The last piece I performed was Yahi Madhava – a story depicting Radha’s betrayal and heartbreak at having discovered her lover’s infidelity. The piece is one very close to my heart for several reasons, but I was worried that day that a lack of an understanding of Indian mythology might cause the piece to be lost on people.
During a performance trip to Jakarta, a couple of my friends decided they wanted to try the most expensive coffee in the world. Now, if you haven’t already heard of Kopi Luwak, let me fill you in:
Kopi Luwak is a Vietnamese coffee that includes partly digested coffee cherries, eaten and defecated by the Luwak (aka the Asian Palm Civet). The civet is able to choose the good cherries from the bad, and the digestive mechanisms improve the flavor profile of the coffee beans.
Small-minded though it might be, I was grossed out by this. But…when in Rome, right? So there we were, in a little cafe in a mall in Jakarta, being served coffee made from beans pooped out by a cat. And to be honest, it didn’t taste too different from a regular, strong cup of coffee. But it made for an afternoon of hysterical laughter, cringing, scatalogical humour and memory-making.
The minute one steps into travel mode, the urge to try new things kicks in. And suddenly, eating a fried scorpion off a stick, getting on the back of a bike with a stranger who promises to take you parasailing or confronting your worst fears of height, water, speed and wildlife seems like not-so-awful an idea.
Whatever the experience – scary, funny, gross – making memories is the real shit.
Jakarta, Indonesia, March 2016.
Years and years after my visit to the Bhul-bhulaiya in the Bada Imambara in Lucknow I still have nightmares of getting lost alone – literally and otherwise.
Our tour of the Bhul-bhulaiya began by our guide leading my family and me into the labyrinth and its passageways connected to each other through 489 identical doorways. I have never had a great sense of direction anyway, so I gave up trying to keep track 5 or 6 turns into our tour. I focused instead on the tidbits of information our guide was giving us. I found my mind wandering. I imagined people walking the very corridors I was walking through. I asked myself who they might have been, what they thought and dreamt about. I wondered how it was possible to hear whispers across the walls and imagined the messages people passed to each other through them…
My thoughts were interrupted by our guide telling us that it was our turn to navigate. There was no way I was going to manage; that was no surprise. But soon enough, both my dad and brother were giving up too, as our guide watched, mildly amused. It was impossible. We were lost, and we were left stunned by the genius of the architects who created this structure 250 odd years before.
I often think that life can be disturbingly like the Bhul-bhulaiya; a series of choices leading further and further into a maze. Too many wrong turns, and sometimes it feels like there’s no way out.
But soon enough, our calm, experienced and all-knowing guide swiftly led us out of the constructed trap. And wasn’t that poetic?
There’s always a way out. Maybe the next time you feel alone, trapped and unable to find your way… give in, reach out, and ask for a little help. 🙂
Picture Credit: Tushar Das
Lucknow, India, May 2011
It was one of those fateful trips; made as a result of a determination not to sit around on my last full day in a city. A series of coincidences and mistakes brought me to the security gate of the premises where I hastily showed the guards a scan of my passport and was shuffled in along with hundreds of other tourists. Just as I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by the sheer size of the space and the lack of signs telling me where to go, a soft spoken gentleman asked, “Tour guide?”
Meet Taweesak Sattayanukarn. My guide through the breathtaking Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha, in Bangkok, Thailand.
One piece of advice I always go by is this – follow the local. And if you have time on your hands, spending money on a local guide is always a great move.
A guide through the historical sites of Bangkok for 26 years, Taweesak was able to point out so many things I would have otherwise missed:
The incredible amalgamation of Hinduism and Buddhism in this site.
The porcelain decorations around 8 Cambodian style pillars, made from broken teapots, teacups and plates, fashioned in mosaic style into flowers, representing the Buddhist 8-fold path.
The stunning mirror work along the body of the temple, slanting inwards as the walls rise, allowing rainwater to fall downwards more easily, to delay damage as long as possible.
The fact that the Emerald Budda is dressed in different golden outfits – one for each season, in varying thicknesses and lengths, depending on how cold it is.
The fact that there’s water, orange juice, and lunch (all for free) for tourists visiting the Grand Palace and the temple.
…and so much more.
Not only did Taweesak add an immeasurable amount to my experience at the Grand Palace, but hearing about his life, his family and his opinions on the royal family, his country’s history and religion gave me an insight into life in Bangkok that only a local could have provided.
If you’re in Bangkok and want to explore the palace, any of the surrounding temples or the ancient city of Ayuthaya, give Taweesak a call on +66818449372.
I promise you, it will make a huge difference. And if you do find him, tell him that dancer girl from India that he showed around, had lunch with, and found a tuk-tuk for, says hello and sends him her love!
Bangkok, Thailand, January 2017.
I’m really not an outdoorsy girl. So when my brother insisted that I join him on an 11km trek up Mount Kranteshwar in Champawat, Uttarakhand, I was terrified. I made every excuse I could think of – I’ll slow you down, I’ll never manage, I have work to do, it’ll be nicer for you without me – but to no avail. My tall, fit, athletic brother convinced my much-less-so self that coming all the way to Uttarakhand was incomplete without a trek. Having promised to help me through it, he persuaded me to give it a shot, and I (against my better judgement) agreed.
About 15 minutes into our trek, we stopped at a little settlement where we met some friends of our guide’s. They chatted with us for a little while, asking about where we were from, how long we’d be there etc etc. Then, I was introduced to Jackie; a stunning mountain Bhutia.
I introduced myself. He was friendly. He wagged his tail, shook my hand and let me cuddle him, quite willingly. As we were leaving to get back to our trek, I asked him “Are you coming with us?”
Something told Jackie than I needed some help. Not only did he come with us, he also didn’t leave my side the whole time. He’d run ahead, but stop and wait for me to catch up. He stopped when I stopped, sitting right next to me, head or paw on my knee as if to assure me that I could do it. However irrational it sounds, I’m convinced that I wouldn’t have made it to the spectacular view at the top of Mount Kranteshwar without my new friend.
On our way down, Jackie refused to enter the premises of the resort we were staying in. Perhaps it was another dog’s territory. He sat just outside the entrance, watched me walk away and I suddenly felt tearful. I ran back to him, gave him a hug and said thank you, at which he licked my nose and happily trotted away.
I will probably never see Jackie again; an unexpected friend in the most unlikely of places. But then, aren’t those the best kind?
Champawat, Uttarakhand, India, May 2016.
The first time I met Ghulam Bhai, I wasn’t sure if I was excited or scared or worried about giving my precious silk saris to a total stranger to cut into little pieces.
I found his shop down a dingy corridor in Tardeo’s AC Market, in Mumbai and ended up spending 4 hours with the authority of dance costume design in India. We heard stories about Hema Malini’s tantrums, his first press interviews, and a sharara of Mumtaz’s that had to be stretched out inch by inch (by hand!) the night before a film shoot, using water and a steam iron.
He was silently decisive about what to do with the saris I had brought him. I tried to tell him how I wanted what, terrified that my beautiful saris would be done wrong. After listening to me patiently for a few minutes he held up a hand and said “Beta, mujhe mera kaam karne do.”
Let me do what I do best, my child.
That was over 5 years ago. Today, I have been back to this little shop multiple times and only own stunning costumes made by his experienced, perfectionist hands – that you can barely see moving when he stitches up a newly pleated sari. Thank you Ghulam Bhai! You’re a star.
Tardeo, Mumbai, March 2011.
My brother is the ultimate foodie and Singapore feeds his soul like no other city does. And if it was possible to pick a favourite dish, it would be this one – Hainanese Chicken Rice – a typical Singaporean dish; made by steaming rice in chicken stock for flavour, with boiled or roasted chicken slices. Eaten with fresh cucumber and a mouth-watering chilly-garlic sauce, this is Singapore on a plate as far as I’m concerned!
This is one of the things we eat every single time we visit Singapore.
Found in its best form at any local hawker centre!
Bugis, Singapore, October 2013.
A city girl like me, up in the mountains for 10 days? I can’t say I was thrilled. But even I felt my heart leap when the clouds parted to reveal the majesty of the snow-capped Himalayas.
Caught in this picture is Trishul – a group of three Himalayan mountain peaks in the western Kumaun region.
Uttarakhand, India, May 2016.
I fell in love with travel through my first love – Odissi.
Being a dancer has allowed me to take my dance form – stories, concepts and experiments – to different parts of India and the world. And every space I’ve been to has given me new stories, new thoughts, new ideas.
I wanted a place to put them. And to share them with you.
Here are The Dancer Travels…
Thanks for reading! 🙂