Introduction

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portugese flag

 

I will be spending three weeks in Portugal this December, including Christmas and New Year.

This section of my blog is dedicated to my expedition and exploration of the Iberian Peninsula. Through the course of my travel, I will visit multiple places around, experience local culture, taste different food and work on a topic.

My topic is “What makes you feel welcome in a city?“. This is a blog series for a project sponsored by Schwarzkopf Foundation Young Europe. The organization is funding a part of travel.

I will keep writing as I go through the country. My first destination is the picturesque, loyal city of Lisbon.

Watch out this section for the updates.

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The Lady from Lahore – a short story.

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I met a lady from Lahore there. She was visiting her son, he studies in Amsterdam.

I met them at a coffee shop. Coffee shops in Amsterdam are not to be confused with cafe.

A cafe serves coffee and bagel and breakfast and croissant.

A coffee shop is a place you go to get marijuana and other stuff.

The son, Arslan was teaching his mom how to smoke weed XD

I told her that she might be the coolest mom ever. They clicked a picture together and uploaded it with this caption XD

Amsterdam is so full of happy stories, I love the city.

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Being from India, we have a sense that Pakistan is a closed and reserved society. I was pleasantly surprised rather delighted to meet this lady. She mentioned, that she had relatives in Delhi used to visit before the visa norms. I parted by inviting her to Delhi and requested to visit me next time when she’s in town.

 

 

 

 

Raksha Bandhan 2017

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7th August 2017, 9.30 am
Scrolling through my social media feed, seeing pictures and posts from friends and family makes me long for home. Festivals are best celebrated with friends and family.

I’m sitting here in my office, watching the clock ticking, waiting for the post to arrive, waiting for my rakhi. Waiting to click myself and send her a picture, to share my joys, and see her exhilarate with happiness.

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My rakhi arrives and I’m elated with joy, like a little kid with a lollipop in Disneyland. I flaunt it and show it to everybody around at work, with a baby like “Yayyyyyy”!!

Living afar for long has made me realize how important family relations are and how I can never forsake family or friends. I feel sometimes it’s a struggle to live abroad.

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For the ones unaware, Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi is an annual festival affirming the affection and kinship between brothers and sisters. I have always been fond of my sisters. Growing up together we have so many memories of our mischiefs. Being around them makes me realize I haven’t actually grown up. Hence, Raksha Bandhan has always been special. It used to be an excuse for us to gather together, share laughs, stories, joke around and of course, eat good food. Through the course of time, the geography has changed, the distance has made it difficult to personally meet. But every year no matter wherever I am, whatever part of the world, I receive my rakhis.

Before technology, you know how people exchanged letters and Rakhi always came along with a letter. Even today, my sisters have kept the tradition going, I guess it’s become a habit. My post envelope had a short letter accompanying my Rakhi. All of us a funny “Nick Name” as kids and my letter is always addressed with my funny childhood nick name.

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The Monday of 7th August was a little brighter than most Mondays. 🙂

Passenger in Luxembourg

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Last week I had a chance to attend Michael David Rosenberg’s, better known by his stage name “Passenger”, concert here in Luxembourg. The venue was subtly set up with just enough (not too many!) people. An open air arena with small stands or shops selling snacks and booze. Having arrived early at the venue, we (my friend from work & me) were lucky to get a space close to the stage. Stu Larsen, another budding musician started the concert with his songs about traveling and advertising his new upcoming album.

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After a few songs, Passenger walked on the stage with a huge cheer from the crowd. It was evening and the day was getting cooler and sun light slowing dimming. I was pleasantly surprised, rather more impressed, by the personality of David. He struck as a funny guy. With a glass of whiskey in hand, he started with a story of how he performed as a street singer for 5 years and never expected to be famous. He started with his not so famous songs and the crowd was already moving to his tunes, people were smiling kissing and cheering. His most famous single “Let her go” made everybody lose themselves. The whole energy had a positive effect. His voice was just magical and the atmosphere around added to the setup. Eventually, he finished with a few duet with Stu. It was not one of those super packed high cheering concerts, with people jumping in mosh pits. It was more of those pleasant, charming and happy like feeling concerts. The crowd too was well behaved, cheering, making loud jokes and smiling. In the end, I enjoyed my bit and was happy by the end of it.

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The Girl with the Blue Glasses

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“Excuse me!! I suppose that’s my seat”

“Oh! I’m sorry. I’m just looking for my glasses, I kept it here, next to the window”

“How does it look like?”

“Nerdy and blue”

“Is it that one? Next to the scarf on the upper berth”

“Ah! Yes. Thank you!! I’m Ayesha by the way”

“Shameek! Nice to meet you”

“The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux, sounds like an interesting book you’re reading”

“Yeah, I like travel stories”

“Do you travel a lot too?”

“My mom says, I live in the trains”

“Haha! I would never want to live on trains. Trains in India run late”

“There are more than 11000 trains starting each day in India, managing such an organization is no joke”

“Still, that’s not an excuse for being late”

Sir, Ma’am, would you like to have some warm soup?

“Yes, please”

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“Its delicious, at least the food in the trains is not so bad after all”

“Around 25 million people travel everyday, some are there for the food, you never know”

“WHAT?! That’s almost like the population of Australia”

“Could well be, though I don’t know much about Australia. But do you know Indian Railways is the world’s largest with a network of 117000 kms”

“How do you know all these things?”

“My dad worked for the railways, I grew up with trains all around me”

“Is that why you live in them now?”

*Both chuckle*

“I like traveling in trains. I’ve been on the trains at the highest of mountains all covered in green, passing through the waterfalls, in the deserts, on the coasts, bridges, rivers flowing beneath, through the tea gardens, mustard field, remote villages, all on the train. I have seen a lot because of the trains”

“Wow! That’s sounds beautiful. We are halted for quite sometime now. What station is this btw?”

“Its too dark outside, I cannot read the nameplate”

“Looks like a good place for a midnight tea. Wanna join?”

“Sure, lets go”

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“Its quite late, there aren’t many people on the platform”

“You see these platforms, they all have stories to tell. People you see there, some tired, of their journey, some anxious, some happy, some sad, some impatient, some have their ears glue to the announcement speakers, the hawkers are busying selling, the coolies waiting for passengers to carry their luggage”

“Never looked at the platforms this way, till you said it. You really love trains, don’t you?”

*Amused*

“Haha!! I guess so”

“The train is about of start, the engine is already whistling, we should get in”

“Yes”

“I’m a bit tired, I guess I’ll sleep now. Good Night”

“Good Night”

*Few hours later*

“Hey, someone’s up early”

“Yes, I like to rise before the sun” *wink*

“What?” *cackle*

“Look at this picture, I clicked it this morning”

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“Oh! That’s super nice”

“Watching the sunrise makes me cheerful”

“How far are we from our destination?”

“Few more hours”

“Oh! Look we are on top of the river, on the bridge”

“Yes, look how the river is shining in the bright sunlight”

“And there’s a road above the train track. I have been to such roads many a times, always wondered how the train track below looks like. I will get down and have a look at it”

“But be careful, you don’t want the train to leave you behind”

“Don’t worry, I’ll hop on before it whistles”

“Alright”

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*Train whistles*

“We’re moving again, I hope we don’t halt anymore”

“We’re almost there”

*Sometime later*

“Is this the railway station?”

“This is the yard, that’s what they call it, it just outside the main station. They prepare the trains here for their next journey. Do you see the overhead bridge in the far horizon there?”

“The one with lots of people?!”

“Yes, that’s the main railway station”

“Its super huge”

“..and very old too”

 

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“So is this it?”

“Yes, here we are, final destination”

“It was really nice to meet you, lets keep in touch. Bye Bye.”

“Sure, Good Bye.”

Kolkata and beyond: Loleygaon, Lava, Rishop, Darjeeling

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Having lived in Finland, I have developed a special liking for the nature. Fortunately, or Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to explore the diverse nature in the India yet.

“Maine humari Darjeeling ki tickets already book kar li hai, ab tu jaldi se Kolkata aaja.”
(I’ve already booked our tickets to Darjeeling, come to Kolkata quick)

My friend on his call made sure, there won’t be any further delay to this plan and I won’t be allowed any more excuses.

Packing my rucksack, I boarded the train from Delhi to Kolkata in the evening. I was greeted by my friend at the station and we reached our abode in the “City of Joy”, I was not disappointed. That city is a living museum, seems like not much has changed there since the Britishers left India (check my post on the tram in the city, to get a glimpse of my thoughts).

Kolkata to NJP

One evening, a week later, I was standing at the same Sealdah station, only this time to board the Darjeeling Mail. It was weekend, and I could sense a special joy and relief among the passengers to the train. Being a popular hill station, it was fairly evident most of them were excited to get there. After a long and tiring day, I retired to sleep and was up before the sunrise. Being a December morning, it was misty and foggy outside. As the train passed through the farms and fields, the view outside was pleasant. Hazy sun, rising in the horizon, damp fields and unmade houses. Finally, we arrived at the New Jalpaiguri Station (NJP).

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View from Darjeeling Mail

NJP to Loleygaon

After a bit of bickering and bargaining we managed to convince one driver to take us directly to Loleygaon for 1200 rupees. The driver was very talkative, friendly and helped us plan our trip, the dos and don’ts and places to see, things to do, such stuff. Located roughly 100 kms from the NJP, it took us around 3.5 to 4 hours to reach Loleygaon. We stopped for a breakfast at a shack, next to a tea gardens, and it was lovely, my first time among the tea gardens. The road on the hills to Loeygaon wasn’t the best one to drive on, it was broken at places and full of stones. Eventually we arrived at our destination and check into an inn, the lady charged us 700 per night for two people. Loelygaon is a small settlement with a sparse population of around 5000 located at an altitude of 5500 feet in the Himalayan ridge. Since we were there in December, the weather was on the colder side.

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Tea Garden en route to Loleygaon

We had our lunch freshened up a bit and went to see the place. There’s a canopy bridge and we went to have a look at it. You will come pass through the bridge area of the entrance gate kind of a thing while traveling from NJP to Loleygaon. To our dismay, the bridge was closed for some construction repair and we couldn’t get to walk on it. But nevertheless, we had a good look at it. It’s made of wooden planks all along and at places supported by branches of the trees. Since, the place is totally secluded and amidst a forest, the evening was quiet and calm. Occasionally, you could hear the birds chirping or even leaves falling. We didn’t do much that evening, as were tired. After a small walk in the village, we had dinner and off to sleep.

Next morning, woke up early and walked uphill for around 4 km to reach Jhandi Dara, the sunrise point. The view from the hill was absolutely spellbinding. I stood there for a long long time staring into the sky admiring the rising sun. We were hoping to get a glimpse of the Kanchenjunga hills, in the west, opposite the rising sun but the clouds hid them behind. After the sunrise, we headed back to our accommodation, showered, had brunch and started for Lava.

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Sunrise from Jhandi Dara

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Sunrise from Jhandi Dara

Loleygaon to Lava via Kalimpong

We started for Lava around 11.00ish, our original plan was to reach Lava from Loleygaon but things didn’t go per our plan. During our ride from NJP, the driver informed us that there is a quicker and cheaper way to reach Lava from Loleygaon and he handed out his contact too in case of any confusion. So, per his instruction, we hitchhiked, walked and walked and walked till we reached a four-way intersection. One road each leading to Kalimpong, Lava, Loleygaon and some other village close by (I can’t recall the name). There was a three way a few hundred metres before the four way and it’s easy to lose way due to confusion there. Anyways, on reaching there, we were told that we had already missed the last car/taxi thing to Lava and if we’re lucky we might get a ride from someone heading that way. We waited at the four way for an hour or so, asking every passing vehicle. Ultimately, we decided to go to Kalimpong, because if we missed the last car/taxi to Kalimpong, we might have to be stranded there. The plan was to hop on another bus/car/taxi from Kalimpong to Lava.

On reaching Kalimpong, it was already evening, and on enquiry we found out that the next bus to Lava is in the night. No point reaching Lava after nightfall, since we won’t be able to do anything there at night. Hence, we parked ourselves at Kalimpong for the night. Kalimpong is a city with lots of people, cars, hustle, bustle, coming from Loleygaon we found it a bit crowded. Next, morning on bus to Lava. The slow bus ride took us higher and higher into the mountains. The driver seemed to be a popular friendly guy, smiling and greeting people all along the way, exchanging pleasantries, promising people to deliver their gifts, dropping off late going school children. It made me wonder, the people in these hills don’t have access to the best to infrastructure and facilities but they have themselves and each of them take care of one another and help when needed, was kinda hearting to see. I noticed the change in vegetation all along the way.

Eventually, we arrived at Lava. Located at an altitude of about 7000 feet, the place is scenic and small. We rested and dined and headed out to the Lava Monastery. Situated on the hills, the panoramic view around the monastery is absolutely breath taking. Unfortunately, the time we reached there was a meditation time for the monks and we couldn’t get to talk to them. We roamed around the place for a while, talked to a few locals and since we were already behind our schedule, headed straight to Rishop.

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View from Lava Monastery

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At Lava Monastery

Lava to Rishop

There are two ways to reach Rishop, from Lava – by taxi and by foot. We walked for one and half hours uphill on broken roads to reach our destination. The trek is demanding at places but still doable. The way to Rishop is a bit disguised and one might need to ask locals for directions. There’s some sort of government accommodation and some small broken wooden stairs lead up on the right side of the road. On walking, a few hundred metres, there a diversion and we stuck to the right side of the road, but we asked people constantly to assure ourselves that we were on the right track.

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Trek uphill to Rishop

After a while we could see the small village in the horizon. Rishop is a small quaint Hamlet at an altitude of 8530 feet located amidst the hills. “Pink Floyd Hotel”, that was our resting place. We were living in the clouds and on opening the door, the clouds would float into the room. There was nothing but silence, dead silence. Imagine a small place in the clouds, sipping hot coffee on the balcony and all you can see is mountains, trees covering the mountains, little houses, small villages in the distant. The stars covered the night sky, twinkling bright. In the morning, we trekked 2 km uphill in to Tiffin Dara to a get a Panoramic view of the place. The trial passes through a forest and you can also rent a guide to take you there. The view was a bit below my expectation but nevertheless still worth it. We headed for our final stop, Darjeeling via Ghoom.

 

Rishop to Darjeeling via Ghoom

A few of our To-Dos in Darjeeling was to catch the glimpse of the sunrise at the Tiger hill and ride the Toy Train. The hill is closer from Ghoom, 5ish kms, and the train passing through Ghoom takes you to D’jeeling. Rishop to Ghoom was a long journey, going back to Lava, Kalimpong and then to Ghoom. The journey from K’pong to Ghoom was very scenic. We drove downhill, passing small waterfalls from big huge rocks, river flowing through the valley, trees and stones on either side and we crossed a small bridge before driving uphill.

It was already night by the time we reached there. We somehow managed to get an accommodation for 500 bucks after extensive bargaining. Next morning at 4 am we went about our way to Tiger Hill, it’s not so pleasant and there are a lot of cars whizzing past you, many tourists from Darjeeling hire cars to get there. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed on reaching there, it was crowded as hell, and they have constructed a stand to seat the tourists. Overcrowded places do not interest me. All I could see was vendors, selling you coffee and people flashing their phone for selfies. The sunrise wasn’t appealing either because of the heavy clouds.

We got on a 9 o’clock train to Darjeeling, from a distant, the city was half lit with the morning sun. We were lucky to get a view of the Kachenjunga range. And trust me on this, it’s one of the best thing you’ll see your entire life. For me, it was one of those moments, when you see something so mesmerizing that you want to keep looking at it the entire time. I was dumbstruck. A flat white mountain range covered with silver velvet. The white snow was gleaming in the morning sun. You know when you see something very gorgeous, and it makes you so happy that you forget all the worries in life and want to just keep staring, it was something like that (and I’m not exaggerating). Maybe, because I live in the city, it was more appealing to me, but still it was absolutely worth every bit of it.

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Darjeeling with Kanchenjunga in the background

Darjeeling is just like another city, full of cars and people all around. The Mall road is cleaner and better compared to other places and you can take a walk around. We went up to see St. Paul’s School, Darjeeling, it was nice, organized. I wish I went to such school, with the view of Kanchenjunga every morning. We stayed in Darjeeling for a day and a half, went to watch a movie and roamed around the city, talking to locals, there were a few good coffee houses and eateries around. It felt kinda good because I hadn’t had good coffee in a while.

Being a city it is well connected and got a shared cab to NJP.

Things I did in Lapland =D

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This March, I had the chance to visit the winter wonderland, the home to Santa Claus =D, “Lapland”. Located in the northern part of Finland, peeping just above the Arctic Circle, the region is surely a place worth visiting. Sparsely populated, even by Finnish standards, the place sees hurling tourists, all throughout the year. We parked ourselves at the northern most tip of Finland, on map, its a point where, Sweden, Norway and Finland meet. A group of nine friends on an road trip adventure. Here is a small listicle of things I experienced in the memorable trip to Lapland.

Somewhere in Oulu

 

Northern Light Road, Finland-Norway (Aurora sightings)

Looong Roadtrip

Driving 2000 kilometers from south to the north, we pretty much covered the whole of Finland and more. We drove through multiple towns, admiring the scenery and appreciating the architectures throughout. From playing, fun games in the van to listening unstoppable music throughout, the journey, it sure was worth the road trip.

Museums and Library on the way

We made quite a few stops on our way, to experience quite different and variable architectures of both Russian and Swedish style. My favorite was a small city library, at Senajoki. Colorful, interactive, yet quiet. I wish I could have more pictures from the library.

 

 

Okay, I was frowned upon every time (even by the Santa), for using the name “Jakodstadt”, the Swedish name for Pietarsaari. There was supposedly an old wooden town, with colorful houses. It kinda looked pleasing and quiet.

Vaasa Beach

This town is without doubt the Swedish capital of Finland. Located on the western coast, the evening looked pleasant with warm sun, cold wind and the silence of the sea.

 

Snow Castle at Kemi

The walls, floors, chairs, bed, furniture, ceiling, everything snow. Yes, a castle built entirely of snow. The Kemi castle, supposedly the world’s biggest snow castle was surrounded by serene beauty. We climbed the roofs to see a desert of white, far and long in the horizon as far as the eyes could see with damp and cold winds, brushing us.

 

Santa Claus 😀

Smirky, smiling, witty old man, every kid’s dream. Santa Claus was really smart and intelligent, greeted each one of us in our languages, multi lingual. Virginia, had a video message for Santa, from her little cousin, demanding more gifts next Christmas. Santa asked the little one to a good kid, and he would bring more gifts to her next Christmas.

Reindeers

When you’re in Santa’s home, reindeer couldn’t be far. XD They are pretty uncommon animals, and we were lucky to pay them a visit at their farm.
 

Amazing Auroras

If you’re in Lapland, you in for a treat to your eyes. The majestic phenomenon, to see the sky covered in a wave of green, the stars sparkling and the white snow above the amazing auroras. When you just come out of hot sauna, to roll in the cold snow, and witness the auroras flashing overhead, Ah!! a moment to cherish, surely.

Hiking in sunshine on snow covered Saana

One fine day, in bright sunshine, we went out hiking in a shining white snow covered mountain, Saana. Blue sky, and vast expansive view, mountains, lakes, trees, all frozen and covered with snow. Tired, hungry and panting on reaching the peak, but still all worth.

Trip to Tromsø

Norway is surely, by far one of the most beautiful place. We drove through beautiful valleys, beside, under and over the Arctic ocean. Tromsø, showed us the northern most beer brewery of the world. The city center had under heated roads, beautiful library and delicious food.

 

Snow mountains and frozen lake

White and bright all around as far as eyes could see. People hiking, skiing, sliding, running, driving all on the frozen lakes and snow capped mountains, magnificent view.

View of Norway Sweden and Finland

Hiking up the mountains, we reached a point, where we could see all three countries before the horizon. Blue sky above us, sun shinning bright overhead, standing white sparkling snow and just hearing the wind blow, through and across the borders.

 

Playing in the Snow

‘nough said 😀

Chillout Evenings

Our evenings were pretty much talking partying and playing instruments. One fine evening, we had a party without pants. XD