A year on wheels – 2016 (Part 1 of 2)

As a part of growing up, my birthday was the most important day of the year for me and I am sure it is the same for most of the kids. You get all the attention possible, from friends and family. In your space, the bunch of gifts and the birthday celebration makes you feel like a king or queen of your own small empire. I feel the extent to which one celebrates their birthday and the excitement it entails, if plotted on a graph will look somewhat like a bell curve that peaks quickly and gradually tapers off. You are the most excited when you are young and as you grow up, the quantum of celebrations become less prolific. For me, never has an upcoming birthday brought so much of skepticism than this one. I turn 30 in 2017 and suddenly on the other side as they call it. The more “experienced” folks tell me that thirty is the start and end of a few things in life. However, the thing that has started and surely will not end is my travel.

At no other point in life, I was more excited about travel as a concept than I am right now. 2016 was a stellar travel year for me where I did 3 international and 6 domestic trips. Apart from this, my job allowed me to take 60+ flights in 2016 which cannot really be termed as travel though I managed to see more than 12 cities during these business trips. The 3 international trips were to Singapore, Central Europe (France, Switzerland and Monaco) and Thailand. The domestic trips were to Goa, Udaipur, Aurangabad (Ajanta and Ellora Caves), Kasuali, Mussoorie and Pondicherry. As I sit right now in an airport lounge coming back from my year end Pondicherry trip, reflecting on the year gone by and making plans for the next, I cannot but fail to think of what all I have experienced during the past year. While 2017 definitely looks exciting with international trips to Everest Base Camp, Italy and US in the pipeline, it will be unfair if I didn’t pen down what 2016 gave me as traveler. This is the first of a two part blog with I am publishing to capture my travels in 2016.

The first excursion of the year was to the city state of Singapore. The 5 day trip was to celebrate my first marriage anniversary and so I added a touch of grandeur to it. I stayed in an uptown hotel at the centrally located Orchard Road, dined at good restaurants and took a taxi on a few occasions. But Singapore demanded some profligacy to ensure that you truly experience the city. The skyscrapers neighbored by amazing eateries, a public transport system better than any in the world, nature themed parks alongside man made marvels; Singapore offered so much in the 5 days I spent there. Famous for being a financial powerhouse and housing some of the biggest corporates in Asia, the city has a lot to offer to tourists of all age. The Singapore Zoo, Night and River Safari, Universal Studios, SEA Aquarium along with the entire Sentosa Island is any tourist’s delight. Clarke Quay is a delightful place for party lovers and has some delectable dine and wine options and the numerous trails and parks in the city are meant for those looking for some peaceful time away from the noise. Reasonable to say, I wasn’t the happiest passenger on my flight back to Mumbai after an enthralling experiencing in Singapore.

A couple of weeks after Singapore, a short 4 day trip to Udaipur made for a completely different experience. The original Udaipur plan was of the year-end but a last minute change meant that we ended up doing this in March first week. Nevertheless, Udaipur is a city worth going at any time apart from peak summer and we witnessed some really ancient and royal architecture apart from the mesmerizing beauty of the lakes. You can really splurge in Udaipur where a night in an expensive hotel can cost you upwards of INR 300,000. I was however quite modest in my spending and stayed at an average hotel near Lake Pichola. The lakeside restaurants especially “Amrai” at Lake Pichola is not be missed. The City Palace, Jag Mandir, old city shopping, sunset from Sajjangarh Fort, boat ride in the lakes, having Laal Maas etc. were some of the things that kept us busy during the 3 day trip which turned to be extremely peaceful and relaxed.

A complete contrast to this was a road trip that we did a couple of weeks later. This one was to Goa and coastal Karnataka. Over 3 days, me along with a friend of mine drove some 1800 kms and covered 3 states to see some of the most happening places along with some of the most tranquil ones. Goa was all about party and beaches where we spent the night after driving through the day from Mumbai. The next day we were on an isolated beach in Kumta which is some 180 kms ahead of Goa. The next day was spent in Gokarna and then was a rather long drive back to Mumbai. This was one trip where it is difficult to put events in words due to the effects of alcohol and Cannabis during the trip. However, whatever I do remember is extremely fond. For instance, we decided in Gokarna at 2 pm in the afternoon that we will drive back to Mumbai as there was an important cricket match the next day. Gokarna to Mumbai is around 700 kms and takes around 12 hours of continuous driving. We eventually covered the distance in 13 hours and reached Mumbai at 3 am and it was one devilish yet amazing ride. This along with a lot of such instances on this trip made it an extremely adventurous and a trip that will always be itched in my memory due to the number of unique incidents that took place during this trip.

There was a good 3 month break between this trip and the next one which again was a road trip. In early July, I drove for around 6 hours to reach Taj Aurangabad to complete a two day trip. In the middle of the monsoons, we were greeted by incessant rains all throughout the 300 kms ride both ways which only added to the beauty of the hills and greenery. Neighboring Aurangabad are the Ajanta caves which have remains of ancient paintings and artwork, some of which is estimated to be more than 2200 years old. It was a surreal experience to witness the work that is so old and expressions of art in a completely different manner. The short trip was made better by a good stay at Taj and the prevailing rains. More about this particular trip can be found in an earlier blog.

With a little over half the year gone, I had an exciting first half of 2016. But the second half was even better and it will take me another day to mention some really amazing experiences across Europe, South East Asia and extremes within India.

Adios for now.

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