Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ladakh Calling...

Yes. It has been calling out to me for a while. Since a friend's motorcycle trip couple of years back. Since my trip to Sikkim. Since my realization, life is too dynamic and anything can happen waiting for another opportunity. Since I read Pico Iyes's "Heaven's Gate" on the NY Times travel magazine. And when a close friend from undergrad and a colleague signed up, it was a definite sign. We were going to Ladakh this summer. :)

I have been waiting to blog about the upcoming trip, since it was more or less decided. But you know the thing about counting-chickens-before-they-hatch. However, last week, we finally made the formal "commitment" and booked our flight tickets into Leh and back! I can't wait - fifteen days just to revel in, soak in and take in the mountains.

In the book, 'Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance', the author explains why he does not like road trips in a car. I can not recollect his exact words. But in essence he says, being in a car, you are in someways disconnected from the environment you are in. You are an outsider watching the landscapes, while not being a part of it yourself. I feel exactly the same way (though I know a lot of people who are road trip crazy won't agree to this). And so I hope, (dearly hope) to see the mountains as much by foot.

On the other hand, trekking the place also means I cover lesser area, lesser places in the same time. Already I have people asking me "You aren't doing the Leh-Manali route? But you have to! It is one of the best roads ever". Or, "You have to go to Nubra or .....". While they say it with good intentions, and are probably right about those places, I wish people understood that at some level, every trip is different, and every traveller different. For some, it is to see all that they can see. For some, it is to see one thing but see it well. Sometimes, you are lucky, and you do a bit of both. Sometimes, you take the chance to see a not-so-talked-about place, but are unlucky, and end up spending time in a place you didn't like. Some like long sumo journeys, some don't. Some are budget travellers, doesn't matter what their bank balance. Some are the luxury travellers, doesn't matter what their bank balance. And sometimes, you are simply good with your travel research and have your reasons for what you chose to do. (:))

It's hard enough, that when you plan a trip, it is more easy to find tons of places people praise about, rather than find places people honestly say they didn't vibe with or didn't care about. So, even as you research and sternly tell yourself, you want to do quality vs. quantity, somehow the quantity bit keeps popping up in your head urging you to squeeze more in that you can. And then, if I were honest with myself, there is that need to bring back badges, stories and adventures. I already find myself lured into places simply because that guide book says "From here you can see the mighty peaks of the Karakoram", just so I can bring back names and moments others can ooh aah to.

When I started on the "research" for this trip, I called up Mridula, travel blogger and honorary advisor (:)) for her insights. I asked her "There seems to be so many regions to go to, and each raved as very beautiful and seems to fall in the cannot-miss category. Can you order them in your opinion which is the best, most beautiful to go to?". She said, "Each and every part of Ladakh is beautiful. It won't matter. Don't worry, you are just going to love it." I loved her answer.

Anyway, I hope to keep both above-mentioned urges at bay, and do what I really really really want to do - take our time, and trek the mountains. It doesn't matter if the trail chosen is a disappointment or if it is plain regular. And with time to spare, we may ultimately do the road trips too!

If you are wondering, all the "I"s in the post, and where is the "we", well, this is what I want to do ideally... But, won't know until it all unfolds!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Random City Photos...

In need of a friend

I saw this fellow as I was criss crossing through Greenwich village and West village. He was patiently waiting for his owner to return, who I presumed was picking up something from the nearby bakery or grocery store. The neighbourhood was filled with owners walking their dogs, playing with them. They all appeared to be the working kind, I wondered how they took care of their pets during the day. Sigh! I could do with some company and love and affection from a four feeted, tail wagging, adoring eyed friend...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Shopping Pilgrimage, NY

"So, did you travel around when you were in New York? "

Me : "well, you know, my trip gets so hectic with work and meeting friends, there's hardly time to plan... "

"So what do you do then on weekends?"

Me: "ah well... just exploring neighbourhoods... and walking around... and well, (sheepishly) shopping!"

Ok -I confess! It has been all about shopping and shopping, that I have hardly bothered even thinking about stepping outside and exploring new places. I have been to New York twice, and both times, it has been like a trip to the Mecca of fashion. I am almost possessed to make sure I have seen, tried, shopped (where I can) and window shopped all that I can. Well, shopping is another flavor to experience a city by. And definitely, shopping in New York has been an experience.

The city is all about brands -Gucci, Prada, Dolce Gabana, Ralph Lauren, and their slightly smaller cousins - Kenneth Cole, Nine west, Aldo, Sephora, Ann Taylor. I am not a brand conscious person myself, and pride myself on several (actually I should say mostly) "brand-less" great "buys". But there is that kick to be able to indulge in an expensive brand without worrying about the economics. Once in a while, instead of looking at the price tag and walking away, you want to say "what the hell, I like it, I want it, so I am going to get it". I love it! (Of course, this didn't apply to Saks or the ralph lauren's where I ended up doing what any sel-respecting shopper would do - take an "I've been to Saks" photo!)

Yes! We can't stop shopping.

And most importantly, I just love the variety available in terms, of sizes, cuts, fits... it is amazing what they can do to a simple white blouse! And the idea that my size falls into a more "average" range and the fact that I can find a beautiful fit in almost any shop I walk into most often makes up for the relatively expensive price tags.

A Ralph Lauren window display in West Village

There is shopping. Then there is this window shopping. Window shopping is a lot more fun, simply because there is no pressure to find something immediately. And of course, the real twist is that you should leave room for the chance that you may actually buy something. Setting out with a clear mindset of "not to buy" could be a damper. Anyways, so while there was shopping, there was also window shopping.

Random window displays in West Village

On one weekend in my last trip, I was in West Village. The idea was to window shop and explore the neighbourhood. I kept getting drawn into these quaint boutiques dealing in body oils and perfumes and the likes. Just losing yourself in the heady mix of fragrance in these places is amazing. And the shop attendants, donned in aprons introduce you into an unknown world of self indulgence as if they themselves were the creators of each of these concoctions.

The last one I entered was Sabon. Dim-lit, and designed with an antique touch, lined with bottles of body lotions, bathing salts and hand made soap. As soon as I entered, the person in charge asked me if I wanted a hand wash? They were offering free samples of bathing salt for a hand wash. I was then offered an array of flavors to choose from. He explains "oh, that is the patchoulli vanilla lavender, my personal favorite. I usually don't prefer vanilla myself. But just a touch of lavender balances the sweetness", "smell this, don't you love it?", "and this just has a subtle nutmeggy fragrance", and then proceeds to paint a picture of how each would work wonders. The hand wash was followed with matching lotions and of course flattery on how soft my hands now felt. I almost swooned at the indulgent sales pitch I had, and yes, there is a vanilla lavender body creme sitting on my dresser.

Inside Sabon

Just as much as this self-pandering variety of shopping can be an experience, so can hunting in smaller localities and tucked-in-a-corner-shop be. Last year, I checked out a sunday market right in the middle of 7th av. With stalls selling crepes, kashmiri carpets, the best of Dolce Gabana handbags for $20 and bohemeian jewellery, it almost reminded me of the fairs (the annual shilparamam sale in Hyderabad, the Linking road or Colaba Causeway market in Mumbai, Panthean road/Beasant Nagar beach Chennai for the best cotton there is and pondy bazaar in Chennai) back in India. And of course, there was also an half a day escapade to China Town, for hand bags and stone studded rings that we ended up falling in love with.

The sunday market on 7th Av

Now back at home, even as I advise my friend on where she can order stuff from or ask her brother to pick it up for her, I check myself. I realize it isn't all about just buying and owning things. The best of shopping is going through the whole process of checking out the array of options, mentally building images of what you want, letting the object of desire call out to you and grow on you, and ultimately allowing yourself to be seduced into the buy.

A flower that caught my eye, West Village