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July 2020

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It’s raining in Kolkata. I am going through my old photographs stored in my Laptop with a cup of tea. Since COVID-19 has paused the travel, I travel through my old pictures. I love to visit those old lanes, been in the same place, in the same moment with those people again. It’s like reading an old book or watching a movie again. Each and every time you go through them, you learn a new thing again and wonder how you missed this point last time. Amazing human mind. I find some pictures of Juniang, a 64 years young dreamer. I met her in Ghoom station in 2019 and clicked these pictures there.

One evening, I was idly roaming around in Ghoom, then I sat on a bench. A tea seller gave me a hot cup. On the other corner there was Juniang. I did not notice her until she spoke.

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Juniang – The Dreamer

“where are you from?”. “Kolkata” I said. It was evening, she was sitting alone. So, I asked, “do you stay nearby?”. She said, “not very near. But this place is very close to me”. There was a debt in her words. She meant it and I felt it.

I asked, “what’s the story?”. “Do you have time?” she asked. “I am tourist”. And we both laughed.

“I am 64 years old, name Juniang. I have three sons and two grandchildren now. But every day I walk here, sit here and see them again. I was 13 years old, on my way to school, I saw a rush. We are hill people, our life is very difficult, but generally we go slow. But that day was different. I got to know Rajesh Khanna is shooting here. I have seen one of his movies, and my father used to play his songs on tape. It felt like I knew him really well. Like many I reach to Ghoom. I see a big crew, set up, a jeep, few people are around that jeep, nothing is really visible. And I never had experienced crowd like that before. I tried to make my way, tried hard to see the Rajesh Khanna.

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And Rajesh Khanna Happened

But for a long while it was just pushing, film people and police managing crowd. I gave up hope. But then somebody from some corner shout clear field. I saw him for the first and last time in real. He was looking at a mirror, one was fixing his green sweater’s collar, one combed his hair and placed a cap over his head. The man put some red color on his lip and powdered his face. It was clear like day; I can see him clearly. He is Rajesh Khanna. In one take, the director shot his portion of “mere Sapno ki Rani”. I was mesmerized.

When I went back home, I did not tell anybody at home that I bunked today school for cinema shooting. But you know what was more amazing, when I see Sharmila Tagore in the song too. She was never here. Her portion was not shot at Darjeeling. But how magically they placed her in the song. I felt like I lived a dream. This place became the magic place for me. Since then whenever there is a shoot in Darjeeling I go. I live my dream.”

“In my lifetime, I have seen a lot of stars here for shooting. Devanand, Dharmendra, Shahrukh Khan, Ranbir Kapoor. Even I have seen Hollywood films getting shot here. But I don’t know the actor actress name. But each and every time when I managed to see them, I felt like I Am living my dream”.

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The Mastro stroke

I was looking at her, attentively listening to her words. She stopped for a while and looked at me and said, “do you know, in the same bench I had seen Satyajit Roy sitting, sometimes he used to sketch, sometimes he used to write and sometimes just sit and smoke”. I felt a chill in my spine.

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PC- Neel malakar

Monsoon in my eyes:

Monsoon is always helped my mind to calm. Many people say rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book. They are right. But my monsoon theory is a little different. I like to get wet in the shower, travel around and be at my favourite places. Because in monsoon where ever you go, be it a hill station, beach or some little village you always find the clean and green view everywhere. Like everything is washed properly, and get their old shine back. The soil releases its fragrance, ready to fertile.

The dark sky gives you the shadow expected only from the father or a protector. Trust me, on a rainy morning when I see a wet path, trees dropping droplets, wet birds shrugging their little body and flying away in search of food, I feel the roads ahead and the destination is waiting for me.

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Lonavala in monsoon:

Two years ago during monsoon, I stayed for 4 months in Lonavala. In my free time, I used to roam around. Sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. Monsoon in Lonavala should be on those people’s bucket list who love to get drenched in the rains. And then lie back on the wet muddy grounds and feel the freshness of the wet soil without having a care in the world. This lovely hill town wears a cloak of magic. The city gets covered with mist throughout the monsoon. In my 4 months, I had covered about 7 to 8 places in Lonavala and the list as below….

Pawna Dam:

Surrounded by forests of Lohagad, Visapur, and Tikona, the picturesque Pawna dam and lake is a must-visit when the town is drenched in rain. Monsoon truly enhances the beauty and the freshness of this beautiful place. A day with no plans except for strolls, hiking and boating is the perfect way to rejuvenate. I visited the dam on a weekday so the place was practically empty. The sight is enough you to live in the moments of peace.

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Lion’s Point:

Lion’s point is a mesmeric sunset point. One fine morning at 5 am me and my group planned to go Lion’s point to see the sunrise. We booked an auto and went there immediately. On our arrival, before the sunrise, we saw a whole lot of people. They were waiting for sunrise too with hot teas in their hand. That moment reminded me that it is also famous for night trekking as well. Be it empty or crowded but nothing can beat the sight here. So, the list of places that you must visit while the rains beat upon the tin sheds in Lonavala must include Lion’s Point. This is the place for adventure seekers, nature lovers, mountaineers and photographers and obviously for couples.

Tiger’s Leap:

Resembling a tiger jumping off a cliff, this is a popular tourist spot in Lonavala. This cliff got its name due to the resemblance of its shape with a tiger leaping off a valley. The plush green, eye-soothing views of the valley, misty mornings, and cool breeze make Tiger’s Leap make it one of the most beautiful places to visit in Lonavala in the rainy season.

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Tungarli Lake:

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This lake is truly the best place to visit for peace seekers in Lonavala during monsoon. The lake attracts hordes of nature lovers and backpackers who find this as the perfect place to camp after a beautiful trek. Sit on the bridge with an umbrella and let your feet dangle, as you cherish the verdant backdrop, sparkling water, and the cold raindrops. When the lake is filled with water, it looks romantic.

One busy and hectic day when at last I was free from work in the evening, I went there cycling and spend 2 hours alone. Post that I forgot all my professional problems and felt refreshed like never before.

Bhushi Dam:

Imagine sitting with your partner on the steps or doing a rain dance holding each other very close. If you haven’t felt love before, this experience will draw you closer. The Bhushi Dam is one of the best places to visit in Lonavala amidst the lashing rains. This is a scenic spot and its vivacious water running down the dam makes it look stunning during monsoon.

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Tikona fort:

Tikona fort is nothing less than a treat the eyes of the spectators, especially the explorers and wanderers. Its large doorways, high fortifications, water tanks, and the magnificent view of the surroundings makes this fort one of the best place to visit near Lonavala in the rainy season. If you want to enjoy hiking in rains without much effort, then nothing can beat Tikona Fort hike.

Visapur fort:

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Trek to Visapur fort is the best monsoon Trek. You will get small, big falls on the way to Visapur. And the view from the top of the fort is just mindblowing. It is like heaven on earth. You can soak in the amazing beauty of this region with the scenic views.

We were 6 friends going to the trek. And we lost the way. In the middle of our way we felt thirst and around us we could only saw green trees. But thankfully, after a great effort, we found a small village with 4 huts only. A very old Marathi lady gave us water and some sweets to eat. People are an amazing creature.

Visapur ancient fort has stood the test of time alongside Lohagad that is situated on the same plateau as this fort. One of the best scenic Lonavala points, it also provides great views of the huge carving of Hanuman and multiple temples dedicated to him all around this place. But don’t plan in the dark.

Also Read MY BEST TRAVEL MOVIES

“Let the Rain wash away,all the pain of yesterday” Happy Monsoon.

Movies inspire people in many ways. Pick any topic like lifestyle, life philosophy, relationships, travel, timepass and so on, I can suggest films on these. Or you can suggest to me too. Although books do the same things along with increasing our visualisation power. But movies can inspire people to venture out. The true impact of a place is felt only through visualization. Locations shown on movies, aided by green screen or not, have a tremendous effect on people and create a desire in them to visit. Though it sets the expectations really high. Locations shown in movies look like dream places. Sometimes post visiting the place we feel disheartened as the visuals do not match. But believe me, all in your mind and eyes. Don’t set any expectations and be open to the new.

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Movies List:

Eat Pray Love

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Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) thought she had everything she wanted in life: a home, a husband and a successful career. Now newly divorced and facing a turning point, she finds that she is confused about what is important to her. Daring to step out of her comfort zone, Liz embarks on a quest of self-discovery that takes her to Italy, India and Bali.

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The Motorcycle Diaries

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“The Motorcycle Diaries” is based on the journals of Che Guevara, leader of the Cuban Revolution. In his memoirs, Guevara recounts adventures he, and best friend Alberto Granado, had while crossing South America by motorcycle in the early 1950s.

Before Sunrise

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They say we meet people for a reason and not just by chance. Before Sunrise is about two travelers who meet and bond in unimaginable circumstances. Two people in their youth meet on a train while traveling through Europe. Within no time, they find a pulse in their conversations and decide to spend a few hours together.

The conversations between the two take us through the streets of Vienna from mid-afternoon to sunrise and show the purest form of love. The movie will make you fall in love with the characters and the places, and inspire you to travel with a companion.

Under the Tuscan Sun

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Frances Mayes is a 35-year-old San Francisco writer whose perfect life has just taken an unexpected detour. Her recent divorce has left her with terminal writer’s block and extremely depressed, and her best friend, Patti, is beginning to think she might never recover. Frances decides to take a break and she buys a villa in the beautiful Tuscan countryside and decides to begin anew. Restoring her new home, she eventually finds the fulfillment she was searching for, including love.

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The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

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The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty is a movie about a man who embarks on an adventure when he finds out that his job is under threat. Until that point, his life was very relatable. The movie is quite inspiring to anyone struggling with their day-to-day routine.

This movie is highly recommended for travel enthusiasts and people stuck in a bad place in life, as it takes you on an awesome adventure and may motivate you to move out of your comfort zone. It is a positive, optimistic and surprising movie with beautiful cinematography.

The Darjeeling unlimited

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Estranged brothers Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) reunite for a train trip across India after the death of their father. But the best part of the movie to me is the setting. The loud sounds, the colours, the encounters that perfectly portray India will bring a smile and a feeling of melancholy to those who have already visited the country, and will give a serious case of wanderlust to those who haven’t.

Amelie

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If you haven’t been to Paris yet, you will definitely want to plan a trip after watching this movie. If you have you’ll want to return.Amelie is a beautiful example of french cinema.Amelie will take you to the most inspiring locations in Paris.

World Cinema is full with travel related movie. These are my favorite. As I have mentioned above, please suggest your favorites too. Let’s all travel together.

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Covid-19 has shelved all plans for 2020. But travelling should not be stopped for any reason. Our mind travels fast and frequent than the body. So here I am going to share some mind-blowing travel stories for our mind. These stories are based on some unexplored facts. Talking about the facts, here today, I am sharing a bus route to you. A little over 60 years ago, this bus used to start from London for Calcutta in almost 72 days and went back to London again within the same time frame.

There are two popular stories about this epic bus journey. I would like to share both of them with you today. So open your minds. Take your favourite window seats. And get ready to roll.

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The Indiaman Bus:

“In 110 days, Oswald Joseph Garrow-Fisher, the 40-year-old owner and driver of the vehicle known as the Indiaman, had piloted it from London to Calcutta and back. Five men and two women made the round trip.” These lines are from The New York Times article, 3rd August 1957, after the bus returned to Victoria bus station after completing the first trip covering 20300 miles in 110 days. Why Indiaman? From 16th to 19th-century large merchant ships used for trading between Europe and Southern Asia were called the Indiaman. This bus journey started for trading purpose.

Indiaman (Google Image)

Indiaman’s route and price:

The bus departed from London on 15th April 1957. The tickets cost was £85 for the London to Calcutta section and £65 for the return journey. Means at that time London to Calcutta cost around 7,889/- Indian rupees, which is pretty expensive given the year. It travelled across the mountains, desserts and green countryside between England and India. The bus through France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. During that long journey, at night the passengers either had to stay in hotels or camp outside, where there were no hotels. The bus reached Calcutta on 5th June and returned to London on 2nd August 1957. It was 16 days behind its scheduled arrival time. One of the delays was the Asian Flu epidemic, due to which the Pakistani-Iranian border beyond Lahore was closed.

Calcutta’s prestigious newspaper The Statesman covered the arrival of the bus in the city and posted an image of it parked on the wood street.

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The Albert Bus:

In the late ’60s, a Double-Decker luxury bus nicknamed ‘Albert’ started passenger service from the UK to India to Sydney. Apparently, it made 15 trips between India and the UK and about four trips between London and Sydney. Alberts first journey started was on 8th October 1969. It departed from the GPO in Martin Place in Sydney and arrived in London on Monday 17th February 1969. So it took apparently 132 days for this journey. Seems like an epic adventure.

Albert’s route and price:

In 1970, the bus took its third journey. But most importantly it took the Khyber Pass route via Afghanistan. The new route was much enjoyed by travellers as Afghanistan was becoming a popular destination. It cost £145 from London to Calcutta and £290 from London to Sydney including travel, food, accommodation. Post reviewing the fare one can imagine this trip was not meant for poor.

In 1976, with political tensions rising in Iran, ALBERT’s travel through Iran being considered impractical so it had to be rested in England. It was 16th number trip. Over the years ALBERT made more than 150 border crossings without ever being held up for serious scrutiny, nor was a bribe ever proffered to smooth the passage. High Road For Oz goes on to say that all the trips numbered 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, ran right through to Sydney. The trips numbered 12, 13, 14 and 15 operated between London and Kolkata. On arrival in India, the bus made stops in Delhi, Agra, Banaras and Kolkata. 

The bus also had some extra ‘luxury services’ like a reading and dining room at the lower deck, individual sleeping bunks, fan heaters to keep passengers warm and aesthetic interiors to make the bus feel like home while on the long journey.

The route taken by the Albert Travel bus was – England, Belgium, West Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, West Pakistan and India. In India, the bus travelled from New Delhi to Agra, Allahabad, Banaras and finally, Calcutta.

“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than trees.” -Henry David Thoreau

No plan is the best plan. Connect to the primitive. We have heard these kinds of phrases so much that it became generic statements for us. It starts losing impact on us. Until that one-day comes in our life, when we understand the real meaning of these phases, and we adsorb the thoughts. The excess greenery does soothe the eyes and mind. When you can hear your breathing sound, the sense of alive overpowers your mind, then you can understand yes, sometimes the obvious works wonder.

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Walk in the woods PC-Neel Malakar

Why the realisation:

In Darjeeling I got bored. Next day the plan was to move to Sikkim. So in between, I got an unwanted spare day, which I did not know how to utilise. Post breakfast, I started walking on random roads. It was 8:30 am and cold. I thought I would spend my day doing Dandi march. In a few minutes, I saw a little crowd. Few car and drivers were waiting and calling for the passenger and few people were getting on the car. “Lamahatta for 100 rupees”. I moved towards it. I asked them about the place and hopped in the car when they said Lamahatta is 45 minutes away from here. New place, about an hour’s journey, I could not think of much except one thing: No Plan is the best plan. The car started in 15 minutes.

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Time spent among trees is never time wasted PC- Neel Malakar

The moment of my existence:

I reached Lamahatta. It was 10:15 am when i checked my watch. Before I moved away, the driver said, it might be difficult to get a car in return. But they could wait for me if paid 1000 bucks for up and down. I smiled and moved away. I did not know at that time, whether to keep the car, or not. One thing that I could feel is that I did not want to think. It’s okay to go with the flow. Let the time come, I would figure out. That’s all I could think that time.

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Walk in the woods:

That moment waited for me. Sometimes we wait for some moments and sometimes the moments waiting for us. Those tall green trees were everywhere. Big rocks and hills peaks were peaking behind them. I never had seen such fresh greenery and such peace. Yes, here you can see peace. It looked calm, pure, mature. I sat on the rocks, stood on them, spread my arms and then again I sat down quietly. It was the moment when you had to do nothing, just exist. We travel abroad, spend a fat amount to get this kind of peace and happiness. Trust me sometimes the unexpected thing fulfil all your expectation. I did not compare my busy city life with that peace. I just let it flow, let it go.

For hours it healed my soul and mind. I was feeling calmer. There was no smell of worry. The place looked so primitive yet so modern. I walked on those woods for hours until the sunset. Walk in the woods is not a journey, but a feeling. You live it once but carry the sense within you until you die. Words won’t be enough to describe but definitely, it is a worth sharing story.

Also Read Eklakhhi A little Bengal Station I Never Forgot.

Lastly, when at 5 P.M I started getting off. There it was dark and no conveyance. But strangely I was not worried about my return. As I started walking, I heard a car. It came from behind and stopped near me and asked, “Sir, it is hard to get anything to return. Can I drop you somewhere?” I smiled.