Saturday, November 24, 2018

Goodbye Siem Reap

It might seem comical but the thing that really lead me to consider a trip to Cambodia was a horse ranch. Don't get me wrong, the temples were a big part too but if it weren't for the horses I may never have decided on this destination.

Ok, I think a little back story is needed here. Back in 2015, I was working on a horse encyclopedia at DK that involved sporadic research on different horse breeds, their origins, and so on. I like horses (who doesn't?) but I would be lying if I took a keen interest in studying horse lineages! Hell, I didn't even know there were so many different breeds of horses across the world. Did you know the tiniest horse breed, the Falabella, is actually the size of a dog! Yes! They are that tiny, and oh so cute!! I did fantasize about owing one; maybe then I could walk Cheeku and little horsey together at the park! It was during one such day while reading about Cambodian ponies I came across the name of a horse ranch in Siem Reap. A quick search on TripAdvisor and I knew I had to visit one day! It took me three years to make it come true.

When I started planning my itinerary, I did include a two-hour trail ride in my list of things to do, but it wasn't right on top. The temples took up a lot of time, and logically it made more sense to visit Angkor over a ranch, and so I did. As I watched the sun set across Angkor Wat I felt a sense of calm wash over me. Over the next two days, it was a mix of exhilaration and fatigue as I scrambled over boulders at Preah Khan and climbed steep wooden stairs at the Bayon, among others. Once in a while I would stop to picture in my mind's eye the magnitude of the construction centuries ago. Our builder homes start to crumble within half a decade. But here, the relics of this grand civilization are standing tall and proud hundreds of years later. They have weathered the ravages of time, and in turn become even more beautiful.

Sunset at Angkor

Beautiful carvings on the stone walls

Angkor: tall and mighty

This place is a must-visit for a good reason. A very, very good reason. Words don't do justice to how incredible Ta Phrom is .

Aah Ta Phrom. I visited this temple at sunset and managed to beat the crowds, so at most times it was just me amidst these incredible living structures.

I am a sucker for sunset photos 

At the light at the end of the corridor gives the illusion of a mirror

And i posed

The fellow who made me pose

These roots... And I couldn't stop marvelling at them

The Bayon. I think I landed up at the time when the rest of the town did as well! It was crazy crowded, so much so that I couldn't take any photos without stumbling over someone else. But that little issue aside, well worth it.

But to anyone who visits this town, do not forget to enjoy Siem Reap. The great magnificence of Angkor is a thing of the past and must not overshadow the living life of this bustling town. Unexpectedly I landed in town during the annual water festival, so that gave me an extra something to look forward to in the evenings - the explosive boat races along the Siem River, the beautifully lit streets, fireworks, dance and music. Perhaps in my own city, I turn into a cynic rolling my eyes at a lot of festivals, but this has been bit of a wakeup call for me. (Next Holi I will not sit in my room!)

Wat Bo pagoda 

Bridge across the Siem Reap river lit up on the occasion of the water festival 

Rain dance and soap sud

Pub street had... well... pubs! Lots and LOTS of them 

Grilled beef. This aroma followed me through the time I spent in this town. I did not try it out, but I am quite certain beef-lovers would relish it

Today, I leave this town. This beautiful town that made me feel happy and safe and eager to explore. It helped me overcome some of my anxieties, and helped me ease into comfortable solitude. But before I could finally say goodbye, I knew I had one last place to visit. And so under the blazing Cambodian sun I trooped 1.5km to the horse ranch to say hello to at least one horse. In other words, I walked all the way to take a selfie with one horse who would have me! I decided against a ride. It was too hot, and besides I needed to pack my bag and check-out. But visit I did, and the whole trip kind of came together a complete circle.

He was the kindest of all the horses I greeted. He let me stroke him and in return sniffed my neck.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Why does food taste so terrible on a flight?

Why does airplane food taste so terrible? I wasn't sure if I felt that way because of the underlying stress that I was experiencing or if it was genuinely bad. My copassengers seemed to have polished their plastic trays clean - relished or not, I cannot say, but they did eat. I, on the other hand, picked at my little plastic tray with rice and some form of inedible curry, before deciding that I just could not eat that stuff. Perhaps I should have opted for the seafood meal or the Asian meal instead. Nah, I am certain. It was really bad! The fruit however was delicious. Three large slices of tropical fruit, each better than the first. Luckily for me, I had already tasted dragon fruit previously, and so there was zero worry about it being an exotic fruit that could trigger some sort of an allergic reaction midair. I am paranoid, am I not? But then again, I have a few solid reasons for my paranoia. And, to be fair to myself I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone, wasn't I? I deserved a pat on the back, and I was going to give it to me, even if my pre-booked meal tasted like crap.

If trains could move fast enough, I would never get on a plane ever again!

Small joys. That sight was pretty incredible 

The terrible food apart, there was also the air conditioning that was bothering me. I was sitting in my thick coat with a fleece blanket at my feet. Even then, my feet were cold. It reminded me of office when I would sit curled up at my seat, with my pink, floral shawl wrapped around my shoulders and arms, and every bit of me that it could possibly cover. And just like that, I had to brave it, and I did just that.

The warmth of Siem Reap was beckoning me, and I couldn't wait to set foot on that beautiful, ancient land. I couldn't wait to see my tuk-tuk driver standing outside the airport holding a placard with my name on it. I couldn't wait to step into my cosy little room, the one that I paid for with my hard-earned money. My very own. To be completely honest, I did tear up a little now and then thinking of how far I had come, figuratively speaking. It wasn’t the distance, but all my other battles that I had fought, to be in this position, to make this claim: I hate airline food! Even this hate suddenly seemed beautiful. The tiredness from sitting in the craft, and even if I would reach my hotel room and make myself a cup of hot cup noodles that I carried from Delhi - all of these things were little rewards in a way. This was all a part of my big, adventure, and I knew it was going to be grand!

One look at those white sheets and I was in love.