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Alive is awesome

The magic of travel and why I do it

Looking back through the years, digging around my archives, re-living lost memories and dusting out old photographs as a part of the Alive and Awesome series of posts has been quite an interesting experience for me.

Alive is awesome
Why I travel: to witness sights like these

Sometimes, in the business of going about our humdrum activities and daily life, we need to latch on to some of these moments and I must say that I’ve been lucky to have lived through quite a few of them. So on those not so exciting days (which I hope gets over as soon), I try and bring back my memories and I feel better already.

Alive is awesome
There’s a whole new world out there
Alive is awesome
Discover and experience!

Alive is awesome
Seeing things with a different perspective is what I learnt from my numerous travels

So when I started thinking about experiences that make me feel alive, I realized that they largely revolve around travel. Which means that it’s an essential part of me and what I enjoy. Something that has gone on to define me through the years.

I think that the ability to let your preconceptions go, absorb new sights and places, try and understand people in the context of geography and history adds so much to our perspective and life’s impressions. On a certain level, you also learn not to take things, and yourself, too seriously. Especially when you feel how small a stitch you are in tapestry of the universe.

Alive is awesome
Man and the mountains: the contrast

And in no particular order, here’s a list of what gets me going, what makes me pack my bags and take off and what makes me feel alive!

Food: I am an out and out foodie. In fact, when I see people who are indifferent to food, I get a little depressed. The adage, “living to eat” is what I stand by. Thankfully, I found a man who loves food as much as I do. So much so that we go on diets together now after days of binge eating. But yes, cuisines and different tastes are what I love exploring. And whether it’s the chaat in Delhi, or the yummy Calcutta rolls, the pad thai in that hole in the wall Bangkok restaurant in San Francisco, or the seafood paella I gorged on in Barcelona, tastes and flavours excite me and that’s one aspect of travel I really enjoy.

Alive is awesome
Delicious paella, have to go back!
Alive is awesome
Stuffed capsicum cooked by a friend in Barcelona

People: There all kinds of people in the world and what would we be if we didn’t interact, share and exchange ideas with at least a fraction of them? Unless of course you’re a hermit who is comfortable in the cave and don’t want to come out of hiding! In most cases, during my travels, I meet interesting and memorable people. That person who goes way out to help you get somewhere; someone you keep bumping into whenever you go; a kindred spirit you meet and bond with immediately. Or even a bus driver who agrees to go a little out of the way. Kids on the road who are not at all shy to talk to you. (And I must admit that there are also not so nice people but if you’re careful enough, in most cases your senses are heightened enough by years of travel to recognise them!). And aren’t these experiences enriching enough to make you want to pack your bags again?

Alive is awesome
Witness the innocence of youth
Alive is awesome
Children are usually not self conscious

Sights and sounds: A valley in the middle of nowhere in Bhutan, the rays of the morning sun on a monastery in Dharmasthala, the expanse of the icy slopes of Auli, the picture perfect lake in Lausanne, the icy slopes of Tawang, and the beautiful high-ceiling train station in Washington… it’s the sights and sounds that keep coming back to me. They also remind me that we live in an immense world, where there are bigger things that we can even imagine.

Alive is awesome
A valley in Bhutan
Alive is awesome
And it’s good to be alive!
Alive is awesome
The heady rush at Hoggenhakkal falls
Alive is awesome
Down the river we go!

Perceptions: You think something. But you discover something else totally. You have fixed ideas but you go to a new place, see something new and realize that there are things beyond your zen. And I think it’s a good feeling if you embrace it and take it in a positive manner. Your sense of curiosity and your ability to change and adapt is honed with your ability to travel and experience things outside your comfort zone.

Alive is awesome
A monastery door

I couldn’t have really put it better than this link I found via Huffington Post: “Travel is important because it fundamentally transforms us. This experience of waking up to the power of your own transformation fires you up to “be the change you want to see in the world,” as Gandhi puts it.”

Some of the visuals from the Cinthol campaign, if you’ve watched them on TV or read about them online, brought back really great memories from my own travels. I’m happy I went out of my comfort zone when I was able (and still am!). And if I hadn’t and had just stuck to my own sheltered world, I’d probably be a very different person. And I much prefer the person I am today.

Alive is awesome
Cycling and camping at the Dudhsagar falls in Goa

While there’s still time, stop making excuses, pack your bags and go!

Alive is awesome
A new place, a new sight, a new experience!

There is nothing quite like riding in the rains, especially if you’re on a bicycle in the lush Coorg countryside soaked to the core. Or watching the sun go down in Chikmagalur.

I could show you a picture but there’s nothing quite close to the real experience. I wish I could relate in words the expanse of the valleys of Bhutan, the quietness and solitude of the Dragon’s Nest monastery in Paro. I have pictures, but no words can imagine the rush of climbing up and come face to face with this beautiful sight.

I can tell you that river rafting is really good fun as you go careening down in that one boat hanging on for life, but you need to get on to one for yourself. I can describe how delicious the paella is as you bite into the seafood pieces and the soft rice, but wouldn’t you like to get a taste for yourself?

Alive is awesome
An experience you’ll remember for a long time!

Travel when you have the time and energy. And more importantly, the desire. Don’t let excuses, kids and other baggage get into the way! See the world, experience the people, walk other streets than just your neighbourhood. Taste and appreciate cuisine that is vastly different to yours. Dive into the sea and get a feel of life under water. Climb the highest mountain in your state and witness the most magnificent view. These moments are priceless. These moments will make you feel more alive than you’ve ever felt. That is a guarantee!

Alive is awesome
Feeling alive at the top of the Bandaje Abbe waterfalls (photo credit: Silvester Divas)

So what are you waiting for? Go pack your bags and book your tickets already!
Why travel makes us happy

Why we travel

Pico Iyer’s why we travel

(This is a part of the blogging series for the Alive is Awesome bathing project by Cinthol)

Fancy a polar plunge bath? Head to:
- Lake Hudson, Canada
– Outer Glaciers, Iceland
– Beardmore Glacier, Antarctica
– Northern Borders, Greenland

More in the Alive is Awesome series:
Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. You can also read the icy experience, mountain and icy water crossings and my first ocean bath!

(All photographs in this post are mine, unless credited otherwise).

Ocean bath

Feeling alive: My first ocean bath!

There were butterflies in my stomach.

I forgot everything the instructor told me the day before. And there was quite a lot of it.

The vast sight of the endless ocean is enough to get even an expert swimmer nervous, I’ve heard. So I took consolation in the fact that I’m not even an expert.

The endless ocean

The endless ocean stretches out into the horizon

The blue green shimmering sea beckons

The blue green shimmering sea beckons

Yes, I know how to swim. In a pool, I could probably save a life too. But here, many miles from the shore, in the middle of a shimmering blue green ocean, and a boat which was swaying with the waves, the slight panic was unavoidable. It was fear, mixed with a heightened sense of anticipation.

I’ve never actually jumped into the ocean before. I’ve frolicked with the waves, like everyone does when they go to a beach. But jump and swim? Never. And jump and dive? Ditto!

Even with a life jacket tied firmly and an instructor who kept telling me to breathe normally, I had my doubts.

But… there I was! Out in the ocean somewhere off the Andaman islands. In a boat in the middle of nowhere. And I’d paid quite a bit to get there.

And that’s how my ocean bath happened. Watching the ocean bath in Cintol’s “Alive is Awesome” series, I can now say that I did it too.

Getting ready for the jump!

Getting ready for the jump!

What a feeling!

What a feeling!

It was definitely an experience to remember. The instructors checked if the life jackets are tied properly. Whether the oxygen tanks were full and working. And then, the boat was tethered to the depth of the ocean. It was time.

I must admit (much as I’d like to say I was very brave and didn’t feel an iota of fear) that it wasn’t my most confident moment. But it was definitely my “alive is awesome” moment. You know the feeling? When there’s fear, but the anticipation of the larger experience takes over. I let go of the safety of the rocking boat, I looked around one time at the mighty ocean, at my smiling instructor and took the plunge.

Next, was the big splash as I entered the water and then went under, letting out my breath the entire time. The water wasn’t as cold as it looked, in fact it was quite warm in those tropical climes. A few seconds later, I was back with my head out of the water and suddenly everything looked well again in the world. I was afloat and I could see the others heading towards the rope.

The very rope which we were going to use to lower ourselves into the ocean. But that is a different story, already told in this tale about my Andamans experience.

The warm tropical waters makes it easier when you jump!

The warm tropical waters makes it easier when you jump!

Jumping into the waters, this first dive into the ocean, getting engulfed by the waves gave me the feeling of how “tiny” I was in the middle of this endless ocean. But there is only one word that can describe what I felt when I jumped and emerged out of the water… alive!

Making our way through the waters

Making our way through the waters

Alive is awesome!

Alive is awesome!

– Come with me as I experience the village bath experience, the anticipation of first rain, the elephant bath, the “ice-ice” baby feeling and the cold mountain water crossing experience!

This is a part of the Alive is Awesome campaign from Godrej Cinthol. For fun contests and the latest visuals swing by this page).

Mountains and river crossings

Mountains and water crossings: ooh, aah, shiver!

Alive is AwesomeWe surveyed the scene before us. But none of us wanted to take the plunge.

The cold mountain water gushed out from the left embankment of the road, formed a big pool of water and then gushed into the valley below. Ordinarily, we wouldn’t have bothered at all and walked through. But this was different. This was ice cold water that none of us wanted to wade through.

alive is awesome

After our first day in the mountains, all of us got wise and bought ourselves gumboots. Perhaps the best accessory purchase decision we made before the trip.

We were somewhere on the way to Leh, having started from Manali. And to add to our woes, we were on two non-mechanized human powered wheels. Also called bicycles.

alive is awesome

If cycling wasn’t foolhardy enough, we were also trying it with gumboots. Wasn’t exactly a very pleasant activity. There were times when I badly wanted to throw them out, but the thought of these icy water crossings would keep us going.

We were a set of 10 brave souls who decided to weather the cold climes, the non-existent roads and unfriendly terrain to cycle up to Leh. And no, we hadn’t accounted for the cold water crossings we would encounter. Brrrr!

alive is awesome

Have you ever felt the first sting of ice cold water on skin? You brave yourself, shiver in anticipation, say a small prayer or mutter an expletive and then take the plunge. No sooner than having put your feet in water, the cold chill envelops you and you try and run. Which makes it worse, of course.
alive is awesome

By the time you cross over, you’ve already got your feet wet. And by such time, the cold seeps into your socks, your feet and even your clothes. It’s at this crucial juncture that you start wondering what on earth possessed you to even venture into this alien land.

By the time were on day 3 or 4, one member of our tribe, decided that he had to get a taste of what it really felt like. He decided to have a bath right there. Probably a good thing, since he hadn’t actually had a proper bath for a few days!

alive is awesome

Some of us weren’t that brave.

But the more I think about it, the more I feel that even despite the cold, even despite the icy waters, there was something that felt so good. It was in the fresh air, it was in the sparkling water. It was everywhere!

It was one of those times when we went with the flow. We didn’t care for the date or day of the week. We would sit on the cycle everyday, with a simple goal of making it through the day. Alive and dry.

Those ten days in the mountains, were some of the most memorable times we’ve had… Come rain, sunshine, slush or even icy river crossings, we’d be on our cycles riding hard and giving it all. And we’d never felt so happy and alive!

alive is awesome

More in this “Alive is Awesome” series for Cinthol:

What makes you feel alive? Splash!
First rain – have you felt it lately?
A jumbo bath experience can be fun
Ice, ice baby and taking the plunge!

Ice, Ice, Baby!

Ice, Ice baby: Things that make you feel alive!

There’s something about the cold and sub-zero temperatures that’s both spine-chilling and exciting at the same time. It makes you go “brrr” and yet the chill in the bone also gets you high (in the good sense!). When you see mountaineers climb the Everest, wrapped up in many, many layers of warm jackets or people visiting the coldest places on earth, it makes you wonder – are they really enjoying the extreme cold?

Road to Tawang

The higher you go, the colder it gets…

More importantly still, how do they even dare to take a bath?

This week’s Cinthol ad, where 3 intrepid people plunge into a polar bath literally made me shiver… The very thought of jumping into a pool where the water is many degrees below zero brings on the goosebumps, or gooselumps, as it says. It takes some courage, added with a bit of craziness to pull it off. And probably shouldn’t be attempted without parental supervision! (Or someone to pull you out, since once you’re in the freezing cold water, you might not actually be able to get out on your own.)

It reminded me of an adventure we had in the North East, a few years ago. Though we didn’t actually take the plunge, it was the closest we got to it! Four of us, intrepid travellers, decided to go and visit a few places including Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh), Shillong (Meghalaya) and Guwahati and Hajo (Assam). The travel to Tawang is an ardous though very scenic journey, which takes all of the day in a cab, along the most winding roads you’ll ever experience. In fact, you wouldn’t really want to roll down your window and look down at any point of time. Especially, if you suffer from vertigo.

It was March, but never the less, the temperatures in Tawang were already hitting the low digits. Our plan was to take a jeep and go further up the hills where we would see snow and also skirt very close to the China border. Both rather exciting propositions for us!

Misty day near Tawang

The cold and mist makes for very low visibility

As we ventured towards the colder climes, the mist in the air made it almost impossible for us to see anything. All we could feel was the cold seeping through our jackets and sweaters and into our bones. We tried to keep warm in the vehicle by huddling together, but there’s little you can do to beat the cold.

We came across a frozen lake bed. Further down, we came across another lake, but this one had melted slightly – the sun had managed to beat it down. The water looked cool and inviting. But jump in? No way! In fact, it was torture to even put a hand into the cold waters.

A close encounter with sub-zero temperatures

A close encounter with sub-zero temperatures!

Will he, won't he!

Will he, won’t he (jump)? He definitely won’t! And thank goodness, since none of would have been able to brave the cold and fish him out!

We skirted the lake, went around it, even posed behind it. It was possibly one of the remotest, coldest places I’d been to. I was freezing and yet I felt a sense of being alive and whole and what a feeling it was.

Exploring the frozen lake

Exploring the frozen lake and hoping there aren’t any gaps!

The frozen lake

Doing a quick jig in the ice!

So I can well imagine what would happen if I got the opportunity to plunge into a polar bath. But if I ever get a change, I’m definitely packing extra dollops of courage and lots of warm clothes to get into, “afterwards”. And if I survived to tell the tale, it would definitely be a very cold and wet one!

(This is a part of the blogging series for the Alive is Awesome bathing project by Cinthol)

Fancy a polar plunge bath? Head to:
- Lake Hudson, Canada
– Outer Glaciers, Iceland
– Beardmore Glacier, Antarctica
– Northern Borders, Greenland

More in the Alive is Awesome series:
Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

First rain

What makes you feel alive? First rain!

Alive is AwesomeThis is a series of posts where I am going to ponder about the feeling of “being alive”. Has it ever hit you? Sometimes in quiet moments and sometimes in your wildest hours, you feel exhilarated, you are glad you’re able to be “there”, enjoying that point in time, doing something that makes you feel “alive”. It’s an amazing feeling, for sure.

This is a part of the blogging series for the Alive is Awesome campaign by Cinthol. Part 1 can be found here.

First rain


As kids, the story is different. You want to feel the raindrops against your skin, against your face, against your limbs, soaked to the core.

I remember my growing up days in Guwahati, Assam. We lived in a house on the hill. In hindsight, it was paradise. From our little hill, we had a great view, shaded by some huge trees. We didn’t mind that at all. Our neighbours M and R and their parents, who lived downstairs, went on to become part of our extended family.

My sister and I would spend most of our time with M and R. We only needed a excuse to get together. Whether it was to go out and play, tell bad jokes or gossip, we spent most of our time outdoors, much to the chagrin of our respective mothers who always wanted to rule us with an iron hand (at least ours did, and still does!).

There were different things we looked forward to, but this I remember vividly. Waiting for the first burst of “rain” after those hot and humid summer months. The north east of the country gets generous doses of rain. And we would wait impatiently every summer, counting down the days to when the “rains” would arrive… So we could run out and get soaking wet. While the respective moms would scream at us. They didn’t quite understand the simple pleasures of just welcoming the rain, arms turned heavenwards.

Rain pouring down

We would do this for hours and hours. We were determined to enjoy ourselves and that we did. With arms wide askance, we would simply embrace the rain and let it soak us completely. The scent of the earth after the first shower, as the hungry soil just takes it all in, can is quite magical. The flora and fauna drenched in a coat of raindrops makes for a refreshing and pretty sight.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.  ~ e.e. cummings

It made us feel happy. It made us feel alive! Now, when we hear any sign of rain, we rush indoors or look for an umbrella for the fear of getting wet.

Well, next time, there’s any sign of rain, try this – throw caution to the winds, open your arms wide and embrace the feeling. It’s quite amazing!

So what childhood memories do you recall that made you felt alive?

(This is a part of the blogging series for the Alive is Awesome campaign by Cinthol)

What makes you feel alive?

What makes you feel alive? Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts where I am going to ponder about the feeling of “being alive”. I am sure it’s something all of you have experienced. Sometimes in quiet moments and sometimes in your wildest hours, when you’re exhilarated… When you’re totally in the moment, doing something that makes you feel “alive”.

My heart will go on

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