Yep, travel companions can make or break a trip. As a child, all I remember is being bundled into a matador or something by family and heading off to places with no names. Not having been kept in the loop about these travel plans, they always seemed so spontaneous. Of these trips, I can recollect fragments like mango orchards at some relative’s place,  a visit to a cousin’s village where they bred silkworms – a sluggish lot and its village pond by the jungle where we splashed around.

Otherwise most trips were to temples and more temples. And we didn’t go there to admire the aesthetics, culture or history…needless to say they were excruciatingly boring. Jostling crowds, craning our necks for a quick glance at an idol that was submerged in jewellery, silks and garlands and a snappy priest urging us to keep moving…

Nisargadhama – the origin of River Cauvery

Then there were the school trips which were far and in between. Nisargadhama en route to Coorg – big rabbits, monks running on the swinging bamboo bridge, bamboos, tree houses and the rock strewn water ringed with low hanging tree branches – River Cauvery’s quiet origin.

The samadhi at the Aurobindo Ashram is adorned with flowers and incense sticks offered by Aurobindo and Mother’s disciples

The other was the Chennai-Mahabs-Pondi route in the middle of a cyclone. Water clogged Chennai streets, the rough sea fed by torrential downpour. We tried to make the most of the beach before taking shelter in a gazebo where we could feed coins into a machine which gave us astrological predictions.

Mahabs with its lovely ruins and a clean stretch of beach was finished within the blink of an eye. Pondi was lovely – the simple yet tasty fare of dal and rice at the Aurobindo Ashram, placing my forehead on the cool marble of the samadhi of Mother and Aurobindo, the promenade at midnight, the sea crashing against the boulders and the spray of water from the inky blackness…

It was back to trips with the family that finally turned me off travel. There was the time in Karwar when a bunch of drunk men chased us and all of us women ended up in a room fearing the worst. The time our guide to Goa insisted that we eat only in Kamat restaurant and not try out the shacks because people who went to such places were not the right kind. The visit to Gokarana where we had to go only to the temple because Om Beach was a nudist beach (years later we found that it was not!!). Needless to say it killed the spirit of travel.

Golden Temple, Bylaguppe – the largest Tibetan settlement in India

Something has to be said about sterile trips with NRIs in air-conditioned cars to resorts – it was a grave injustice to Coorg. But stepping into the Tibetan Monastery in Byleguppe and there in the presence of the giant golden Buddha,  all complaints and fears were silenced.

Surprisingly one of the best trips was the spontaneous one to Gokarna with a brat who despite her admirable determination could not score any chillums in the three days that we were there and who tried to distract me in sneaky ways to make us miss the bus back home. I will save Gokarna for another day but it was that much more memorable owing to a certain Ms S and her pursuit for hippie-ness.

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