5 Lessons To Be Learned From Traveling

Avid travellers have garnered years of experience in exploring the world, meeting new people and discovering foreign culture. Although travelling is often equated to a luxury activity (and perhaps it is!) and boasted about but there’s a lot more to learn from it than just posting pictures on Instagram.

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Here are 5 life lessons that expert travels have to share:

#1: Planning is great but spontaneity can be better
If you’re a type A personality or just a really organized individual, you probably can’t go out without a proper plan in your head. When you travel, though, this has to be minimized. Sure, you don’t want to head out to foreign lands totally unprepared but leave some things for discovery and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

#2: Don’t believe the media; there is good and bad everywhere
We’re often led to believe that places like Iran or Pakistan are ‘dangerous’ but that’s really not how it is. You’ll always find compassionate people everywhere and your best approach should be kindness and respect as well.

#3: Respect the culture
Every community has its own set of values and traditions; when you’re travelling to a foreign land where culture is important you need to respect that. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go all out and follow the traditions but respecting and acknowledging them is pivotal.

#4: Travelling alone isn’t lonely
People who travel alone are often questioned whether they feel lonely in their trips. Solo travel experts believe that when you’re exploring new places, you’re never really alone.

#5: Distance can speak volumes for your relations
When you’re travelling a lot, you usually don’t see your loved ones back home that often than you otherwise would. Long distance and travelling can reveal the true colors of your relationship with people and help you realize who respects your interests and is willing to stick around even beyond the miles.

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A Corridor into History

“Let’s get a new engine from Peshawar” and so begin a weekend of adventure. Our faithful red Joy with whom we had traveled the length and breadth of Pakistan had finally stopped in the middle of the road. Simply given up, died. But ours is not a family, not even a nation that gives up. We sought to rejuvenate our eleven year old bride and Peshawar was chosen due its centuries old bazaars which sell every conceivable thing under the sun, its close proximity to our home and of course a couple of friends and places that awaited our presence. It was spring; the weather helped us endure the non-air conditioned, slow journey as our baby was pulled behind the bigger car. Later that night a set of friends suggested a visit to the famous Karkhano Market, a hub of duty free imported nonsense at the gates of the Khyber agency but to make the visit more meaningful another set of friends recommended to extend the visit along a road as old as time and  a journey as ancient as man.

The next morning we piled into the bigger car as our bride was getting a new life in the Kabuli market and onward it was into the Khyber agency and then the Spin Ghar or Safed Koh mountains. Crossing the gate into the agency the road is modern but the bazaar on both sides is rustic and consists mostly of very small grocery stores and very large restaurants with cut up carcasses of lambs hanging outside, their boards showing the now cut up lambs gamboling shyly in vast green fields, ready to be fed to a multitude of meat lovers  in search of authentic Khyber and Shinwari cuisine. In the midst of this haphazard bazaar we crossed the famed Bab-e-Khyber a symbolic entrance to the ancient pass which is also illustrated on the ten rupee banknote. Immediately after it towards the north of the road we were confronted by the famous outpost of the Jamrud Fort whose foundation stone had been laid by the Sikh General Hari Singh Nalwa  in roughly 1836  in commemoration of the Sikh victory and subsequent takeover of Jamrud. A largish fort is now surrounded by fortress like houses on all sides. The population of Khyber still builds high walled houses although more recently constructed and filled with modern amenities.

Through the Plains of Jamrud the road starts to climb and curve around the mountains. The giddy ride was made even more amusing by the amount of modern shops including a pizza parlor with a free home delivery option. The Khyber agency was trying to keep abreast of world too. The valley started closing in on both sides and one could now imagine how armies of invaders all the way back to Darius had traversed through these very ancient walls of the prehistoric mountains. Alexander, Ghengis Khan, Mongol and Muslim rulers had all come down this path in lust of the jewel called India. Millions of caravans had measured its dusty roads as it has been an integral part of the eventful and imperative Silk Road and remained The road into subcontinent until the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the country’s subsequent downfall. Although it currently still is an important trade route as well as a NATO supply route.

The British had built a railway line on which until about a decade ago a steam engine would trudge tourists along its historical turns. However a recent takeover of the agency by armed insurgents has resulted in their blowing up of its sturdy tracks in some places. The government it seems is still busy with other things it considers more important than preserving a potent heritage and an important trade route. The interrupted track still snakes along the road as we move in the entrails of the Spin Ghar range, several tunnels stand with their gaping mouths, each has something written on its entrance, relics of their British builders.

We also pass a large bulbous Stupa on top of a hill to the north, guardian of the pass’s Buddhist past.  Shagai Fort then looms large on to our south, an extensive fortification overlooking the road. The pass then narrows down further, to as legend has it, so slim a path that two laden camels could not have passed one another, this point is called Ali Masjid. The road has now been widened but the steep walls of the mountains still rise ominously close over the road. The road now crawls in the belly of the valley as the Ali Masjid Mosque and Fort look down upon it. The strategic placement of the fort is clear, here was where (if they could be) the conquerors would have been defeated and many were while those whose names live on made it through. Local legend that the Prophet’s (PBUH) cousin Ali led a congregation at the location of the mosque; hence its name. The valley walls are decorated by the shields and the insignia of the valiant’s who have fought here over the past two centuries. Until now a slight river had been flowing along the road but now turns south and the cliffs are dotted here and there by green shrubs and spring wildflowers.

The narrow file then suddenly opens up into a flat plateau; this plate is the ancient city of Landi Kotal. On our way to the border we bypass the city and continue up the road until we see an fort like building atop a cliff overlooking the road. East of the border this is the highest point, this structure is Michni Post. We stop for a wondrous view of the pass as it opens into a large valley.  From the viewing room of the post we enjoy peshawari kehwa and drink in on the horizon, the still snow clad mountains around Kabul while below us the truck and trailer dotted road snakes into Afghanistan. Further west of the post on the mountain side we can see Charbagh Fort and Taimur Lung’s prison, the children shrink in horror as we are told of the steep passage in the prison fitted with blades on top of which enemies were asked to confess or fall in. We also find out the origins of the Khyber Rifles the formerly paramilitary force organized by the British which still maintains law and order in the pass and the agency. The Muzail, a type of rifle was the weapon of choice in the area and when the British thought it prudent to organize the locals into a force to be used in the Afghan wars they asked everyone with the rifle to register; hence the birth of the Khyber Rifles.

It was a treat to view the valley from the calm of the well maintained post and in the care of our very generous hosts. It is a clear day which adds much charm and depth to our view. After which we took a small sojourn on Afghan soil as we crossed the border and turned around. Next stop was the famed Khyber Rifles Mess back at Landi Kotal. We had to ask quite a few people until we finally made it to the mess. Passing several restaurants with ready to barbecue tikka’s wrapped in sheets of fat. It was lunchtime to be fair, hence the drool worthy observation. On entering the Mess gates we were greeted by lush green lawns, an oasis in the center of the dusty frontier town. Peacocks strutted around as long legged cranes sheltered from the sun in green groves. By the mess entrance we saw a huge centurion tree which had been put under ‘arrest’ by a drunk British Officer one night and remains to this day ‘under arrest’.

Inside the mess had an old world charm of dark wood paneling and starched white waiters with perfect manners. Decorated with hundreds of old pictures it required quite a few hours of study which we did not have at the time. We did however view the suite that had been occupied by HRH Diana Princess of Wales on her visit here in the early nineties. Lunch was typical mess fair (our taste buds were still tingling for the fatty lamb we had viewed outside) but the silverware, the crystal ware and the service was like eating in a royal palace; a pleasant experience that added to the old world feeling.

After that it was goodbye to Landi Kotal, not able to visit its famed railway station we had once enjoyed on a former trip, leaving something for next time we turned towards Jamrud and the waiting Karkhano market then towards the vibrant city of Peshawar. Until next time when we will come to sit by the abandoned railway tracks eating barbequed lamb and Shinwari Karai; the pass will remain haunting our memories time and again.

 

 

My Heart My Fellow Traveler

It has been so that life is a travel series, many times I found myself unsettling and settling again. Whether I was ever prepared for this or not, whether I was ever asked or given a choice in this matter; it is not relevant. Hence I once told my mother that since it has always been so and will probably be this way then we should consider this our fate. That suddenly one day, on some whim we will simply pull out our roots and move to new place and be expected to or will automatically re-root. But try as I might I forget that every time one pulls up ones roots a part of them remains in the soil.
If I count the places where parts of my soul remain, even I do not remember fully. A spring breeze, the whiff of night blooming jasmine, an azure blue sky, the shape of a certain building and sometimes even a grain of sand suddenly brings back a strong lucid memory pregnant with nostalgia and brimming with a connection yet unsevered. Arabian nights, Gothic towers, grand green hills, flat dusty plains, desert evenings, lakeshore walks, seaside barbecues; how much of it can I forget and how much of it will I carry inside me forever. Sometimes it overwhelms me and at others it soothes me, if I can carry a whole mountain range in my heart along with the Caspian sea, a crusaders castle, the Bosphorus bridge, the citadel of Allepo and the entire city of Karachi then surely I can make room for a little more.
‘We are leaving the life we know’, my husband found this silly,’ there are entire lives we don’t know about, doesn’t make them unlivable?’ I agree but the more times you put in your roots, the longer you allow them to grow, the harder it is to un-root, move away while the broken and buried limbs lay severed, in utmost pain. Slowly they fossilize and like a missing arm or leg one does learn to live without them. Then one day you remember having that very limb and the fossils awaken for a while, feel stifled and then readjust and fall into slumber. So for now I know that a clean cut is the best but it will take time for the cut to scar over and the skin to re-grow and the memories to fade.

My heart, my fellow traveler
It has been decreed once again
That you and I go into exile,
call out in streets
Roam from dwelling to dwelling
In the hope to find some clue
Leading us to a harbinger
Asking complete strangers
The way to our own home
In this land of strangers
For us to live from day to night
Trying to be understood
To this person then that
What that I should complain to you
The night of separation is best not talked about
It would have been of some comfort
Had the days been numbered
It would have been a comfort to die
Were we allowed to die only once
My heart, my fellow traveler
It has been decreed once again
Faiz Ahmed Faiz (Feebly translated by yours truly)

A Glimpse of Turkey-Part 2

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After waiting (agonizingly, mind you), our transport FINALLY arrived. After loading the luggage and settling in the window seat (It’s essential I always get the window seat), the ratty old car sprang into action and immediately started buzzing by other cars with a speed I did not imagine it could go with. Fearing for my family and my life, I wondered if the “vehicle” would just collapse. Maybe the window seat wasn’t such a good idea after all. It finally stopped at our hotel and I never got out of a vehicle faster. Thanking the Lord, I took in the sight that lay before my eyes.

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The first thing that caught my attention was the street that stretched before me, going on and on. One whole side of the street was laden with fruit stalls. And what a sight it was. Fruits of all kinds graced the stalls and their color was nothing short of vibrant. Imagine one whole side of the street covered with green, red, yellow, orange, maroon and brown, vibrant at the start and fading away as the street stretched on.

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The other side of the street didn’t disappoint either. It was just as beautiful but in a totally different way. Now, it might be my hunger speaking, but it was honestly beautiful! Maybe it was the way that the restaurants that lined the whole street weren’t your average restaurants. They were small and quaint, with seating done outside on the street, with very adorable wooden benches and table, and equally beautiful umbrellas casting a much needed cool shade over the seating area. A chalkboard was placed right next to the entrance, displaying today’s special. The whole look was completed with the waist-high wooden fence with vines enfolding it like garden snakes, wrapping the whole restaurant in a giant hug.

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The aromas of different Turkish delicacies went through my nose and straight to my heart, and I just knew at that moment that I would fall in love with Turkish food and fall in love I did. Our stomach took control after that making the whole checking in the hotel and freshening up process ten times faster. With a giddy smile on our faces, we made our way to one of the restaurants on the street and sat down going through the menu, excited to finally experience authentic Turkish food.

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A Glimpse of Turkey- Part 1

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It was on August 4th, 2014, that I got my first glimpse at the shore of turkey. Despite my groggy state and red eyes that begged me to give them a rest, courtesy of the 5-hour flight from Dubai, I couldn’t help but stare at the vast expanse of the Mediterranean through the plane window. The sun had just come up an hour ago, and the sunlight hit the ocean at just the right angle to give the illusion of diamonds floating in the water. To say I was flabbergasted by the beauty of it would be an understatement.

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Having grown up near the sea for the majority of my life had made me love the oceans, sea, beaches, lake, you name it and I’m pretty sure I would be in love with that water body. So just imagine my state when my eyes laid upon nothing but water as I stared out the window. I could see small ships resembling raisins from such a height. I kept on watching as the ships became denser and the variety increased as well. And finally, I could see the coast of Istanbul and nothing- not even the wailing baby-could have me take my eyes off such a majestic sight.

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Fast forward 2 hours and I’m standing outside the airport with my family, the sun beating down on us with such a ferocity that had me thinking if it had some personal issues with us. I guess you could only appreciate the sun when you’re sitting in a comfortable seat, in a cold environment with a blanket wrapped around you, looking out of the plane and thanking the sun for make it look like barrels of diamond exploded in the sea.

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 Too bad I couldn’t glare back at the sun. I don’t think my corneas would have appreciated it. Anyway, squinting my eyes and assessing the view before me, the very first thing that I noticed was the diversity. Of course, standing in front of an international airport of the world’s most 2nd visited country will make you notice that. But the diversity I noticed was not among the crowds of people rushing past me. No, it was the taxi drivers that caught my eye. I could see people of all skin tones, speaking different versions of Arabic, I saw Chinese, I saw Americans and some South Asians here and there too. Being a big fan of diversity, I felt a smile gracing my lips.

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Singapore – From my eyes II

In the past 5 decades, Singapore has come really far. From a small island expelled from Malaysia in 1965, giving it an unwanted independence, it has become one of the world’s most successful countries in merely 52 years. If you sit and chat with the elderly, they will tell you about slums they used to live in during the earlier years of independence. Today, Singapore has the highest home ownership in the world. Almost 90% of all Singaporeans live in their own homes. A huge success on its own. It has grown from a third world country to a first world country faster than any other in the world.

Tourism is one important factor in the massive economic growth of Singapore. So a country a lot of people did not even know about in the 90s is now one of the favourite tourist spots in the world. It welcomes the fourth largest number of tourists when compared to any other city in the world. Although it has no ‘rich’ history or heritage to boast about as its a new country with no mountains, no desserts and no changing weathers through out the year, nearly every thing had to be built from scratch to attract tourists.

So if you are planning a short trip to a city in Asia, do consider Singapore.

I will be doing a series of posts with a few recommendations of must see/visit places and things to do while here in Singapore, starting with Sentosa.

Why?

Because its Sentosa 🙂

I don’t think anyone who visits Singapore leaves out Sentosa. It’s a must!

The itinerary I’m sharing with you will need to 2-3 days. You can stay at one of the hotels at Sentosa for the best experience.

You can reach sentosa in a cable car and start by paying a visit to the mythical 37 meters high majestic Merlion and see for yourself how it safeguards the shores of Singapore as the legend goes.

Then move onto the luge. They claim no one does it once and they are not wrong. We go to sentosa almost every month and we buy a 3-time ticket per visit. Its just a lot of fun.

You can then visit IFly and experience skydiving in a especially designed air tunnel while never really jumping out of an air plane. If you acrophobic like me, this is for you as you would never actually be flying too high up from the ground. 

If you are still not tired and adventurous enough, you can zip across South East Asia’s steepest zip wire, do a treetop obstacle rope course, do wall climbing or a 15 m free fall. And then you can end the day with the majestic light, laser and water show ‘Wings of Time’.

If you are travelling with kids, let the kids spend the day at Kidzania while you can have a snooze at one of the beaches or experience flow boarding at the Wave House. If that’s not enough, there is also The Butterfly and Insect Kingdom to explore the various different kinds of beautiful butterflies. And dont forget to drop by Madame Tussaud to meet your favourite celebrities. 

*The pictures are not mine, all taken from official websites of the respective attractions.

Around Tokyo 2

I dont even know if saying ‘sorry’ would suffice. By looking at my blog stats, I know many of you come back every now and then to check whether I have updated the blog or not. I cant do mch cept to say that I will upate the blog more frequently, but  cant promise.

Anyway, this post was long due, I should have done it at least a week back but its finally here! 🙂

Tokyo Disney Land

Oh I wish I was able to visit a place like this 12-15 years back. I am definitely not saying I didnt enjoy my trip, but obviously it would have been great wen I was growing up with all the Disney characters. It would have been simply amazing if I could, back then, see all my favorite Disney characters leaping out of the television. Anyway, here are a few videos which we made during our stay there.

Palaces and Shrines

Street Performance

I dont think need to say much about this cept that it was completely beautiful.

Note: Btw, I have updated my previous post with a few pictures.