When I tiptoed towards the international departure gate at the Bangalore airport with a maroon over-sized suitcase and a tan leather handbag with the word ‘Wanderlust’ scribbled on it, I was a bundle of nerves. I usually sleepwalk through the airport check-ins as I am mostly accompanied by my family or friends. They are the ones taking care of everything and I just follow suit. Yes, in the recent past, I have taken a few flights alone (namely to Indore, Bangalore and Goa) but I’ve always had someone talking to me on the phone as I panic a lot when I am all by myself.
This time, I was flying to an alien country with not a single familiar face by my side. However, the panic was being marginally overpowered by all the excitement – so much so that I didn’t even dial anyone’s number. I had no idea what the next seven days had in store for me and I couldn’t wait to find out.
So a couple of years ago, I had come across a Facebook status message by a random boy who had quit his job and traveled the world for an entire year. A friend of mine had shared the post and just like many others, I was super inspired by his fortitude. Apparently, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara had played a pivotal role in making him take this step. As you know, I’m Team MissMalini‘s Bollywood Buff and I love filmy people! So I had promptly added that boy and what had followed was a long beautiful conversation with him about his travel experiences.
We never really interacted much again until he became a travel guide and started taking small groups of people on cool ‘real’ trips (not the touristy ones). That’s when I decided to interview Neeraj Narayanan – This Guy’s On His Own Trip for our blog’s travel section (you can read our conversation here). I’ve been wanting to join him for one of his trips ever since. But somehow things just never fell in place. And when they finally did, it was *magic*.
Right outside the Air Asia check-in counter in Bangalore, I met a brother-sister duo and a couple, both from Pune and we all got talking instantly. The four of them were also going to travel with ‘this guy’. I found my fears evaporating with each passing moment. We had quite some time to kill at Kuala Lumpur airport before our next flight to Denpasar International Airport, Bali. That’s where I met most of my other co-travelers from Neeraj’s group. Some of us bonded while exchanging USDs into ringgits to buy some breakfast and coffee. We were an interesting mix of 23 youngsters from various metros across the country. “It’s going to be a hell of a journey,” I thought. Plus, I was going to get a fourth stamp on my passport!
When we landed in Bali, we were welcomed by Neeraj and his warm dimpled smile. Also, it was hard to ignore his trademark bandana and those BRIGHT yellow-and-black Adidas shoes that he was sporting. It was easy to guess that he hearts colours. Little did I know that a few days from then, I was going to walk with him into a waterfall, laced beautifully with a rainbow. Now, does it get more colourful than that?
As our cars zoomed through the bustling streets of Kuta – the party hub of Bali, I restlessly waited to dump my bags at the hotel and get the night started. After freshening up and grabbing a bite, all 24 of us headed towards the beach. I was thoroughly enjoying my lazy stroll.
I was checking out the walls adorned with interesting graffiti and the shops with gorgeous dream catchers and quirky tees while listening to the live bands crooning at the nearby cafes and bars. I was in no hurry to reach the beach. But when I got there, I didn’t feel like leaving.
That’s pretty much how this entire trip panned out for me. I was cherishing every moment, every place, every person I was coming across… until the next one came along.
After chilling on the beaches of Kuta, we were ready for a crazy night of club hopping. We laughed too loud, we danced too much, we even celebrated the birthday of one of the youngest boys in our group.
After a super fun night and a sound sleep, we (not me, the rest of the group) were ready for some water sports at the beach. The only activity I opted for was ‘flying fish’ because it looked easy-peasy. Plus, I have done parasailing and banana boat rides numerous times in the past. The guy who was organizing these activities for us seemed to be a huge Shah Rukh Khan fan, like every other Indonesian we interacted with (whenever they spot Indians, they all sing Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and address the men as SRK and the women as Kareena Kapoor or Anjali). So I showed him a picture of mine with SRK and told him jokingly that I happen to be his cousin. He totally believed and was in awe of me. The adorable chap instantly requested for a picture with me. Of course, I posed happily with him. Such a sweetu!
We took a quick shower, changed into pretty outfits and took off from the beach towards Uluwatu temple to catch the ethereal beauty of the sunset there. The view of the Indian Ocean complemented by the Balinese Hindu temple on the edge of the peninsula was absolutely ethereal. The orange-ish hues of the sky during the sunset would’ve added a lot more beauty to that sight. But as luck would have it, it starting pouring heavily as we made our way towards the temple. We were completely drenched in no time and the sun was nowhere to be found, thanks to the clouds. (To put things into perspective, it was super sunny in Cherapunjee and the waterfalls had almost dried up when I had visited there. So I guess I wasn’t that surprised when I couldn’t see the famous sunset at Uluwatu.)
But as if that wasn’t enough, some notorious monkeys who seem to have a fetish for glasses and all sorts of interesting accessories started following us. Somehow we managed to get rid of them and after a long adventurous walk, we finally reached the parking lot.
We sipped on some hot coffee and then headed back to the hotel while playing the good old Antakshari. That night, we bought some drinks and snacks from a local store and stayed in. Not to mention, a lot of fun banter and games were involved. Neeraj aka our Captain Nero made sure that everyone gelled well. All of us were finally getting to know each other and that upped the trip’s overall appeal and took it to an altogether different level.
It was love at first sight for me when I set foot on the island of Gili Trawangan. The Gili Islands are an archipelago of three small islands — Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air — just off the northwest coast of Lombok, Indonesia. After an hour long drive from Kuta to Manggis and a hearty lunch at the quaint Kerti restaurant, we enjoyed a boat ride (during which we all got drenched by the ocean’s waves) to Gili Trawangan.
GT is laid back, charming and happy.
“You realise that in the eternity of space there’s probably a planet out there, just like this one, where another you is photographing back down towards us. I mean essentially you are photographing yourself in a parallel universe… There are infinite worlds out there, where anything you want to happen, can happen” – The Beach
I found my parallel universe, my happy place at Gili Trawangan. I lied down on the beach under the stars while listening to the waves kissing the shore, I had the most delicious cocktails while conversing with my new friends (yes, the strangers had now turned into friends), I wondered about life, love and more while gazing at the endless blues, I walked aimlessly around the island smiling at anyone and everyone who crossed my path.
I don’t think I can tag myself a ‘traveler’ but I do take leaves from work to explore new places every now and then. I have been to many gorgeous destinations, some that have stolen my heart, but Gili – Gili was different. I don’t think words can do justice to what I feel for that place, what I felt at that place. Let’s just say that if I ever get my hands on a time traveler, I’ll always choose to relive my days there. And I think it’s obvious that I plan to visit Gili soon again.
Our hero, Nero encouraged all the peeps and took us (even the ones who are sh*t scared of water) for scuba diving. I was looking forward to it and had even pictured myself like this.
But I backed out at the last moment because I am just too too too scared of water and I didn’t want to ruin others’ experiences by panicking too much. I cheered for my friends, stayed back and chose to chill at a shack instead. I don’t regret it, there’s always a next time.
How can I not mention the times that we spent by the pool talking about various things under the sun ranging from our most embarrassing moments to our first Yahoo Mail passwords (don’t judge me but mine were cute_girl_teenager and bong_nightingale)!
During our luncheon at a shack minutes before we bid adieu to the dreamy island, the shack owners played ‘Tum Hi Ho’ and surprised us. Listening to a Bollywood song on a foreign land amidst a sea of firangs, it was somehow quite overwhelming for me. Plus, I just wasn’t ready to leave that place.
I will always hold my time spent in Gili very very very <insert many more verys> close to my heart.
Bits and pieces of Eat Pray Love have been shot at Ubud. Naturally, I was quite thrilled about my visit there. The place has its vibe and is cool and all but it didn’t really do anything life-altering for me. I danced and sang under a waterfall, trekked a volcano mountain (didn’t manage to reach on top but made the most out of my experience nonetheless), stayed at a pretty and peaceful resort, explored the town on scooter, clicked photos in front of the picturesque rice fields et al. So yes, I did have a gala time in Ubud, but Gili had left its mark on my heart and perhaps that’s why I was slightly underwhelmed. But what the place couldn’t do, the people around me did.
Nero, my two soul sisters (Bhavna and Ameeta – the Daalhi girls I befriended during this trip) and I went on a ‘kinda sorta date’ the night before the trek. So it wasn’t planned, okay? Some of our friends ditched us and went out for their own escapades without informing us. And since the four of us were dressed to the T, we just HAD to go out to do justice to our outfits. We went to a bar, where a live band was performing and each of the tables had a candle on it, so it turned to be a candle light dinner. The three pretty ladies (Bhav, Amy and I) sat thronging Nero, who flirted away with our waitress and charmed her in no time. On the other hand, the band manager struck a conversation with us and I introduced myself as Sridevi to him (I am an Imtiaz Ali fan, bro – Tamasha, bro!).
Our conversation seamlessly floated from our biggest fears to the number one thing on our bucket list to what not. And being someone who’s a sucker for quality conversations, I couldn’t get enough of that night.
There’s something about Nero – he always asks the right questions, says the right things and blah blah blah. Basically, he’s all of our dream boys rolled into one. I think all the girls (perhaps even the boys) who travel with him love him in some or the other capacity. (Nero has paid me to write all this so that more pretty women join him for his upcoming trips *wink wink*).
On a serious note, do check out This Guy’s On His Own Trip and if possible, travel with him. We shall talk then.
To conclude with, I’d like to affirm that I took a trip to Bali with ‘this guy’ and never returned. Why? Because I haven’t come back as the person that I used to be. I have fallen down more than I ever have during this getaway of mine. Physically, I am badly bruised, but emotionally, I have been healed in more ways than one.
(Apart from my darlings Nero, Bhav and Amy – Neelam, Vivek, Sujeet, Debanjan, Shishira, Snehal, Sakshi, Ritika, Vanessa, Rahul, Neha, Anish, Guru and Amulya also generously contributed in making this trip a memorable one for me)
Maybe traveling to faraway exotic locations does that to you, or is it the people you travel with?
For now, I am seeking no answers. I am more than delighted with my treasure box of memories.