Almost eight years ago, I stood at the airport nervous about my first international flight ride to Costa Rica. The last time I took an international flight, I was immigrating to America from India. The trip was special because it was our official honeymoon. After making a list of destinations that included Bora Bora, Seychelles and the likes, we narrowed in on Costa Rica for financial reasons. I did not know then that it would be the beginning of a love affair with international destinations. After a long flight, we reached San Jose, Costa Rica. We spent the night there and were whisked off in a car to Arenal, our first destination in Costa Rica.
As our car cruised through the lush greenery of Costa Rica’s windy roads, I was reminded of Kerala, India. After few hours of traveling, we approached our hotel in Arenal area, about 6km from downtown La Fortuna. Tourism is one of the major industries in Costa Rica, especially the Arenal area which is known for the Arenal Volcano. The Arenal Volcano was one of the most active volcanoes in the area for 43 years. As we checked into our hotel, we could see the Arenal volcano from our backyard. The hotels in Costa Rica had us bowled over. The theme for our first hotel was rain forest which was evident all through our villa. Besides the volcano, Arenal attracts thousands of visitors each year because of the many adventure sports available. All around the area one sees signs for zip lining, ATVing, bungee jumping besides several other adrenaline activities.
We stayed in Arenal for ten days during which we took a night Safari to the Arenal Volcano. The stillness of the night against the erupting volcano made it one of the most memorable activities. We also hiked to the magnificent La Fortuna Waterfall. With several steep steps, the waterfall challenged us physically but the waterfall at the end made the trip worthwhile. I had never zip lined before in my life, and neither had I been on an aerial tram before. We took a sky tram to the ziplining area. I could feel adrenaline pumping through my body as I was petrified and excited at the same time. I have major fear of heights and ziplining meant putting all my height demons to rest. I quivered with fear as I did my first zipline and then the second. By the third one, I was enjoying the feeling although I have to admit I did not look around to enjoy the landscape or picturesque views. At the end of the eight long ziplines, I felt accomplished.
Arenal in Costa Rica converted a coy Indian girl into an adrenaline junkie. Since that trip, I have traveled to many places and done several crazy adventures. Costa Rica will always be special for several reasons besides it being our honeymoon- I fell in love with international travel in Costa Rica and for that I will forever be grateful.
Taj Mahal stands tall being the face of India to the world but to Indian’s living in India no monument holds higher than the India Gate. Each year on January 26th as India celebrates her Republic Day, Indians watched the parade pass through the India Gate on our television sets. As a young girl growing up in India, India Gate was synonymous with everything India. It always evoked a sense of patriotism in my mind every time I watched the magnificent monument stand tall amidst the throngs of people at the parade. On a very warm June afternoon, we visited the India gate monument.
Our trip to Delhi was on a very strict agenda to complete our daughter’s adoption process. In between all the madness and her being sick, we managed squeeze in few monuments with India Gate being the first one. I remember as our car made its way through the streets of Delhi to our airport, India Gate loomed large. I was determined to see the monument that was staple to my growing years.
India Gate is a war monument to several soldiers who died during the First World War. The names of the soldiers are inscribed on the monument. The backdrop of India Gate includes the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the residence of the President of India. As I stood there marveling at the monument with Rashtrapati Bhavan, I felt immense pride. The inscriptions on the India Gate evoked national pride in me. There was chaos all around with people selling merchandise, children trying to sell handicrafts and later begging for food, but as I stood there at the foot of the monument I grew up watching on television, the noise drowned out as I stood there sensing a strange calmness in me. The dichotomy of India was so evident as I stood there at India Gate as I experienced calmness in the chaos.
While Taj Mahal looms large across Agra, another amazingly magnificent but less known monument is the Agra Fort or Red Fort. While it doesn’t have a romantic story like the Taj, the Red Fort or Agra Fort plays a prominent role in Indian history. Made out of red sandstone, the Red fort of Agra includes several palaces such as Jahangir’s Palace, Khas Mahal, two mosques and Diwan-i- Khas, an audience hall. On a humid Agra evening, we visited the fort amidst thousands of people.
The magnificence of the fort lies in its history. Contrary to what I believed that the fort was built by the Mughals when they were in India, the Red Fort existed since the 11th century. It was initially made of brick. The red sandstone for that currently exists was built by the Mughals, particularly Akbar. Akbar the great Mughal ruler realized the advantages of the central location of the fort and made it his capital. The height of the fort allows to monitor any invasions and the walkway entrance of the fort is designed such that it is at a slope. In the event of an invasion, big rock boulders were rolled down the walkway to hurt the enemy army. Shah Jahan, the grandson of Akbar is credited for making the Agra Fort what it is today. History says Shah Jahan was imprisoned at the fort during the end of his life and he died watching the Taj Mahal from the Fort. As we stood in the room where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son with a direct view of the Taj, I was taken back to the days I spent studying about this at school. I was no longer a tourist visiting a monument but one among the many children in India who is introduced to the abundance of history that India as a country represents.
As we walked through the exit gates of the Fort, I remembered the scenes from the movie Jodha Akbar that were shot at the Fort. With every foot step, I was in my own way reliving those images and the images I formed in my head as I memorized my history as a teenager. The distance and miles I had traveled to America, having lived here for fifteen years could not erase those lessons I learned as a child of the Akbar and Shah Jahan. In my own little way, visiting Agra Fort and Taj Mahal was my version of disneyland. I was living my fantasy world from my childhood.
There are few things that are synonymous with India than the scintillating Taj Mahal. Growing up in India as a child, Taj Mahal was in all my history books and we were often fed an overdose of the Taj. Yet, I never thought I would see the Taj Mahal in person. Having grown up on a staple of Indian movies where several romantic numbers in the 90’s were shot at the Taj Mahal, I always felt I had seen the monument in person. On a cloudy and humid July day, my husband, new daughter and I made our way to Taj Mahal. We were in New Delhi to finish the adoption formalities, and had the weekend when we decided to visit the magnificient Taj Mahal.
I will always remember seeing the Taj Mahal across the Yamuna River banks and our cab driver telling us there is the Taj. The distance did not diminish the beauty or the magnificence of the Taj. As we walked through security, I felt a sense of overwhelming uneasiness at the presence of such magnificence. While it looked just like in the movies, the enormousness of the monument was undeniable. As we walked through the pathway amidst thousands of people, some tourists and many locals, we were briefed about the history of the Taj Mahal by our tour guide. Every word echoed the years I spent in school in India reading and marveling at the romance behind the Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan, a Mughal emperor for his most beautiful wife Mumtaz Mahal to profess his love for her. He wanted to build a monument that was as beautiful as her. It was built to house her tomb which along with Shah Jahan’s is still seen in the Taj. It took twenty one years and several thousands of people to build the monument. Upon building the monument, it is told he cut off their arms so they would not replicate the Taj. The art inside the Taj is made of real gem stones from different parts of the world and the white marble is unique to Agra where the Taj resides. The marble glows on a full moon night which was demonstrated when we took a tour of how the art is created.
As I walked through Taj in my booties, I marveled at the architecture of the monument. Amidst thousands of people thronging through the doors of Taj, I felt a strange serenity. The monument echoed the love between a man and a woman, and as a girl who grew up on Bollywood romances of the 90’s I could only wonder how someone could love another person so much that they built the iconic Taj Mahal in her honor. The Taj Mahal is beyond a monument. It is the symbol of love that is often seen hidden in the pages of a romance novel. I am proud that I belong to the land of the Taj Mahal, a symbol of love even more than I ever was.
Praslin in Seychelles is a small island with exquisite beaches that are often featured on the best beaches of the world. In addition to the Coco de Mer in Valle de Mai, the beaches in Praslin often bring tourists to the islands. When we decided on Seychelles, we were looking for an island to relax on and with no temptations of crazy hikes. Praslin won the lottery for those reasons.
After two days of walking, we decided to spend the rest of our week exploring beaches in Praslin. While we chose public transportation for some of our exploration, it required planning since the buses went to our hotel every hour or so. We decided to rent a car to explore the beaches so we wouldn’t have to time our beach day. On a bright and warm Seychelles morning, we began our beach exploration with the Anse Lazio beach. Anse Lazio is one of the best beaches situated in the northwest of Praslin. After parking our car, we trekked our way to the beach. Fairly secluded, the road made way to beautiful expanse of blue water against white sand. I cannot swim and when people hear I am going to the islands, they wonder what I could be doing at the beach. While I get my feet wet, and being Indian I don’t really need to sunbathe for a tan, I enjoy the beauty ahead of me. I try to capture God’s creation through my lens and in through my eyes. I make a snapshot of the beauty in my heart and head forever. Anse Lazio was my muse and I captured every corner of the beach through my lens. We ended our day at PK restaurant where we had the best Creole food.
In addition to Anse Lazio, we visited various beaches in Seychelles such as Cote D’Or. Sometimes it was a conscious decision to visit a specific beach, and sometimes we just stumbled upon an expanse of water that was too beautiful to resist. Seychelles provided several moments that were almost inexplicable. The islands have the best beaches I have ever seen in my life, and I am so glad I chose to end our couplehood with Seychelles before we began our journey into parenthood. Seychelles allowed me to relax with her sun and sand, amazing food and the warmth of the people. I don’t know what Paradise if like, but Seychelles is the closest I have been to paradise on earth.
Every relationship is the beginning of a new journey. At fourteen years of age, I wanted to begin a journey to adopt a baby. I knew then that it would be the greatest journeys I would embark on. I never did then, but the desire continued to grow with me until three years back when my husband and I signed on the dotted lines to begin our adoption journey. This past month I traveled to Seychelles and India with my husband for a month. This adventure signaled my life coming full circle. While adoption held my heart strings at fourteen, Seychelles tickled my imagination just as much. I remember watching Miss World/Universe on TV in India and seeing the amazing beauty of Seychelles. I knew then if there was one place on earth I could visit, I would choose Seychelles. It was a week in paradise and the perfect end to being just the two of us.
After a week in paradise, my husband and I traveled to India. India is and will always be home. There is a serenity and peace that India fills me with. No matter where I go or where my address might reside, India is home. But this trip was even more special. After years of wondering who she is, or what she might look like, we found our new travel buddy in our 11 month old daughter, M. She is feisty, adventurous and crazy just like us. And thus began a new journey. We are now a crazy travel foursome, my husband, Zed our puppy, M and I. Stay tuned for our adventures in Seychelles and India in the coming weeks.