As Indian travellers, we constantly find ourselves in awe of what our precious homeland has to offer. There’s a lot going on in the country at any given moment, but while a lot of lunch hours are spent laughing at the latest political gaffes, ours are often filled with stories of snow-clad mountains, wildlife, friendly folk or flavours that we’ve recently encountered. To celebrate 69 years of India’s independence, we decided to compile our favourite moments that have left us feeling just a little more proud of this splendid country.
“Travelling through India is a lesson in biodiversity. The country has such diverse landscapes, which in turn host such an astounding number of animal species: rhino in the east, elephants in the south, lions in the west, and tigers, well, in many places, but predominantly, in the heart of central India. Every time I see a tiger in a forest, apart from being rendered speechless, I feel a fair bit of pride that we’re custodians of this creature that people travel so far to see. There are other places in the world to see them, yes, but the experience of seeing them in this habitat is unparalleled.”
–Sejal Mehta, Former Editor, Web
“Growing up in the Indian Navy community, pride in the country was imbibed early – your parents lived and breathed it, and so did the cosmopolitan community you lived and moved across states with. But it was on the Konkan Railways that I first remember something bordering on awe and love well up in me for this land, for the tremendous breadth and richness of this vibrant country. Chugging down the coast from our Mumbai home, watching the Maharashtrian black soil shift shades across fields and barns and rivers and seas to the earthy reds of my grandparents’ homes in Kottayam in Kerala, was a quick lesson in geography and my countrymen, but it was also a chance to step away from the routine and just be. Summer, monsoon, winter – the steadfast chugging through the chaotic, shape-shifting scenery had a hypnotic lull and a magnetic pull that is still irresistible.
I’ve made quite a few life-changing decisions on those 28-hour train rides over the years, watching the clouds of my mind scud over the rhythmically changing landscape. It’s a journey that has woven me into the picture, land and sea opening out before me and making me feel like I belonged even when I didn’t know the language and was just passing through; a journey when all that was expected of me was to look out of the window, maybe over a cup of the Railways’ signature tomato soup, and take in all of the beauty. Perhaps the best way to begin appreciating a country that never ceases to surprise – where the impossible is always probable and the miraculous is a necessity – might just be sitting down with your eyes wide open and your destination assured!”
–Saumya Ancheri, Assistant Editor, Web
“The thought of travelling through India fills me with a kind of unbridled wonder that’s really hard to explain. In my mind, the country fans out from Mumbai, where I’ve lived all my life, like a map of networks waiting to be explored. I was in Kerala recently, and in the span of a week was privy to the nicest cold in the hill station of Munnar, the most gentle breezes in Alleppey and the sunny pristine beaches of Varkala. In Munnar, we drove past lush tea plantations and tall, never-ending eucalyptus trees which I found myself often craning to look up at. A couple of days later, I was in the midst of a calm that I hadn’t ever encountered before, on a shikara boat in the backwaters of Alleppey. A few days after that, I was paddling out to sea on a surfboard in Varkala. I hadn’t imagined the extent of expanse and experiences that one state could offer, and to think there’s a whole country brimming with stories to encounter. I can hardly wait.”
–Fabiola Monteiro, Features Writer, Web
“Some of my favourite memories of travelling through India are from a college trip to Sikkim, because I got to see and experience so much of this gorgeous country all in the span of about 10 days. The train ride from Mumbai to New Jalpaiguri via Kolkata took us through a handful of states, with the landscape changing all the time – rolling hills, dusty flatlands, dry shrubs and barely-there rivers, all baking in the sweltering May heat. Sikkim was a whole other story. Lush, green forests, cool mountain rivers and even snow!
As with all my trips, food featured heavily in this one too. Apart from the usual junk we snacked on in the train, I distinctly remember eating some killer samosas and a mean dal-bhel at a tiny station, gorging on luscious Muzzaffarnagar lychees in Kolkata, and having the best momos (cliched, I know, but they really were brilliant) in Gangtok. That trip was one of the first times I realized that India’s got everything we could want to see, and then some.”
–Kamakshi Ayyar, Features Writer, Web
“Every time I travel across India, I find new reasons to marvel at this place I call home. Our history, gorgeous landscapes, and the ways in which some people tirelessly work to preserve what we have, fills me with awe.
I felt a fierce sense of pride when I witnessed the infinite white of the Great Rann of Kutch, but more so when I travelled around local artisans’ villages who weave wonders with ethnic fabrics and handicrafts. At Hodka, Bhujodi, and Patan, I met local artists and felt a sense of connection with their art and stories that I haven’t experienced at foreign shores. A few years later, a visit to the caves of Ellora and Ajanta instilled an enduring love for Indian architecture, mythology and folklore. It is the same inherently Indian connection and comfort that I seek when I visit Hampi every few years.
There is also something to be said of the enterprising homestay owner in the once obscure hamlet of Darap in Sikkim that I visited many years ago. He was a former mountaineer, and had built beautiful log houses in the village, hoping to establish responsible tourism in the area. As I sat with the family at dinner in their makeshift basement kitchen, eating freshly plucked, deliciously cooked vegetables, I knew few other places could come this close to being home.”
–Kareena Gianani, Associate Editor
“As with most people of this generation, I’ve never identified with patriotism the way generations before me would have. But in my travels, I’ve often found myself gaping at the beauty that India has to offer. My first memory of this feeling is from when I was in primary school holidaying at Kausani, Uttarakhand. I remember a sleepless night, scared that a leopard would manage to come into our hotel, and was very reluctant to get out of bed the next morning. Looking back, I’m glad I did wake up because I haven’t yet witnessed a sunrise as beautiful. The snow-white Himalayan summits went from crimson to fiery orange to pure gold and the peaks of the Nanda Devi and Trishul gleamed while I only stared and smiled. I don’t remember every detail of the many family trips that followed but I remember being struck by that same sense of awe at other instances too – two of which were influenced by indigenous cultural traditions. One is memory of a cold winter night by a bonfire, in Shantiniketan near Kolkata. Comfortably warming my hand with an earthen mug of tea, I remember welcoming the New Year listening to Baul singers croon and twirl to tunes of their song and the iktara. The next time, there was fire as well, in this instance it was flickering flames of diyas dancing across the painted faces of Kathakali performers in Kochi. It made their nails gleam brighter and their wide eyes more haunting. The last time I had such wide eyes was on a recent trip to Purushwadi, Maharashtra to witness the dance of the fireflies. Every branch of every tree along the slopes lit up as if decorated with a string of blinking fairy lights. With every flicker I was left a little more in awe, and in love with the land that shelters such magnificence.”
–Rumela Basu, Features Writer
“On a recent trip to Amritsar, my husband and I decided to visit Sarai Amanat Khan, a guesthouse built by Amanat Khan, the calligrapher of the Taj Mahal, during the 17th century. An hour away from the city, we sped through endless mustard fields on the Attari route till we finally reached a tiny hamlet engulfed by this grand Mughal ruin.
The minute my husband and I stepped out of the car, children of all ages ran towards us and cows followed. Other village folk peeped out of the ornate windows of the once splendid sarai and stared curiously. It is here we met Baljitji – an old Sikh man with a long beard in a torn white kurta. He asked us if he could show us around. A guide would be helpful, we discussed, especially since there was no information plaque around.
The tour with Baljitji started from the sarai’s main courtyard. As we climbed a narrow staircase above the horse stables, he started to tell us about the lives of the villagers who had now made this ignored monument their home. We walked over ancient rubble and finally made way to the main mosque. The sun had begun to set. Baljitji’s anecdotes had made time fly. It was time to head back.
Thanking him, we dug into our pockets to offer him some money for his service. He suddenly looked very upset. “This is my home and you are my guests, how can I take money from you?” We were suddenly very embarrassed. The big city hangover had made exchanging money for time the most obvious thing to do. But how do you put a price on hospitality? “Don’t leave just yet, my wife will prepare a meal for you,” he said pointing to a little home far away in the fields.
We stood there speechless and an unexplained emotion welled up in my throat. We had just witnessed the soul of our country.”
–Diviya Mehra, Art Director
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