Jumping Off Of Cliffs

I have a minor case of acrophobia (fear of heights). I realized this at the age of 10 when I was at a friend’s house on the 12th floor in Mumbai and was looking straight down. The world seemed to tilt and all of a sudden I had the feeling that the building was sagging, that we were all falling uncontrollably, to meet the earth. I took a step back and have always maintained this distance.

The reason my acrophobia is minor is because I truly enjoy climbing. I love vistas and the journey often endeavored to get to that point. I oft find myself inching towards the edge – taking a quick look down – and then running back to the safety of a hilly plateau.

Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos where I hugged a rope swing to jump in

I also love jumping – off of cliffs, waterfalls, bridges. Granted the stark height is less of an issue here and I am breaking no new ground, my internal conflict before jumping off of each edge grasps me. That moment, when on tiptoes I stand looking down at the turquoise of a deep water pool, I struggle. Each and Every Time. Getting up to that cliff, to that rope, to that ledge is never the issue. All that involves is walking and following another person who has just gone before me. And then my turn arrives – the world closes. My mind wrestles between “Just Do It” and “Are You Serious?” I stand there as if the time has stopped, the world has stopped moving and it’s just me, my mind, and the water below. I do not know what that water holds – to me, my experience – that depth is entirely unknown, completely unfamiliar. Yes, I saw the person before me jump into the same and emerge just fine. But this is my fear, my perception.  Eventually each and every time, I feel will power slowly come in to render a decision. Determined – I go.

I don’t close my eyes, I forget the consequences, I leave my fear behind. And I drop, engulfed within microseconds by the cool arms of the once seemingly treacherous water. Waves of exhilaration and accomplishment soon follow and I glance a look back up at the stable ground that I just left and all I have left with me is a smile.

Oft, living life requires a similar debate and a similar determination. It is always tempting to choose an easy path – often at the sacrifice of doing something that one might have loved but one that required time, effort. In these cases, life soon becomes monotonous – the flavor evaporates, the color fades. Therefore, it is always important to wake yourself up – to dive, jump, run – and start beating once again.

Cenote in Cancun, MX that I jumped off of

Cenote in Cancun, MX whose dark waters I jumped into

I left my heart in Luang Prabang

I had made it a point to research my trip from a very literary perspective – all text and minimal photos. I did not want pictures to act as spoilers and wanted to be surprised everywhere that I landed.

Well, what an amazing surprise Luang Prabang gave. I had assumed that the town would be like the one it is often compared to – the hilly, busy city of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. But Luang Prabang turned out to be something right out of the dusty pages of French Colonial Era of the last century. It also had a past life as a royal capital pre-colonization.

It is magical, it is historic, it is so preciously beautiful that my heart laments on not being a painter nor a poet to capture either the vistas that it presents or the feelings that it evokes from within. And it is not just the nature that shrouds this city hidden in the valley of the hills, nor just the intricate wooden French villas, but also the Lao people who reside within. Everywhere my friends and I went, rode, walked – we were greeted with precocious children, toothy old men, shy women all saying a sing-songy “Sabai Dee” (a Hello in Lao). The few young adults that we met spoke great English (on the account of being educated in monasteries) and were not only helpful but insightful into the culture of the Lao people. Our young hotel manager and his friend – two former monks during their teens – now working and studying were a privilege to talk to. A postcard that I bought was a photo of some monks and to my surprise when I showed it to them, they recognized the monks by name! All of a sudden, it added a more personal touch to a  photograph of monks receiving their daily morning alms from the locals.

Leafy, Quiet Luang Prabang

The city – the non-human parts of it – lives and breathes accordingly. On landing, one feels a deep, personal connection – it feels like a city that one can just move to. Welcoming, warm, and wondrous. Leafy streets bordered by wooden, simplistic French-Asian architecture containing artistic and handicraft shops. The music within the city often during sunset hours is the soft chanting of the monks doing their evening prayers in the various temples that dot the city. At night, the skies open up to reveal a sky so brilliantly lit with stars while the buildings glimmer from the lights of lanterns and soft-glow bulbs. It is exquisite.

I know for certain that I have left a part of my heart in Luang Prabang. I only await my return here.

Sunset over the Mekong River, Luang Prabang

Sunset over the Mekong River in Luang Prabang, Laos

Traveling towards the Orient

In a few hours, I will be boarding a plane here in India that will deliver me to Bangkok, Thailand by tomorrow morning. I am in a bit of a surreal mood – not entirely believing that I am setting out to do something that I’ve always dreamed of doing: taking a backpack, picking places on the map, and jetting off.

My itinerary is as follows: Bangkok, Thailand – Koh Samet (island beach), Thailand – Chiang Mai, Thailand ->> Vientiane, Laos – Vang Vieng, Laos – Luang Prabang, Laos ->> Siem Reap/Angor War, Cambodia – Phnom Pehn, Cambodia ->> Bangkok, Thailand

I tried, at first, to just go with the flow and not book any hotels until I decide what the next city on my route would be. However, the believer in itineraries and in making the most out of trips that I am, I couldn’t help but have this detail all ironed out.

I will try to capture through the power of the pen all that I see and experience. I am thoroughly psyched that I am exploring places that I have very little exposure to. We didn’t study these as diligently as we studied European and American histories in the classroom. Indochina was covered in the one chapter that concerned the Vietnam War. Pol Pot’s atrocities were never mentioned in my K-12 education while Hitler’s were drilled into us from grade school onwards. One wonders why this is so? Is it because the developed world is so self-centred that it only thinks about itself and how it was affected by the world?

Anyway, I have plenty of time to reflect on this. For now, I say Let the Journey Begin!