Lost in Lucknow

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. ūüôā

Picture Credit: Tushar Das
Lucknow, India, May 2011

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The Right Guide

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.