Author

Susan Johnson

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Australia: A kangaroo’s tale

 

When I wore my fanny pack and boarded the flight to Australia, I wasn’t quite sure as of what to expect, except for the kangaroos and what I knew from reading travel magazines and Wikipedia. Things were growing boring back in my hometown, and my busy schedule wasn’t helping at all. So, I decided to live in my suitcase for a week. Australia was the first country that caught my sight when I stared at the world map poster hanging on the wall.

Embarking on a tour to explore the Australian realm of history, environment, and culture was a whole different experience in itself. The flight was one of the most mesmerizing rides I had ever had in my life. Peeping through the fluffy clouds, I caught a glimpse of the sapphire ocean. Once I arrived at the Sydney Airport, I took the shuttle to Town Hall. With so much time ahead, I decided to saunter through the streets to explore the city. My first stop was at the Sydney Tower. Although acrophobic, I still climbed up to the top of the tower and I was glad I did. I could almost view all of Sydney from the top, and the suburbs too. Most importantly, I spotted the Queen Victoria Building which was just a five-minute walk away and decided to go there next.

The Queen Victoria Building was a grand shopping mall that didn’t look anything like a shopping mall form the exterior. In fact, it appeared much like a historical building that was surrounded by a luxurious aura. The appearance of the mall made me dig into its past and I came to know that the mall was actually a lat-nineteen-century building that was about to be taken down until an Asian corporation came forward, and leased it for 99 years, altering it into a majestic looking shopping centre.

Every twelve minutes, a tram runs from Town Hall Station to Circular Quay from where a ten minutes’ walk took me to the Sydney Opera House. The building is divided into a concert hall and an opera hall. People have to be lucky enough to grab a ticket half an hour before a show, and unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them. Next to Sydney Aquarium, is Wildlife World where I found  kangaroos and koalas. Though I couldn’t touch the kangaroos, I definitely wrapped my arm around a koala to click a selfie.

The next morning, I started off toward Melbourne and the train ride consumed half my day. I went on a tour to the Yarra Valley Winery with a few other travellers. The scenic valleys and the picturesque countryside provided a perfect backdrop for my wine tasting journey.

At Alice Springs, I rode a camel and headed over to Darwin to begin my trip to Litchfield, Kakadu, and Katherine Gorge. Litchfield National Park was a place worth visiting with plenty of waterfalls, and rock pools in which you could take a dip; whereas, the Kakadu National Park, spread over 20,000 kilometres, is home to a variety of different animals and birds. I had booked a tour that included a 4WD car, thus it was easier for me to go into those big spots like Fog Damm, Twin Falls, and Jim Jim. At Kakadu, I went for a cruise in the Yellow Water River to catch a glimpse of some crocodiles. Water birds were scattered all over the area.

It was soon time to return home and so much I had not seen. Nonetheless, I have a good enough reason to return.

Sri Lanka: Paradise found

 

On my way back to India from Oman, I had the opportunity to pay a brief visit to Sri Lanka. My trip to Oman had already left me flabbergasted, and my expectations were high as I stepped my foot in Sri Lanka. An island nestled in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka had everything that I wanted from a travel destination. Let it be the diversity of the place or the delicate cuisine that left me looking forward to the next meal.

The people were as warm and welcoming as the sun, and a smile always lingered on their lips ready to help you with all your traveler’s queries. I found trains to be the best form of public transport to travel across the provinces. It also provided me with a chance to interact with locals and to learn about the less crowded and must-visit destinations. I expected to see palm trees and beaches lining when I boarded the flight, but the vast stretches of green valleys and hilly regions left me dumbfounded. Though I don’t enjoy going to beaches much, the Mirissa Beach definitely made its way into my heart.

Not only was the place clean, but did I spot monkeys happily jumping from one tree to another. There were even squirrels and peacocks running across the resort’s roof. Early in the evening, beach dining starts at Mirissa Beach. Sizzling, crackling, and clanking sounds fill the air with a delicious spicy smell lingering in the air. Dining here was more expensive compared to other restaurants.

On the other hand, I found Ella, a small laidback town in Sri Lanka, to be a place taken right out of a fairy-tale. It was here that I experienced the most beautiful train ride of my life. The area is surrounded by stunning tea gardens and mountains offering great hiking opportunities. I hiked up the Little Adam’s peak and it took me around 20 minutes to reach the top in addition to the 45 minute’ walk from Ella town to the foot of the mountain. I wanted to visit Diyaluma Falls, which is the second highest waterfall in Sri Lanka, but as the trip would consume up a whole day, I had to restrain myself from visiting it.

The Sri Lankan cuisine was out of this world. The curries, mostly accompanied by rice, are made with the freshest ingredients. Vegans won’t be disappointed as there is a wide array of vegan options to choose from. On the other hand, the seafood tastes heavenly and is pulled right out from the ocean. Coconut is an important ingredient in most of the Sri Lankan cuisine, and I found the lotus root curry to be extremely delicious.

Sri Lanka is home to an abundant number of national parks that are brimming with wildlife. It was a great experience to catch a glimpse of leopards and elephants in the wild at Yala National Park. The national park even had a beach where the luckiest people could spot dolphins and killer whales. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to spot either.

Lastly, to experience the cultural and religious side of Sri Lanka, I decided to visit the Ancient city of Polonnaruwa. There was a lot to see here including the Royal Palace, Sacred Quadrangle, Pabalu Vehera, and the Buddha figures at Gal Vihara. My trip ended with a visit to the Temple of Tooth in Kandy which is home to Buddha’s teeth.

Oman: Travel off the path

 

I had the opportunity to enjoy some leisure time this afternoon and all I could think of was surf through the photos on my computer. Halfway through the clutter, I found some amazing photos taken during my time in Oman a couple of years ago. So, here I have some photos to share and a story to tell.

To tell the truth, I had never really thought of Oman as a travel destination until my visit. Even with the golden sand, and rocky mountains, the place looked immensely beautiful. The capital city, Muscat, was full to the brim with palatial malls, tiny shops, souks (marketplace), and glorious mosques with a faint smell of frankincense lingering in the air.

My first stop was at the Muttrah Corniche, which was sandwiched between a vast stretch of azure sea and the Muttrah Souk. Muttrah Souk was a place that truly left me gaping due to its portrayal of a typically chaotic Arab market despite being put together under modern timber roofing. The place sells almost every Omani and Indian artifact from traditional jewellery and clothing, to antiques.

I found the traditional coffeehouse at the entrance to be the meeting point of local elderly men who sat sipping on a glass of qahwa (Arabic coffee). Getting lost in the souk was something that I found to be funny and equally thrilling. After finding my way out of the souk, I headed over to see dhows (traditional sailing vessels) being built by hand at Sur—a town nestled along the Gulf of Oman. Dhow building wasn’t just a job here, rather a way of life, culture, and tradition.

When in Oman, I had the privilege to meet and greet some Omanis whom I found to be friendly. The evenings were spent in one of my Omani friend’s house where they served qahwa, dates, and various other sweet confections.

Every city in Oman has a fort for visitors to explore, but the one that I found most interesting  is the Bahla Fort, which is also the oldest fort. Oman’s regional dishes are less spicy and equally delicious. Being a picky eater, I found kabsa (rice dish), Omani halwa (sweet confections), and kebabs to be worthy enough to enter my list of favourite dishes.

My last stop in the country was at Salalah, the southernmost city. Exploring Salalah was a completely different experience as it looked nothing like the other cities in Oman. The landscape transformed from brown deserts into emerald green valleys and fields. There is plenty of vegetation here even during the peak of summer. The long narrow ranges of streets and bazaars are home to shops that sell spices, traditional garments, and incense. Bargaining was my favourite activity here.

The eastern part of the city took half my day as I sauntered through the Taqah Castle, Khor Rori archaeological site, and the beautiful blue lagoon named Mughsayl with a pile of birds including flamingos scattered on its banks. I boarded my flight back to India the next day with a camera full of memories by my side.

Dubai: A concrete jungle or a cultural hub

 

Exactly three years ago, I crossed the Dubai border from Oman with my family in our sedan. I have always looked forward to visiting this wonderful emirate, and finally, my wish was about to be fulfilled. While Oman was a developing country with little towns and rich heritage, I had no idea of what to expect in Dubai save for the concrete jungle, and Burj Khalifa. All that revolved in the mind was whether Dubai would appear to be a vast concrete jungle or a cultural hub.

As soon as I caught a glimpse of the Dubai skyline, I knew that this trip was going to be expensive: Sports and luxurious cars parked on the glistening ribbon of road and magnificent rows of buildings that reached for the sky. Every shop stood apart from the other in offering an array of commodities.

I had a couple of days left in front of me, and I knew that the best way to explore was on foot or by public transport. Deira – a traditional commercial centre is where I began my visit. With many locals and foreigners, I climbed aboard the water taxi to cross the sea water flowing between Deira and Bur Dubai. Seeing the city from the water crumbled my misconceptions about Dubai. The luxurious and sparkling city was just an outer cover that enveloped the cultural diversity borrowed from millions of outsiders who now called Dubai their abode.

Bur Dubai was a different experience. It wasn’t sleek and stylish with restored historical districts and traditional souqs (marketplace). The whole place was enveloped in a community spirit that could rarely be found elsewhere in Dubai. After a two-hour long souvenir shopping spree, I walked into an ethnic eatery to munch on some traditional delicacies. Stuffing my tote bag with the souvenirs, I boarded a metro from Al Fahidi Metro Station to The Dubai Mall.

The Dubai Mall, also known as the world’s largest shopping mall, was breathtaking with Burj Khalifa situated next to it separated by a fabulous fountain. Though I couldn’t climb up to the top level of the world’s tallest building, I was content with having caught a glimpse of it. Dubai had everything to keep the richest, and the poorest of the people happier. In fact, the place was built of things that put it over the top.

My stomach was rumbling by the time I stepped out of Dubai Mall, and I was craving some coffee and snacks. I walked to the bus station and went straight to Jumeirah Beach. The place was lined with cafeterias and restaurants that served mouth-watering pastries, sandwiches, and beverages. I spent the evening on the beach under a palm tree reading a book that I had purchased before heading for dinner with a dozen other foreign nationals.

Yet another thing that impressed me was how safe the city was even during the wee hours of the night. Despite the enormous amount of riches, the majority of the people left their lavish vehicles unlocked. And the people were more than friendly to offer you rides, and to lend a helping hand at the time of need.

The place was much more than I had ever expected. The walks through the corniche, creeks, and countryside left me wanting for more. As we finally packed our bags with dozens of gifts to return back home, all I could do was look forward to my next trip to Dubai.

Namaste India: Exploring South India

 

I was born an Indian, which meant that I was part of the most diverse country in the world. Thus, whenever life blessed me with an opportunity to travel around, I would jump straight into it. Up until this very day, I have always looked forward to holidays for a chance to pack my bag and go on an exploration. Having travelled to almost all the major cities, India taught me to appreciate even the simplest things in life.

Once during a two-month long vacation, I grabbed my tote bag and decided to explore the place that I called my hometown and its neighbouring state. The Indian culture is diverse, but the culture of Kerala is exquisite. Right from my childhood, I was brought up as a typical Indian lady, but this place left me smiling like a kid at a candy store every time I went out on a tour.

The busy streets were lined with buses, rickshaws, mini stores, and textiles shops that displayed mannequins clad in Sarees and Salwar (Indian traditional attire). The coconut-palm-adorned beaches at Trivandrum and lethargic backwater rides in Alappuzha can be equally calming and enthralling at the same time. Additionally, the Kathakali dance—a classical art form, the appetizing sadhya, elephant festivals, and snake-boat races kept me fascinated on my very first journey along the southern coastline.

While Kerala featured a typically tropical climate, Tamil Nadu was enveloped in a sacred aura. The journey through this state evoked my inner spirituality with its stunning temples and immense faith in Hinduism. I moved to Mamallapuram nestled in the southern part of Tamil Nadu. The super rock-cut shrines here taught me that there would be no other place in this world where even stones would tell a story. The backdrop of traditional Tamilian culture and sacred temples soon transformed to ostentatious churches and French seaside colonies at Pondicherry. After roaming around the city for a couple of days, and enjoying the delicious seafood, it was time for me to return back home.

Days passed by as I busied myself with the day-to-day responsibilities, all the while getting my bank account ready for my next trip. The freshness of living in my hometown kept me fascinated, and I was falling more and more in love with the traditional culture and practices. Though I became comfortable in my role as a content writer, I still wanted to go on an exploration so badly.

A year later, another two months of vacation came by and I decided to finish my exploration of South India. I caught the next train that left to Andhra Pradesh and landed at Hyderabad, which is now the capital of a newly formed State called Telangana. It was Holi, ‘Festival of Colours’ on the day I reached the place and a billion smiles welcomed me. By the time I found a place to stay, I was bathed in a myriad of colours. The more I stayed at Hyderabad, the more I wanted to explore but time was short and I had to move to the next place.

It was during my trip to Karnataka when I found my true love: Bangalore —my love offered a lot for me to see. The bars, the microbrewery, the endless fields of grapevines, and a city buzzing with life that was what Bangalore was all about. The city kept me enchanted with the well preserved colonial architectures, lush green parks, and green spaces. My relationship with Bangalore grew stronger as its true beauty unfurled in front of me through the various sightseeing tours. During my days there, I went for walks and jogs in the morning; something that I never even thought of doing back in my hometown.

My fairy-tale dreams were turned to reality by the Bangalore Palace which resembled the Windsor Castle in many ways. Before travelling back home, I bought a bottle of freshly brewed beer from a winery and boarded the bus. The wine kept me company during dull evenings reminding me of all the beautiful memories of Bangalore.

A couple of years later, whenever I am asked about the most exciting trip of my life, my mind always rushes back to those days that I spent exploring South India. I was an introvert my whole life and I still am, but this trip changed me and helped me do things on my own.