This episode talks about travelling from Chennai to Koh Phangan on Day 1 of our trip. The Beach’ was a Danny Boyle movie based on a novel by Alex Garland set in the late 90’s in Thailand around discovering a secret beach. They follow a trail on Thailand’s south east coast along the gulf of Thailand.Seeking the same backpacker spirit of enquiry and awe for people and nature, we are trying to explore that trail to inspire people to take this journey through our tales and also the iconic movie ‘The Beach’.
“When you develop an infatuation for someone you always find a reason to believe that this is exactly the person for you. It doesn’t need to be a good reason. But in the haze of infatuation, it’s just what you’ve been searching for all these years.” (The Beach-1997-Alex Garland also made as a motion picture by Danny Boyle starring Leonardo Di Caprio)
6 pm– 7th April 2016
Walking in the heated cauldron, between the domestic and international terminal, I knew my infatuation was moments away. In a few minutes, I would be up in the air flying to the object of my infatuation. It was 9 years, since I was infatuated and 20 years since the ‘infatuation’ came to life. It was a novel called ‘The Beach’ which was my infatuation. I connected with the book and the dialogues so much, that I had to probably relive the novel by traveling on the same trail. That beach trail! My object of infatuation and I had to celebrate 20 years of the book being written by being on the same trail!
The DVD of ‘The Beach’ lay in my shelf, bruised from the number of times, its been called on for moments of inspiration. As the bandwidth became better over the years, I just chose Youtube and Google Play for playing it. But what was probably missing in these 9 years was to maybe do the trail that ‘Richard’ did. There’s a whole lot of a difference between real travel and vicarious travel, and at some point, I had to break the shackles that the ‘mental disorders’ I suffered from. As a traveller, who wanted to teach his little son the beauty of geography by traveling each summer to the lands that he was to study, I suffered from the normal mental disorders that city bred B-School educated people have by choosing the safe life which had 2 house EMI’s choking the explorer in me. My son and I had seen enough videos on youtube of ‘The Beach’ and the trail that lay ahead in Thailand. I mean enough videos that popped in my “Watch Again” list on Youtube.
“If I’d learnt one thing from travelling, it was that the way to get things done was to go ahead and do them. Don’t talk about going to Borneo. Book a ticket, get a visa, pack a bag, and it just happens.”
― Alex Garland- The Beach
This quote got my goat. It felt like a bunch of words, slit me through my neck and told me ‘No more excuses’. I called up my friends over a whatsapp group and decided to go ahead and book. I was not quite sure when to go and whether #TheBeachTrail would be possible. We went over to many of the travel planning sites and started entering the destination pair rates one by one, and we found the visual map search on SkyScanner called ‘Inspire’ interesting that it allowed us to see prices of destinations from Chennai in one visual map.
Bangkok seemed a lot cheaper, than some of the other destinations like Colombo, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur. In one long WhatsApp Conversation, the three of us decided on Bangkok to plan our onward and return tickets, and to figure out the rest of things on the go. Tickets booked, we all knew that the that ‘slitting’ quote was behind us. We were going to Alex Garland’s world like Richard did.
Ok. Who is Alex Garland? Who is Richard? Why are they even important?
Alex Garland was a writer who wrote a book called The Beach’ which was also converted into a Danny Boyle movie which was set in the late 90’s in Thailand around discovering a secret beach. They follow a trail on Thailand’s south east coast along the gulf of Thailand to find that ideal place for life, where only happiness exists! Paradise basically. Seeking the same backpacker spirit of enquiry and awe for people and nature, we are trying to explore that trail to inspire people to take this journey through our tales and also the iconic movie ‘The Beach’.
9:05 pm– 7th April 2016
The Air Asia flight was in an hour, and I still had not checked in my luggage. The three of us had met earlier this morning having a look at our luggage for the trip. We had a small equation to solve before we checked in. I had 2 camera bags and a huge suitcase( mostly empty). My friends had single bags. Air Asia allowed us with only 1 bag weighing 7 kg for each of us, and one suitcase of 20 kg (which is the paid luggage we had declared). After 10 minutes of manic scrambling and re-arranging our baggages, we had our weights exactly showing 7 kg for each of the 3 bags, and 20 kg’s for the bag. The Air Asia guy at the terminal was smiling at our level of planning. He removed some heavy paper stickers on suitcase from previous trips, and it brought the weight down to 19.8 Kgs. Our first major port of trouble had been sorted!
As soon as we got into the flight, we got our seats. 11A, 11B and 11C. Those numbers were about to transport us away from the familiar as the humid night of Chennai merged with the pleasant morning of Bangkok. Once the seat belts sign were lit up, our world back home in India switched off, as we were on an epic journey to relive a movie. A movie where we were viewers, to maybe a character in the movie. We trusted the armrests and minimal angle backrests with our dreams of our holiday as travelers, along with scores of tourists. I asked myself-why do we place so much trust in travel and places to transform our world. Was the hidden energies in the world subliminally telling us to listen in and call it intuition? Maybe
We landed in Bangkok, bleary eyed and ready for action, as we had to land at 3:30 am, and board our bus in Khao San Road, which was about 30 odd kilometres from the Don Muang Airport. A rushed card drive on an Uber, meant we were well in time at 5 30 am for our 6 am bus. I noticed a French co-passenger in an interestingly captioned shirt, which admonishes Mondays. We were in a zone that did not require us to know which day of the week it was. We were pleasantly teeing off the Saturday with a nice ride in a Lomprayah Bus+ Ferry ticket across the eastern nerve centre of Thailand’s tail.
Watching the Thai countryside unfold layer by layer, I noticed that the country had a wonderful roadway infrastructure. I never remember seeing pothole ridden roads on my commute 0n the Lomprayah Bus. It alternated between clean roads, crowded junctions, forests shrouded in green and brown until Hua Hin, and then from then on we started seeing beaches a couple of feet from the bus as we alternated between beaches and green reserves of forests, before making way inside the Chumphon National park to reach the pier.
At the Pier, we were blown away by what we saw. The transition from being spectators to being a character had been complete. We were in Thailand staring at a beach that had waters alternating between Green and Blue. We had enough green cover where the palm trees grew over one another on hills by the beaches. Our dream #TheBeachTrail2017 was about to begin.
If you are itching to know what happened on the Ferry, do watch the below video film of our trip which has more details as part of the Trailer.
I had an opportunity to update my ‘operating system’ to learn more about tea. I keep wondering, how I started drinking tea. Despite growing in Southern India, where there is a strong habit of Coffee and Tea, I chose to avoid both till I joined work 13 years back. The tea machines, and on Indian Railways were my first blushes with tea. Till date, I used to visualise tea as a neccesary evil in the mornings, which I never paid attention to the taste, unless it deviated off the basic taste scale that I had.
The tea festival held in JW Marriot in Bengaluru was an eye opener for me, on the various varieties of flavours of tea that is available. The various aromas that are there, quite pleasantly had me listening in to learn more about this. As I soaked in the aromas, I could sense the depth in some of them. I saw some strong tea varieties, and some very different ones from Turkey, and was blissfully observing people talk about Tea and thoughts.
There is a more detailed series of posts coming up, but for now, do have a glimpse of how the event went on.
There were workshops for Tea tasting and Tea appreciation. There was quite a crowd for these events. This was a session hosted by Anamika Singh who runs her own tea business called the ‘Anandini Himalaya Tea Company’. When she was running her session, I saw her passion and knowledge in letting people know about the subtelities in the art of certain tea brews.
One of the brews she had for us for a tea-chocolate pairing workshop. She neatly poured out the tea, initially half cup for everyone and then filled the cups, to make sure that the brew was consistent for all people. It looked like the sunset had chosen to rest in the glass, with that shade of golden brown.
We had 3 varieties of chocalates to put in our mouth after taking a sip of the tea. I quite enjoyed the chocolate melting in my mouth since it had warm tea waiting to attack the chocolate and create a blend. I was not quite able to spot the blend with my taste buds, since I was distracted by the sweet feeling of chocolate melting in my mouth with the tea brew.
Susmita, the main organiser is seen conducting a session, where she is talking about the ‘First Flush’ variety of tea from Darjeeling which is about Rs 16,000 for a kilogram of tea powder. This is from one of the companies that were present called ‘Tea Philosophy’.
Some of the first few workshops were interesting that they took us to the history behind how Tea originated in India presented by a couple of people who work as Tea Scientists. My whole perception was that the Brits invented tea when they were in India, but the history of tea dates back to around 2000 years in China. That ends my first update on the festival. Look forward to 2 more parts of exploring a few varieties of tea and some history behind it. Do know more about the festival through the website or by checking some of the tweets around with the festival with the #TFI or #TeaFestivalIndia
Growing up in the southern confines of Chennai, I was walled from how the rest of India celebrated a festival called Holi. The Chennai I knew started in Thiruvanmiyur and ended in Mylapore, with my catchment area being Adayar and Besant Nagar. Since growing over 30, I have had the opportunity to attend the Holi function outside Chennai, to witness what a fun festival it is. I thought I shall document some of my shots of how India plays Holi. If you have an opinion on Holi as a function, do head to the comments box, and lets get a conversation going. Tell me places that I can go to cover holi!
I realized its been 4 years, since I had been to the Maha Kumbha Mela. I thought I’d share a little interview that a popular english Radio Channel called Chennai Live 104.8 FM. I have modified the interview by mixing the audio with my images to visually keep the viewer engaged. The next post coming up tells the story in text and images. So keep your eyes open, while you spend your Sunday watching this!
Covelong near Chennai, is home to the annual 3 day beach fest with Surfing, Music and Yoga as the main attractions. This post focusses on the music festival.
The real beauty of a music festival by the beach is not as much about the music, as much as it is about the vibes that evening. Its about a crowd that wants to jive about, its about a musician who wants to get the crowd involved, even if they dont understand the music.
Usually the Covelong music festival has an acoustic stage and a beach stage through the day, but its the night that takes centre stage. The colours, the scent of the salted sea, the colours of the locals and fireworks, and yes the Bass thundering its away besides the raging waves makes for 3 evenings of high octane raving over music. I didn’t quite understand the music, but shaking a leg and feeling lighter is probably the key, as I would discover.
Fuzzculture’s Arsh was engaging with the audience really well. He looked like the singer KK when seen from behind with long hair, and a guitar round his shoulder.
He had quite an aura emanating, when the smoke from the stage were seen in the background of the lights. The independent music scene and the musicians surely had me think, that I should probably move beyond bollywood and popular music.
The crowd genuinely seemed to be interested in listeing to the musician and it was nice to see the local fisherman also getting involved trying to sample the music.
The front stage is not where all the action happens. I briefly went behind and saw the stage from behind, and it looked like the cover of a music band, with all colours of the spectrum lit against the dark of the twilight playing into darkness’s hands.
The local flavour at the beach near Chennai was the corn seller selling corn. It was not overpriced like a lot of commericalised corn. I took some corn, rested on the sands, looked at the moon in the distance, its reflection on the sea and thanked providence for providing a beautiful experience of music by the Bay of Bengal. I would come back tommorow for the surfing. Till then, it was time to get to Mahabalipuram and go and catch the highlights of the India-West Indies T20 games being played then in Florida.
When I got off the tube at St John’s wood, and proceeded in the direction that most people were walking, I felt a strange sense of home coming with a bunch of strangers. I paused for a second, I took a deep breath. This was not for taking in oxygen in a crowded place, but rather to come to terms with reality of a dream that was a 100 steps from coming true. The enormity of being right next door to the Lords Stadium was overwhelming me. It probably was about the place, but not the occasion as a lowly West Indies team were playing England on the ascent, Johnny Bairstow was making his debut, Kemar Roach was ripping leather bolts-Not quite the stuff that cricket fans would be relishing to compromise their sleep over, but it was enough to make me like I was entering a magical kingdom. I walked out of the station, and felt the chill in the Summer air, hit my face. It was summer as they said, but it was chiller than Bangalore where I lived.
Lords Ground in London
I heard touts selling tickets, outside the ground. I obviously had not planned coming to London to have booked tickets earlier at Lords, so I went forward knowing fully well that I would probably go upto 50 Pounds to buy a match ticket. There are something in life you feel priveleged to be paying surge-pricing, and I was not going to argue on price. Once I had the ticket in my hand, my chest swelled with pride, and I strode into the Lords ground, walking my way to the John Edrich stand. I turned around and checked that the Middlesex county had no stand named after Mike Gatting, one of their more famous sons. Maybe if Gatting had not done that reverse sweep in Kolkata, and England had won the 1987 World Cup, he would have a stand in his name. Guess what, as I was thinking and settling into my seat, I happened to bump into the man, who’s here conducting a fans activation show for the local sponsor.
When I started to settle in my seat, I quite enjoyed the view from the Edrich stand. It was a view facing the grand pavillion and while I was at Thirdman, the replay screen was diagonally opposite me which meant, I could also watch replays of how the action panned out. Good seats for the 50 pounds!
Aleem Dar Reversing a decision
The greens of the grass against the brown of the players pavillion, brought out the contrast of the players in white very well. The only constraint was the morning sun, which never came in the time I was there. Here’s Ian bell shepharding the tail as England march to a first innings lead. Watching the cricket in London was so different from watching it in India in the sense that people would come all buttoned up and upright in coats. They seemed to have a schedule of sorts in watching the cricket, and getting to one of the stands called the Tavern stands, where the cricket fans would drink. The members would sit opposite the edrich stand at the Grand stand, and would stand and applaud as the players would walk through them. This is something I had heard when I had earlier gone on a Lords tour. Also there were no restrictions on bringing in Cameras. Back in India, I remember being stopped for bringing my Nikon SLR by the police, despite the fact that I had ICC’s letter as an official fan engagement photographer for the 2011 Cricket World Cup. The fans came first here. The ECB had a fan engagement program called the ‘The Twelth Man’ back then, and it showed how much they valued the fan, who was paying money and spending his time watching a bunch of people entertain in flannels over leather and wood.
Driving at Lords
By the time, the afternoon came, the ground was partially flood lit, owing to the simmering rain clouds which threatened to pour. It was a surreal sight watching a panorama of the ground being completely lit up.
Panorama of Lords Ground
England were playing out overs, and were content to score at a snail’s pace. I decided to head out during the interval to check the scenes in the ground. I found Phil Tufnel, the yesteryear finger spinner signing autographs for his book,while a Carribean fan decided to dedicate a whole shirt to autographs. Now comes the question of asking, if these autographs were accumulated over the years.
Back in the 1990’s, my mother used to work in the hopitality industry, which opened quite a few doors for me, whenever the cricketers were playing in Chennai, I would have access to meeting them. I would meet them, listen to their inane jokes and wait for hours for their autographs. The nerd that I was,I would also rattle stats to them about their own batting. I remember doing that with a rather young Sanath Jayasuriya in 1992 when he was part of a World XI playing a Wills Indian XI at Chepauk.
While someone managed to get one on a test match hat. I remember using autograph books, shirts and bats but never a hat for memory.
Meanwhile, lunch was being served, and I could have none of it below, since there was no vegetarian fare on display. I had to make do with cup cakes.
A little further down were dancers from the Carribean country of Barbados. They hired a bunch of dancers and and an offline activation booth outside the Edrich stand. I somehow felt that commercial tourism could be sold better. All these tourism agencies have the same ideas which go on the lines of “Lets-show-some-local-flavour-and-dance-and-sell-tourism”. I am not quite sure that’s the way to sell travel. As a traveller, I would have loved to hear a cricket connect to the place, and then hear about possibilities of Barbados like visiting certain beaches/experiences that only Barbados could deliver. Maybe someday when I have enough influence in the world of travel, I will love to help tourism agencies tell better stories at why travellers should visit them.
In a city of 7 million, if 3 million people spend a period of 10 days shopping after sunset and feeling great, it must be a place with a lot of good vibes and energy. I decided to visit the Charminar during Eid in 2016. I called up Ravi and Avinash, a couple of Hyderabadi friends, who decided that they would also learn a bit about photography, and also help me navigate through the maze of roads leading to the Charminar. We parked the bikes on a lane far away from Charminar, and took note of the place, sending between us the geo location of the place, since every road looked the same. There was a charm and beauty in an old city where the houses looked similar.
As we walked down the road, we could see the Charminar from a distance, but there was a huge sea of humans thronging the place, walking across streets. The charminar was glowing, from all the lights in the distance. It was beautiful to see the city so alive at 10 pm in the night. The ladies were thronging by the perfume shops, and I decided to go have a look, instead of standing by the sugarcane shop, or the tea cup shops or the cloth shops. On closer examination, and through the bokeh of my lens, I found a colourful world further enhanced by the aroma of the scents on display. I was asked to spray some scent and try it on. I found the scent too strong, and decided to watch others try it out.
The scents in the glasses and outer covering on a 50 mm lens, were decked up to the T. The shop keeper’s son came forward and noticed that I was not quite trying out, so decided to ask me, what I do, and when he knew I was a travel writer and photographer, he uttered those 3 words that most people do-” Ek Photu Please”. I did a few shots to humor him, noted his email ID, and promised to send him his pictures in a couple of weeks. I had a glance at the beautiful golden shade of the perfumes and decided to move to some of the shops that seemed to have a list of perfumes.
While I could not quite pick a winner to recommend a perfume, I liked the way the perfumes were shown with different names. The earlier shop that I passed by had no names. In that way, a little colour and character over random items.
There was a throwback to a yesteryear world, in the way the fonts were, and the way they communicated. Intimacy is indicated by a simple font. They haven’t used any model to convey their communication or used any skimpy clothes to show passion. Show a bit about how we folks express our love in this part of the world. I’d love to see such local flavour retail at experience stores at the Hyderabad Airport. I am quite blind to these foreign brands that are sold at the airport, with the only real local item being the Karachi biscuit store. Maybe these perfumes being sold as is at the airport makes a case? What do you think? Do let me know in a comment below.
Exotic Perfumes at Charminar
By the time, I walked down the street, despite the light rain in the air, there was a lot of heat from all the lights. I managed with frequent stops for juice, but when I saw the spicy samosas mid way, I stoppped by. There were other people too, who were admiring it like the way, I was.
Just like an oarsman, who is delighted after seeing the shore, after a while at sea, we were delighted at seeing the Charminar. We admired the monument, and walked around it and proceeded to walk to the other side and we saw a group doing a photo walk. You’d find a bunch of people with cameras trying to stop at this very place to try and get a good composition of the Charminar.
The Charminar stood silent there, while vehicles zipped past the monument leaving trails of light. I too tried staying as still as the Charminar, but I figured out that this was a huge challenge. I could not stand there and feel completely safe about it. The Hyderabadis have a funny way of driving extremely fast on these crowded roads and then applying brakes just to get attention. I have a 30 X 15 cm area to stand on, with my tripod and making sure that my camera bag is not jutting out. My hosts Ravi and Avinash, help guard me on either sides, requesting vehicles to avoid getting close.
In between these shots, I had a person come over to me, and abruptly say “Bhai Meri Photu Lo” and he started posing right in the middle of my composition. I was perplexed and decided to smile at what happened and asked him what frame did he want. He asked to take whatever I could. I took this shot, and showed it to him, and then he walked away happy, even before I could ask him his phone number(Whatsapp) or email ID. Reminded me that maybe next year, I should look at buying a portable printer to pass a shot to all those people who ask me a photo. Its just another JPEG file for me, but for them, it could be a window to expressing themselves and be wonderstruck. That’s the power of a photo in print!
And then some time later, a vehicle passed passed by, and whizzed past us, and when we looked back in the camera, it looked like we had spotted a UFO in Hyderabad, but dont worry, that’s just Long exposure trails being applied to the frame of the Charminar.
And then it occurred to me, how beautiful it would be if the vehicular trails of light could be captured around the Charminar. We had to choose a spot high enough that would allow me to a semi-panoramic view of the Charminar. We moved to a nearby coffee shop, and then found this view from there. It was almost 3 am, and the Charminar still had a steady stream of auto’s raging through the limited spaces, while it stood glowing amidst its surroundings. Slowly people started to retire for the night, and we found ourselves mentally tired. We knew, our time was up. Our senses and vision had just seen a beautiful array of people and objects, and now after 4 hours and many conversations, we decided to respect our bodies, and maybe come back again next year.
And then, my hosts Ravi and Avinash, decided to end it up digitally with a selfie against the Charminar! Maybe that’s how we say “All’s well that end’s well” in these times of digital narcissm
I am always fascinated by the prospect of listening to music at the beach, and also have the waves crashing by. It’s a world of your own, when you are at sea. India’s east coast is usually not privy to having the infrastructure required for music, and entertainment by the sea. Over the last 3-4 years, Chennai’s outer fringes have seen a spurt in sporting activity with surfing being adopted in Covelong and Mahabalipuram, and even further in Pondicherry. I decided to go check what the festival was about.
Given this was happening about 40 kilometres from where I live, I thought it would be fun if friends come along, so on reaching the location, I updated my Facebook check-in, to let friends know, that they could come over anytime during the day. I was pleasantly impressed with space created for parking 2 wheelers and cars. There was a separate apartment enclosure by the sea, and there was enough space to park vehicles as long as you were early enough to find a good slot.
The surf festival is about professional surfers, competing with themselves in the sea, with a context. I was perched in the sea, trying to capture the way they communicate with the ocean to surf along with the wave. The first day was about some surf and music, and that’s what you will see in greater detail in the next part. For now, here’s a glimpse into my trip.
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