Rains & Leeches: My experience in the Jungle

“At two o’clock in the morning, if you open your window and listen,
You will hear the feet of the Wind that is going to call the sun.
And the trees in the Shadow rustle and the trees in the moonlight glisten,
And though it is deep, dark night, you feel that the night is done.” 
― Rudyard Kipling

When Rudyard Kipling wrote these lines, what did he experience? I thought to myself. And then I took the steep path into the Jungle to unfold my own myth.

A backpacking journey into the jungle with no mobile phone towers or electricity is something I ideally wanted especially after I had read a book about forests and Leopards in the wild.

The cold winds of December swirled around as we were entering Ooty, the hairpin bends lead us into foggy roads with big trees of sal, pine, and eucalyptus. The fluffy coat of clouds drizzled and then poured. Everywhere we turned we saw streams and countless waterfalls, it felt like the hills are alive again humming their forest song.

Armoured with sweaters, we had nothing to be afraid of except of course the uphill traffic and tree uprooting which had caused a mere hour delay and a delay makes city dwellers really understand the rules of the hills, that the trees rule the land, almost always and then when an uprooting takes place you realise that it becomes an even greater challenge for the traffic than the ones encountered in the city. The entire travel comes to a halt and that even to clear the premises with the police on their toes can get a lot challenging. Once the sight was clear, we slowly moved ahead and kept going until we reached our camp area.

An army truck was waiting, as our bus entered the campsite. Next thing we were packed into the army truck with our luggage and the ride and sitting inside one everyone felt like a causality traveling through murky roads, that sometimes it took the engine double the amount of fuel when the wheels got stuck into a loose ground.Making a halt the guide said ‘You’ll have to trek through the woods from this point”. I was allowed the permission of traveling in the truck because of the injury I had a day back.

Despite the injury or the trainer advising me to take the truck instead, I wanted to experience the walk through deep woods, to experience a world of imaginary forests that authors pen about in their books. After a brief round of introduction with the trainer in regards to the jungle, we had a guide who told us about the wild we may get to chance upon, only if we were really quiet.

We began slowly moving into the woods, the eerie quiet space with the random sounds of the forest felt very scary at first, it was almost like Murakami wrote in his book, it’s so quiet and so eerie at the same time that it could easily haunt anyone.

“Not just beautiful, though — the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they’re watching me. What I’ve up till now, what I’m going to do — they know it all. Nothing gets past their watchful eyes. As I sit there under the shining night sky, again a violent fear takes hold of me. My heart’s pounding a mile a minute, and I can barely breathe. All these millions of stars looking down on me, and I’ve never given them more than a passing thought before. Not just the stars — how many other things haven’t I noticed in the world, things I know nothing about?” 
― Haruki Murakami

In the quiet forest trek, I could hear a stream from afar, and the call of the langur and the sound of the rain pounding on us. When you’re in the wild all these sounds from the jungle are scary any sound from a distance seems to haunt you.  just the sound of people chatting on the path would bring comfort, most of these fellow mates before me were hardly seen as I was taking my time for the climb, I kept thinking what if we saw a tiger in all its vicinity but found it fortunate to not encounter any but only spotting pug marks of the wildcat on a different path.

At first, it was the uphill climb, then it was my footwear that was causing distress and the sudden bouts of heavy rains that made giant puddles of slushy loose mud. The leeches were also a welcome, with the trek.

I slipped and fell countless times with campers to my rescue and when I finally saw the campsite I was truly happy. The excitement that came after finishing this two-hour trek was just mesmerizing It was a glorious time for photos as everyone from the team completed their trek.

On arriving we were lead to the fireplace where the entire team huddled, next a bowl of salt was passed across the team religiously. The salt was then applied to the leg, almost everyone had donated blood, donated because we were all bitten by leeches. I seemed to have at least seven due to open footwear. Blood oozed from the areas and the salt remedy worked. I think we grew so familiar with leech therapy that none of us were scared about getting a leech bite.

There were two options dorm or the tent. I wasn’t very comfortable with sleeping in the wild with a tent, so I picked dorm naturally. The weather was a biting cold so much that even sandwiching between two blankets gave you the chills. Many others picked the tent over the dorm they had an additional activity to do every night, which was to look out/ collect any leeches around/inside the tent only then they could sleep.

With no electricity, there was no hot water. However, we learned to adapt to the jungle, most of us took a bath in ice cold water and then followed it up with the warm dinner and a glass of hot boost. It was only a feasible idea to use the loo before it got really dark. We all carried a torch and had to accompany someone who was using the restroom because we were in the wild. In the dark, you could hardly spot anything even the loo at the time was not spared from leech invasion. The instructor had also told us about wild bores, that they were very much active during the night.

The next day our call time was 6.30am in the morning and it was so cold everything was freezing including the water, the smoke dispersed into the air when any of us spoke. Geared in my sports shoe I was ready. The breakfast was mighty with idly and deep fried vadas that everyone wanted a second round of.

We started walking towards the pine forest we crossed a few streams and we were near the lake. The canoe boats in bright yellow and dull green and grays were laid out. The instructor took 20 minutes to explain the mechanism of being in a canoe or most importantly what to do when the boat capsizes, which was frequent according to him.

We had about three boats and people who knew swimming and wanted to experience first hand went in. In the beginning, I wasn’t going to try it but after watching my fellow campers taking to the lake alone I changed my mind. When the time came I sat in the single seat of the canoe, it felt as if I was being slipped into a coffin with the legs being placed inside and hardly having any control over the legs. After a word of encouragement, those fellow campers gave me my boat a push. I was alone with the boat the paddle and the water beneath me which had always managed to overwhelm me. I was quietly floating across in my bright yellow colored canoe, spotting fishes and taking my time to ease up while I was at it. I did feel panicky when I wanted to return back to land but I did conquer the fear of water, boats and the balance part of it. After many victories and a few whose boat capsized (including my brothers and other few people).

We headed upward for our next activity a colorful dart board was placed at a distance and a set of arrows were neatly laid out in a bag. Archery it was, with the fist-rest we were equipped with basics on shooting. It looked easier but the amount of pressure that the bow required to shoot the arrow was an incredible amount. While some of us had missed shots, some managed to get their arrows on the board. After an extended hour of cricket, we arrived for lunch.

Gorge walking was next, I was told that this was the most challenging walk amongst slippery rocks and deep mud and mostly an uphill climb amongst the breathtaking views. I decided to bunk this activity and decided to sleep over until evening while the campers met near the campfire for Christmas activities, a couple of songs with tasks and then we all relished the dinner along with rosemary tea which was then followed by a story-telling session near the camp-fire about animal encounters.

The next day we were ready to get back to the hills with all our bags lined up, the army truck loaded our luggage as we climbed into it. The grilling ride inside the army truck is an experience by itself especially with the off-roads. Even a normal person would become a casualty case in an hours worth travel on bad roads in that truck. Once we were near the emerald lake, we walked down to the lake, the waters were untouched and it was so serene you could drown for hours at the view.

With the tower being back, almost everyone snapped back into their screens. From then on the bus was loaded with luggage and we headed towards Ooty botanical gardens from there the road downhill was amazing with a halt especially at a chai bunk where the chilly fritters were welcome with the weather. Dinner was light at a petty highway bunk shop. Even though my foot was completely swollen either because of the leech bite or the injury. It was a trip I truly devour till date.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My tryst with waffles

When you have friends, that have a sweet tooth, you end up eating what they crave. Pair a gloomy day with a Friday feeling and call it a dose of high sugar.

We wanted to try out waffles from Waf’O’Bel which is tucked in a narrow lane full of greenery in Chetpet.

The entrance to the building is like you’ve entered a Zen zone filled with green spots here and there.

When you enter the café it’s pretty spacious with frames of comic characters like TinTin hanging on the wall. There are a lot of comic books around to get your nose into while you wait.

The menu is simple and explanatory by itself. While we were waiting we picked up a few tinkle books lying around and we chose a place near the window so  we could peer out for a view.

I ordered the ‘dream team Waffle’ and my friend wanted to try the ‘black and white Waffle, she’s more of a sweet tooth.

So what does heaven really feel like?  Imagine biting into a Nutella oozing warm waffle topped with fresh cream chocolate and a mango ice cream.The yum crunch of the waffle with Nutella and the melt in the mouth feel. I could call this a Friday feeling.

My friend, on the other hand, wanted to try the green tea infused with rosemary after her waffle affair. She felt the subtle taste of the rosemary was lingering even after.

The place is spacious and there’s quite a lot to try on their menu. Waffles, sandwiches in a creape which have interesting stuffings like corn, spinach, paneer stuffed into a nice thick crepe or you could sip on some hot/ cold milkshakes or tea.

The server recommended a cuppa hot chocolate after I finished my tryst with my waffle but I decided against it, as I was happy with my quota of dessert for the day.

Value for money and delicious lip-smacking waffles to dig your blues away.The best place for those keen on trying chocolate oozing waffles for dessert.

Waf O'Bel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Waf O'Bel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Waf O'Bel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Waf O'Bel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Did you get that Chilly Burn High ?

On any regular day, you will find crowds thronging to shops that dole out sandwiches every few minutes, but the secret ingredient that people come looking for is the burn in the mouth chilly coriander chutney spread generously on their sandwiches. You cannot surpass a piece of the sandwich without tears (I really mean it, I’ve tried one myself) but, beyond all that every time I’ve indulged in something spicy, I’ve felt immediate relief right after it, this had me thinking I should write one about my love for chilies.

The Guardian newspaper states that Millions of people actively seek out the pain of hot chilies as a form of pleasure. The burn features prominently in more than a few of the world’s great cuisines, with more than a quarter of the world’s population eating hot peppers daily.

The extended research about chilies shows that eating a chilly for many is like the thrill of either watching a horror movie. The sense of damage is a false alarm: a way to get the thrill of living on the edge without the risk of exposing yourself to real danger.

But before all that lets dig in to some details

  • The heat-causing chemical capsaicin in chillis is produced by plants to deter pests.
  • Capasin or capsaicinoids found in chilies are the receptors known for its heat and burning sensation, despite its burning sensation it does not cause any physical or tissue damage. (This point is debatable depending on how much heat you’re ingesting)
  • Capasin finds its use in low concentrates for pepper sprays and other deterrents
  • The compound that makes chili peppers feel hot in your mouth, is one of the main ingredients in pain-relieving creams. Yes, the balms that you use may contain capasin
  • Chilies are known for revving up your metabolism, relieving your stress and making you feel good

Why would anyone seek the burning sensation?

The burn signals the brain to release endorphins releasing the chemical dopamine which makes one instantly feel better or good. That reminds me of the one chilly variety known to tear anyone up instantaneously.

Bhut Jholika

In the variety of chilies, Bhut Jholika is really hot with over 1,041,427 SHUs on Scoville scale with most of the pepper being exported from Assam. Now the fact that you didn’t probably know was that this chilly was also used by the army to make tear gas to suppress rioters.

Apart from that, in the northeast, many people eat chillies to help to keep their body cool during summers, but hold on there is a chilly that has surpassed as the hottest chilly and that is Carolina Reaper

Carolina Reaper

Yep, if there is something that will probably put you on fire is Carolina Reaper surpassing as hottest chillies since 2017, and averages 1.6 million scoville heat units (SHU).

If you don’t believe me, here’s a story reported by the Independent

A man developed “excruciating” thunderclap headaches and had to get emergency medical attention after eating the world’s hottest chilli, the Carolina Reaper, as part of a hot pepper contest.

This is the first time a chilli has been described as causing this brain blood vessel constriction, though it can occur in response to certain medications, including some antidepressants, as well as illicit drugs like cocaine and ecstasy.

Eating intense cayenne pepper has previously been identified as a cause of “vasospasm”, where the blood vessels constrict in other parts of the body, and has caused heart attacks.

Who knew that chilly could actually cause heart attacks ? I think these hot peppers may find their way in the army or medical research to treat patients perhaps.

All that for the future, but for now I’m just going to hang eating my chilly cheese toast smeared with the coriander chutney, after all, a good cry can make anyone feel better.

Embrace the Fugly

April was one rollercoaster of a month,  so I decided it to just let it flow instead of policing myself. I am learning to embrace my ugly side and let the emotions surf through the tide of what I call funny+ugly: Fugly

  • On overeating mindlessly at everything that was crunchy, without realizing the texture, flavor or taste. At times I wanted to censor the eating bit but I couldn’t, all I ever needed was spicy food (Inserts teary-eyed face) (Yes, all that lump not gonna go away with a slim sauna belt, I know)

 

  • There were times I took the plunge, not because I wanted to, it sure didn’t feel within but it just happened and I learned to be okay with that. (Average is better than no sportsmanship) (Heck, no! I’m not saying be average, be the best you can but at times at least pat yourself for a handling a terrible day with an average attitude)

 

  • I learnt that people have priorities, and mostly it doesn’t have to do anything to do with you.

 

  • I learned that in every movement in every aspect, one needs to learn to breathe slowly.

 

  • Getting uncomfortable and awkward is the norm, the earlier the better.

 

  • One perspective doesn’t fit all that is, what is chaos to the butterfly isn’t to the bee logic.

 

  • Just be present at the moment and just do, that all that is required.

 

Just like any roller coaster, life is going to tumble you upside down and drop you from the highest level but since I’ve anyway signed up for it why the heck not just live it through and learn to embrace the not so happy, messy side equally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 Days of Poetry Writing Challenge

When I was endlessly scrolling through article after another looking for motivation to literally help me get out of my routine, I finally stumbled at one. So I read about this challenge, where a person writes short poems for a year.

A year is too far-fetched, I thought, so I decided on writing for a month on Notegraphy. Sometimes the words just poured, and at times I had to re-think restructure and sometimes even be okay with whatever I wrote, that looked rather average.

But at the end, I feel delightful not because of churning out one poem after another but for a fact that I could actually complete this task taking it one day at a time.

Here’s what a month’s short poetry challenge looks like

https://notegraphy.com/amreenmakhani

Writing

You can read more here: https://notegraphy.com/amreenmakhani

Things to do in Cuddalore (Visually)

My routines on Sunday is always juggling between being a clean freak or getting way too lazy there is no in-between. So when I signed up for a cuddalore trip I thought it’s just one Sunday being productive. And I use the word productive because we had to be on the bus by 4.30 AM.

I could hardly fall asleep because of the mundane thoughts in my head about why had chosen this over my extended hours of sleep or endless day of doing nothing. Sure, being home is awesome laze around in PJ’s read a book, watch a movie but I had chosen to spend this day productively with a lot of work the following day.

Once I was on the bus everything was alright, I had carried two books an MP3 player and with that, my entertainment was sorted. Once we were around ECR we stopped at a restaurant only to savor soft idly’s, crispy vadas and dosas with a dollop of ghee.

After a heavy breakfast, the bus moved through narrow lanes, no buildings in sight and pastures of greenery and after a few hours I couldn’t keep my eyes off the road. We had entered Cuddalore and the only time I heard about Cuddalore was when I was in school about how it was affected by the aftermath of Tsunami.

Green pastures, endless skies, and breathtaking views. The farmers were out early plowing their fields, we passed a canopy of trees and views and finally to halt at a main road in the Chidambaram town.  The roads were filled with hawkers selling incense sticks, flowers, and earthen lanterns. With the whiff of the incense sticks and the voices from a blaring speaker that were perhaps chanting a mantra, we had Chidambaram Temple first on our list of things.

THE CHIDAMBARAM TEMPLE 

Nataraja or Chidambaram Temple was built in the 10th century, dedicated to Shiva, as the lord of Dance. The entire temple symbolizes the theme of arts, dance and the connection with spirituality. Intricate work pours out throughout the temple from the stone carved pillars to the endless paintings done with natural dyes on the ceilings. I was told that this was the only temple where the deity Shiva is also seen as Nataraja.

After the gaping visit to the temple, we walked further to sample the paneer soda, which had the subtle aroma and the sweet taste while others sipped on their filter coffee.

BOATING AT PICHAVARAM

The next stop was at Pichavaram, which is the worlds 2nd largest mangrove forests. The trees are deeply rooted in a few feet of water and there are more than 400 routes available for boating. You could easily spot birds if you go early morning via a boat. We hopped on to a boat leading us into very narrow water lanes where most of us either had to bend in our seats because of the branches, while the sun played hide and seek. This boating ride was a lot of fun and a quiet time with nature.

Rock Beach, Pudhucherry 

We were a bit tired but not so much so we ended up also visiting  the rock beach at Pondycherry, we spent quite a while at the seashore at around 3pm and then decided to head back home and also keep a lookout for restaurants serving north Indian meals at around 5pm which was again impossible and that’s a story for a different day. But overall not only did I have fun, I also got a good dose of architechture and nature all combined in a power-packed Sunday.

 

 

 

Unwinding at Meraki Cafe

If you’re someone that has a listicle of things to do, priorities and hardly any time to yourself it’s about time you visited this quaint cafe tucked in a deserted street at Abhiramapuram

As soon as you enter the cafe you’re surrounded by a bright wall and a nice sit out place, as you walk in, there is a space inside dedicated exclusively for a retreat. As soon as you open the main doors a slight aroma of lavender wafts through and the antique lamps make the retreat much more relaxing.

You’re taken into a room with an oval-shaped pod right in the center, it’s a white big round shaped pod filled with Epsom salt and water known as the NapPod. Once you enter the pod you can either sit back and relax or remain afloat in the water. Epsom salt is known to reduce the inflammation, promote blood circulation and relax the body even deeper. With 60 minutes to yourself, it’s an absolute retreat in your own cocoon.

Once you’re done with the retreat you can hang outside and order yourself quick snackers or sip some apple cider vinegar or go with the blueberry rush if you like to drink something sweet.

I happened to try paneer cigars which were delish which was served with mayo and sauce. I was hovering over the pasta menu next and ordered for Beetroot pasta, a dish that I thought I wouldn’t try because I’ve avoided beetroot almost all my life. When the dish landed on my table it was pink colored wheat pasta with perhaps a transparent sauce that I couldn’t identify, topped with garlic bread. Even though it felt pretentious at first, it all melted down when I took the first bite, it was all sorts of yum and creamy. You can always tell them if you’d like a rather dry version or a saucy version, they’re ready to make it exactly the way you want it.

My brother, who tagged along with me wanted to try a sandwich so he ordered a classic paneer cheese sandwich and it was just like any other sandwich we had eaten. There was quite a lot of options from the menu like Nachos, Salad’s for people who eat on a lighter note, but we were almost full.

Even after all the food thulp, we still had space for desserts while he went for the chocolate mousse I decided to order the Gulab Jamun cheesecake. This is perhaps the most sinful dessert I’ve tasted till date that light cheesecake with Gulab Jambun in the center, I was in heaven. I don’t think I even mumbled while having my dessert, and that my friend is when desserts give you a high, literally.

This is a kind of go-to place for a retreat and to grab a quick snacker (I’ve heard they’ve also introduced new maggie flavors in their menu) All the more reason to hang out at a quaint cafe, I say.

 

 

Wrapping up 2017

Dec-Jan is perhaps the most stressful as the anxiety of a new year kicks in. The anxiety of how it will turn out to be, or events you may have no control over.  I started 2017 on a not so positive note which kept progressing into an amalgamation of events, artists and people that I was truly baffled by, most importantly universe juice.

In February, the balmy skies took me to a Sufi musical concert. I was elated with music and contended with what life had to offer. Looking back I’m only grateful to attending this festival and listening to storytellers with their songs spun with wisdom.

For the month of April, I was unbelievably starring at an advertisement bearing a photo of Rashid Khan, I knew that moment I wasn’t going to miss the Live performance. I also learned to be more open to different experiences, even with music.

August came as a surprise to myself, as I went in for a play audition.(Note: I’ve never ever done this before). For someone who takes a lot of time to open up and express this was surely something off the hook. I had gone for the audition solo despite all the fear and anxiety and I took part in everything that was up for auditioning even if it meant feeling nervous, embarrassed and sweaty palms. Surprisingly theatre seemed to open me up a lot more and I had a lot of takeaway lessons, I didn’t think it could offer in a mere audition

October felt light and breezy as Three buddies boarded a government bus to Pondicherry. The trip was on a shoe-string budget and included random spurts of activity like sightseeing places that we weren’t aware of, doing random things and having woodfired thin crust pizza which was a pure delicacy along with a visit to book bargains. (Here is my visual journey of Pondicherry)

The Diwali time a friend and I took to Mahabalipuram to explore monuments on foot. I also had an opportunity to watch Mame Khan Live and be a part of a backstage interview (Thanks to a friend). If you’ve never heard of the artist I suggest you check out this track. The power of Folk music is just undeniable especially when it’s live

The month of December took me to the hills of Ooty, Avalanche and into a deep jungle which was packed with an adventure. I took to the trip with an injury I had a day early. It was truly a thrill-packed experience with the leeches and the rains.

I’m utterly grateful to the universe for having so many things aligned for me. I’ve met incredible artists, gone to amazing plays, found the healing power of theatre and traveled and experienced life as much as I could.