Temples, Tuk Tuks and Longtails, in the time of Covid-19

Its surreal, almost irreverent, to be writing about travel at this time. And hard to believe that I was on the road only about a month ago. When I flew out at the end of February, there were no travel restrictions in place, and not a single confirmed case in all of NYC. When I returned on the 10th of March – to absolutely zero checks at JFK – confirmed cases in the area were in the double digits. From the 13th, we began working from home, in what was then only deemed a precautionary measure. The words lockdown and social-distancing had yet to make inroads in our collective lexicon.

For the few of us who made this trip – despite being warned by friends and family – it was a calculated risk all along, or so we thought. Not in our wildest imagination did we consider a scenario as dire as the one we’re all living through today. We were all incredibly lucky, in hindsight, to go through with our itinerary as planned, and return to our respective cities unscathed.

This is, no doubt, my last post for a while, but I eagerly look forward to the day when the world goes back to being the open and welcoming place its meant to be, and we can all make travel plans with confidence once again. Till then, I remain immensely grateful for the privilege accorded to me last month, and to be able to share those memories with all of you today.
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2019, and looking ahead

2019 was an exceptionally good travel year for me. I visited a handful of new destinations. Revisited old haunts. Spent several precious hours, and many a memorable night, riding the rails. Ate some amazing food. Met some incredible individuals. Checked off a few more boxes on my bucket list. And through it all, had a good deal of retrospection too. All told, I circumnavigated the globe almost thrice last year. And that didn’t come cheap. Not to my wallet, by any means, and not to our planet either. So I’ve decided to start the New Year by being a little more responsible. Responsible towards my travels – everything this past year, and anything going forth. Its a drop in the ocean, I’m aware, but a drop nevertheless.BV_Ecert_CO2Offset Continue reading “2019, and looking ahead”

From Sea to Sky, on the Andean Central Railroad

To most visitors, Casa de la Literatura Peruana is nothing more than an architectural landmark, sandwiched between the Government Palace and a baroque monastery, in Lima’s historic quarter. The more discerning know of it as a library, famed for its exquisite stained glass skylight. But very few are actually aware that this was, in fact, Lima’s main train station. While regular passenger service ceased decades ago, the Ferrocarril Central Andino or Andean Central Railroad still runs a monthly service from here, to the Andean city of Huancayo. And on this characteristically foggy October morning, I’m here to board one of their last departures for the 2019 season.IMG_1002 Continue reading “From Sea to Sky, on the Andean Central Railroad”

The Denali Star through Alaska

The snowcapped Chugach Mountains recede, as does any semblance of a clear sky, the dipping sun eventually blocked out by cloud cover thats getting progressively thick. Down below on the Kenai Peninsula, what I took to be low clouds, are in fact wildfires, still burning. The air quality index marks Anchorage as “Very Unhealthy”, and that unmistakably putrid odor is everywhere. The gloominess hardly helps. We haven’t had rain since June, the Uber driver informs me, and the smoke’s been billowing over from the peninsula for days on end.IMG_0326 Continue reading “The Denali Star through Alaska”

Basking in Barbados

Barbados, much like Argentina, was not a destination I chose. And although I was there for a very short amount of time, it’s a country I grew to like very quickly. So much so that I wish I could’ve stayed longer. And while eight days might seem too long for an island nation less than two hundred square miles in size, it is, in fact, barely sufficient to do it any justice. Barbados, as it turned out, had a lot more to offer than its renowned coastline, and these are some of my most memorable experiences on the island.

Café at the Garrison

My Airbnb was located just off Carlisle Bay, in the Bayville section of Barbados, a stone’s throw away from the historic Garrison area. A World Heritage Site today, The Garrison, as the name would suggest, was home to British troops for much of their occupation of Barbados. Surrounded by barracks and officers quarters, a lush parade ground known as the Garrison Savanah formed the centerpiece of the area, as it does to this day. The military parades are long gone, of course, suitably replaced by horse-racing, and fittingly, it was on this very patch of green that the Barbadian flag was raised for the first time in 1966.   
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Despatches from the Silk Road :: Train to The Roof of the World

Headed west out of Shanghai, we’ll be retracing much of our route from this morning – a few hundred miles of it in fact – with quick stops at Suzhou, Wuxi, and eventually Nanjing, whose station looks even more impressive by night. Not that we can see the river at this hour, but as a token nod to it, its lights out after the crossing of the Yangtze.P1110998 Continue reading “Despatches from the Silk Road :: Train to The Roof of the World”

Despatches from the Silk Road :: Suspense in Shanghai

By day, its an imposing enough sight. By night, Beijing Main Station will be sure to dazzle, if not blind you altogether. In a country known for its over-the-top illumination of public buildings, its a sight not to be missed. For the five of us, as we prepare to depart the Capital, it truly is a lasting impression.P1110749 Continue reading “Despatches from the Silk Road :: Suspense in Shanghai”

Despatches from the Silk Road :: In search of Peking Duck

Beijing International Hotel, where we’re staying, is a short walk from Beijing Main Station. Having showered and bid farewell to HV – we’ll see him in a few days time – I browse the hotel literature for some late lunch options. There are a handful of restaurants to choose from, apparently, so I make my way to the most enticing of the lot, a rooftop revolving restaurant. Greeted warmly by a host at the elevator, I’m led by another to a table of my liking, and handed menus by a third. Only to be informed by a fourth – as I proceed to place my order – that they won’t be open till 5 pm. The puzzled look on my face couldn’t be more telling. Oh well, at least the views were worthwhile…IMG_8943

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Despatches from the Silk Road :: The Trans-Mongolian

Depending on which day of the week you board it from Ulaanbaatar, Train 24 could be Mongolian, Chinese or Russian. When SK and I saw it off two years ago, it was a Mongolian train. Today, we’re boarding a carriage that bears the bright red emblem of the People’s Republic of China, and fittingly, Beijing is our destination.

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Despatches from the Silk Road :: The Yurt life

A brief spell of rain has resulted in water logging across the city, and off-peak traffic snarls are worse than usual. Two years on, UB or Ulaanbaatar continues to grapple with infrastructural constraints. But a few things have changed, since SK and I were here last. The venerable Chinggis Khaan International is slated to get a swanky new home in a matter of months. The main highway leading out of the city is undergoing extensive repairs, and all along it, modern apartment blocks are rising, looking astonishingly un-Soviet as they do so. The city center now has a bike share – who would’ve thought? And our US-issued mobile devices finally have data coverage in the country. This time around though, we’re headed out. East of the Capital, to be precise, past Nalaïkh – a town who’s name SK and I derive immense pleasure from – into quintessential Mongolian countryside.IMG_8495

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