These are the 15 best travel moments I can think of in my lifetime. Not in any particular order, that would be too difficult to rank. Also included are those moments which at the time were not exactly travel or tourism but what I would now include as some of my best memories.
1. Watching the a concerted hyena kill in Ngorongoro crater- it was the last day of our Tanzania safari and we were still looking for that elusive ‘kill’, an ultimate in viewing nature in the raw. For an hour, a pack of prowling hyenas attacked a buffalo cub with the mother trying her best to drive them away. At the end, a planned and perseverant hunt succeeded. Mixed feelings prevailed having seen a ‘kill’ and wishing that the mother buffalo had won the fight.
2. Peering over the edge of a cliff, into the Horse Shoe Canyon at Sunset- the Horseshoe canyon in Utah is a deeply coloured bend of water which changes from azure to emerald in the sunset. A sheer rock surface plunges down into the canyon at the viewpoint. It is a fond memory, lying down completely prone on the rock, peering over the edge, holding hands with my 9 year old daughter, delighted at the action.
3. Standing behind a curtain of water at Skogarfoss, Iceland- Gullfoss takes the star position but Skogarfoss offers the opportunity of hiking up a flight of stairs and standing behind the sheet of water that rushes over the cliff edge. Standing with my husband there was one of the most romantic travel moments we have shared.
4. Seeing Taj Mahal for the first time- I was 10 when my parents took me for our first proper holiday. Family circumstances had been rocky but my parents were finally finding their feet. Somehow, I never expected to get that far from Calcutta at that age. Agra and Delhi seemed miles and miles away, beyond our reach. The first time I saw Taj Mahal, I was overwhelmed with awe and grateful that the opportunity had finally come for the family to travel. We would travel every December from then on, but Taj Mahal was the start.
5. Seeing the Old Faithful geyser erupt in Yellowstone- I owned a viewmaster as a child, with pictures of the most fascinating places which seemed like dreams to me. One of the pictures was of Old Faithful, erupting in spray and steam. Standing in front of the real thing was literally (excuse the cliché), a dream come true.
6. Snorkelling in Galapagos- terrified of water and a terrible swimmer. However, convinced myself that with a life jacket, I was not going to sink. A wonderful guide, took me through the basics of snorkelling and selected a calm niche in the Pacific for our first snorkelling experience. Struggling with the mask over my nose and trying to get into a comfortable position, I forgot to fidget with the first view of the world underwater coming into view, as I lowered my face on to the water. The first pair to catch the attention was a pair of brightly coloured parrot fish. A shoal of yellow streaked sturgeons swam past enveloping me. Corals waved in different colours. A shark and a giant manta ray would come in the following days.
7. Homestay on Elephantine island- our very first homestay on travels. Peering out from the verandah into the narrow dusty streets of Elephantine island brought a feeling of calm and belonging which none of the huge touristic attractions of Egypt can compete with.
8. Watching the Northern lights- We were standing beneath a giant dome of fluorescent green streaked with yellows and reds. Shimmering curtains dropped from the heights, a ripple coursing through them like waves on the keys of a grand piano. A crescendo of music, not to be heard but simply felt, accompanied one of Nature’s most ostentatious displays. Our guide announced…… ‘Here comes the corona.’
This was our third night of chasing the northern lights in Tromso.
A movement in the distance caught our attention. A green bouquet had sprung up between the mountains, like a flurry of fireworks. The bouquet was followed by two curtains streaked with rainbow colours. Starting from near the bouquet, they flowed around us until we were encased in a wall of light. Golden ropes descended from the sky fanning out sleekly. The curtains then spread upwards until they almost touched. ‘It’s coming,’ Gunnar said breathlessly. ‘We don’t get this every time- the Corona’ -a phenomenon where different bands of light meet at the centre and go ‘boom’ in an explosion of light.
Nature’s own firework display over a town blanketed in snow. Our trip to Tromso remains a spectacular one.
9. Cycling the Golden Gate Bridge- My daughter had just learned to cycle, 2 months prior to our travel. My husband and I were very out of practise. It was an impulsive plan to rent bicycles from pier 33 and cycle the Golden Gate Bridge, go down to Sausalito, go round the coast and finally take the ferry back. A day we will never forget.
10. Jagadhatri Puja in Chandannagar- West Bengal’s Durga Puja seems fairly popular and well mentioned in a number of travel articles. Jagadhatri Puja is relatively undiscovered. I was sixteen the last time I saw the festival which comes a month after Durga Puja and is dedicated to another Goddess form of Durga. The procession lights, which accompany the grand images- traditionally three storeys tall, often dwarfing the neighbouring houses, are an art that the former French colony town is rightfully proud of. We lived in Chandannagar for six years. Annually, relatives from Calcutta would flock to us during Jagadhatri Puja and we would spend night after night along with crowds lining the road, eating takeaways and waiting for wave after wave of colourful light displays to pass by.
11.Getting pushed by a wild gorilla-A gorilla trek is an adventure. Seeing a family of gorillas in the wild is more than what everyone can get in a lifetime. Being pushed by a silverback, gently, firmly but very decisively, is what I experienced in Uganda. I yet have to print the t-shirt ‘I was once pushed by a wild gorilla’.
12.Watching the wildebeest migration over Mara river, Maasai Mara- This is National Geographic documentary in real life. Thundering hooves of thousands of wildebeest as they stream down the river banks in July, crossing from Tanzania in Kenya. The ground quakes, the roar of the rush fills your ears, the animals swirls and swim, jump and run in a phenomenon that has been part of nature of millennia. A privilege to watch.
13.Watching a lioness chase a giraffe-We did not get the ‘kill’ here but the chase was just as exciting. A giraffe drinking water on the banks of Chobe river, Botswana. A lioness prowls nearby, then suddenly rushes down with breakneck speed, the giraffe making an equally speedy getaway. Like the pages of an action movie, three other lionesses emerge from bushes to join the chase, having been well hidden till then. The giraffe wins the race and we realise that we had been holding our breath for all this time.
14.A full moon night in the White Desert of Egypt-Pristine chalk formations form a forest of cones as far as the eye can see. We are camped beneath the stars. As the full moon emerges, the chalk formations glow eerily. It seems as if we are on a different planet.
15.Hearing the song of the Chitrakaars accompanied by their intricate scroll paintings-I am almost ashamed that I had never heard of the Bengal Chitrakaars, a community of singing painters in West Medinipur. The most startling fact about them- they are Muslims who have the most intricate knowledge of Hindu mythology and continue to practise their skill irrespective of the religious intolerance that surrounds us today.
I could go on and on. Selecting this list has not been easy. What are your favourites?