Anybody who wants to write has to read. Reading is not just about words or texts, it also includes places, people’s faces, their behavior and their culture. So, after reading about all these things for the three weeks that I intended to spend in India, I am all set to write again.
India is a place where I was born, so I can’t visit it as a tourist but I can certainly travel around like an explorer, which I usually do with all places, including all small and big villages of Mauritius. Although India is such a vast country, it is impossible to explore the whole of it in one lifetime. This one country consists of 29 States and 722 districts, most of them the size of Mauritius. So, instead of visiting other countries, I prefer to visit India on every holiday. Although journalists are supposed to be jack of all trades and master of none, I prefer to be master of one. After traveling regularly for around one decade to India, there are still many States left that I have never visited. This time, in these three weeks, I have travelled to India, starting from the centre in Delhi across the West in Rajasthan to the South in Tirupathi and then to North in the State of Uttarakhand.
So this year, my journey starts with Delhi as usual. The airport welcomed me at 6:00 am, wrapped in a chilling atmosphere. Those who are planning to visit India are advised to keep warm clothes in their luggage so that you can wear them before exiting the airport, as I did. This year, I choose a hotel in the Karol Bagh area, as I was planning to do some shopping. Friends had told me that Karol Bagh is good for shopping. At 7:00 am, the place was too quiet compared to Mauritius. I love this fact about Mauritius, where people rise early and sleep early. After freshening up and having had my breakfast, I started hearing the sound of hawkers hollering: “Everything for 50 rupees.”
At 11:00 am, I entered the market and if I say that this place is good for shopping, it is the understatement of the year. This place is a shopping paradise for every kind of budget. One can buy things as from Rs 10 to Rs 100,000 on one same street. The Corderie Street in Port Louis is easily comparable to Karol Bagh in Delhi. Although there are a few other such known places, which are also called shopping paradises in Delhi, like Sarojini Market, Chandni Chowk, among others, I personally haven’t visited them.
From luxury shopping malls to street side showrooms and flea markets, Delhi is a shopper’s paradise. You will find everything from high-end brands to handcrafted artisanal products and all within your budget, whatever it may be."
From luxury shopping malls to street side showrooms and flea markets, Delhi is a shopper's paradise. You will find everything from high-end brands to handcrafted artisanal products and all within your budget, whatever it may be. So after increasing one more bag in my luggage and still unsatisfied with my shopping, we headed to our next destination.
From Delhi, the next stop was the Rajasthan State of ‘havelis’ (mansions), kings and desert. The State election was in full swing when I entered the State, so my car was stopped for checking. The officer grew suspicious after seeing four big bags, however, when he noticed the airport badges, he just asked a few questions and apologized for the inconvenience. As we moved on and whenever we stopped for some snacks, the only topic of discussion was the elections and how the Congress Party was giving a hard time to the ruling BJP party.
The capital city Jaipur, of Rajasthan State, was more vibrant than its colour pink this time, due to the elections. Everywhere posters of politicians and party flags were hanging high in the sky. Although all this election chaos is not so disturbing, the regular day-to-day life of residents and tourists was more vibrant. The old city of Jaipur is surrounded by four walls and seven gates and is always colorful. If you see this city from Nahargarh Fort on a hill nearby, you will realize that this city itself is a piece of jewellery adorned with diamonds.
Colorful sarees, colorful handicraft, jaipuri juttis, along with jaipuri Razai (quilt) can be seen spread outside shops. One cannot resist buying a few things from this colorful city and especially when the prices are so alluring. The promotional 40 kg weight, given by Air Mauritius seems to be so less impressive in these Indian markets. Alas, after Rajasthan, we took a flight from Jaipur International Airport, where I came to know that I can come directly from Mauritius to Jaipur via Dubai.
The flight to Tirupathi was more or less without any special event. I didn’t spot any film star or any celebrity, as I always did. Last time, I shared the journey with the famous Indian lyricist Javed Akhtar and spotted Prabhas, the “Bahubali” star at Hyderabad airport. But this time, it was only me and big posters of Kareena Kapoor in a publicity for jewelry. Tirupati is also a good place to buy gold jewelry with 24-karat gold with a thousand options of beautiful designs. First, we decided to visit the local temples of Tirupati and then next day, we went for the blessings of ‘Lord of Seven Hills’, Lord Venkateshwara, whose temple is situated on a high hill called Tirumala, 20 kilometers from Tirupati, the city of temples.
Every temple has a ‘Sarva-Darshan’, which is open for everyone for free along but there are special paid entrances for the temple, a concept which I didn’t like much, but that’s how the administration handle the large crowds, I guess. As for me, I entered the NRI line which opens at 12:00 every day, and you have to pay Rs 300 per head and for kids up to 12 years, it is free. I asked the person at the ticket counter about the number of Mauritians that might have visited this temple. He replied that he hasn’t kept a record but roughly 10,000 Mauritians may visit this place every year. We stayed in line for one hour and finally got the divine glimpses of Lord Venkateshwara. All fatigue vanished with one glimpse. This always happens when you have waited for a long time to see the deity. Lord Venkateshwara is a manifestation of Maha Vishnu, husband of Maha Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth. One can feel the presence of Maha Lakshmi, as every corner of temple which is adorned with gold. Even the dome of temple is made out of pure gold.
So after visiting all major places, it was time to travel from the place of coconut oil to the place of mustard oil. Yes, the oil used by people changes when one travels North from South in India. In the South, as the temperature is moderate, people use coconut oil for mostly everything like cooking, massage, hair, among others, whereas in the Northern States, during winter, people start using mustard oil for massage and even cooking and oiling hair.
So, with peace in our hearts, we headed North in the State of Uttarakhand. The State where the famous cities of Haridwar and Hrishikesh along with Nainitaal and Dehradun are found. But I headed to a smaller town called Kainchi Dham in Bhowali Range. A place where the late apple CEO, Steve Jobs, came when he had lost all hopes in his business. After a few decades, Mark Zukerberg, too, has same lost hopes in his own enterprise, Steve Jobs advised him to visit the same ashram. Like Steve Jobs, Mark Zukerberg also got his hopes back and reentered the social media business with a bang.
I wanted to know what this place has that gives you back your hopes. At first sight, this place seems to be very modest. It has an ashram surrounded by small temples and a flowing river by its side. But as you enter, you realize it is more a place for meditation than religious undertakings, a place where you can connect with yourself if you really want to. Exploring inside out is my mantra while travelling. So for two days, I stayed at this place to connect with myself. I will also be exploring the Himalayan State of Uttarakhand for my next travelogue. So stay tuned.