’t believe that my personal diary is not going to be with me anymore. It was a painful feeling.
I spent all night reading you from the scratch. Every page I read, my memories were reinvigorated. I could see things, feel them and sometimes even smell them. So many dates in a person’s life, so many wonderful experiences and some bitter ones. Some dates which are important and some events, which make the other dates important. All the events were very carefully articulated with my favourite fountain pen. I remember those moments when I wrote them and slowly we were Confidant. As days and dates turned through the pages, I started feeling better remembering the journey I had made in my life. ‘The only thing constant in life, was change!”
It was dawn when I read the last page and then slowly closed you and held you close to my heart. When I closed my eyes, a few drops of tears rolled down my cheeks. It was as if I voyaged several years over a single night. Can’t believe we spent so many years together and now suddenly you and I will not be together anymore. But that’s life isn’t it? But you will always be close to my heart and whenever we want, will spend time together revisiting the memory lane. You will always be a Confidant and will always be closest to my heart.
Humans have managed to define every relationship, be it mother, father, husband, partner or friend. Every relationship has their outlined protocols and precincts. We behave the way we are supposed to when we fall in one of those defined categories. But sometimes the heart subjugates the brain and the frontiers are traversed.
A companion is a person who’s just there with you, like a perpetual company. A companion can be your best friend or anyone who is with you in your journey of life without much of an expectation. Companionship is beyond just friendship even if they are sometimes synonymous. The feeling that someone is there for you whatever may happen in life is what companionship is all about.
There are days when you don’t want to talk to anyone, no one! When you just want to talk to that one person who you know will listen to you without being judgmental and just smile and say, “Everything is fine”! You might not meet your companion everyday or even every year but you know that they are there with you every single moment. This feeling is very serene and comforting. We all are so lonely in this modern world. Social media connects us but is only a reflection of our social existence, which we want to share. No one cares what’s deep inside the heart and the mind, which is personal and never social.
Companionship is a bond, which is build in a certain moment and nurtured over time by being sincere to the relationship. You will only ever be lucky to have a companion if you are true to yourself and your companion. You don’t need any commitment other than that strong feeling inside your heart to trust this one person when the world seems void. Just lend your hand and you will feel the other hand holding on to yours. Life’s good when you have a companion 🙂
You have taught me to say things I would otherwise keep to my heart. You have taught me to acknowledge and say Thank You. You have taught me to see the vastness of the sky and feel so small compared to it. You have taught me to smile at people, to ignore their ignorance and to love their virtue.
I used to complain if the day was too hot, or too cold, or too humid. I used to complain about bad roads and traffic jams. Now I can smile at dawn and greet the day with my warmth and thankfulness that I am alive. Now I know that however rocky the road is, it’s the journey that matters and not the destination. Now I know that a traffic jam is a reason to spend some more time with you!
The simplicity in life is its greatest virtue. To be simple, to cherish the sky, the nature, the seasons, the strangers, the known-ones, to ignore the immodest, to smile like a child, to cry like an infant, to share like a mother, to forgive like a teacher, to guide like a father and to love like a lover…is life! It’s not about those painful moments, its more about the moments of joy and ecstasy. You taught me many things in life which I would not otherwise understand. There are things beyond me, there is a whole world looking up at me and expecting something. There is a reason I was born. The day I realise that reason and smile back at the world, I am complete. I am living. I am alive.