2016 - first experiences
Warning: could be a long post. Just like every year, there are going to be millions of tweets and social media posts waiting for the end of another "horrible" year. Bad things happen. It will in 2017 too. Get over it. It's been sad to lose some of my heroes (Bowie, Prince) of my not-so-misspent youth (that's my story and I'm sticking to it); started the New Year with getting over the loss of a beloved friend and business partner but I have had some amazing "first time" experiences, met some interesting people, forged stronger relationships with family and friends that I will hold on to.
Celebrating a milestone birthday
Not everyone wants to admit it but I am shameless. I turned 60 and happily wanted to celebrate - planning it for more than two years to give my special family and friends a heads up. I had a lovely time and celebrated it by dragging the brave cousins and friends up to Leh (Ladakh). The place was stunning (if rugged) and the people were ever so nice and hospitable. My cousin, Sujoy, did a fabulous job of curating the trip. One of the things I enjoyed the most was the freedom of being together and yet not tied down. We explored at our own paces, caught up on each other's lives, and enjoyed each other's company. We shared our common hunt for the elusive "wifi" signal and seeking out all the nooks and crannies Leh had to offer. It was magical (despite a couple of health scares).
I started working with the FoodeMag ladies (heaven planned one might say given my obsession with food exploration) on a consultancy level and they colluded with Executive Chef Himanshu Saini of Carnival by Tresind to throw me a birthday lunch. The food was quirky, fun and delightfully delicious. Highly recommended for a return visit or a celebration. If you have been put off Indian food because you think it's just curries, you need to open your minds and go here.
Two other events stand out for me - one of them is strengthening my bonds with my school mates. I visited and met up with a few more (a couple of them I hadn't seen since 1973) but we have been chatting for a while now. We stayed with a friend that works at Amity University - he arranged for us to rent a couple of rooms. Simple flats with bedrooms, bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room. He had arranged for tea things in one of them, so we congregated and caught up.
A few of us were staying for a couple more days and decided to go to Mathura and Agra. Mathura (the birthplace of Lord Krishna) is typical of any religious city in India - packed, colourful and full of the aromas of freshly fried street food, incense, drains and human sweat with the odd sacred cow. It was fun and relaxed. We continued onwards (after a few souvenirs - I got the opportunity to use my Paytm app) to Agra. It was my first visit to the monument of love and while it was exquisite - being shepherded around and not allowed to savour and enjoy the place was a tad underwhelming. It was a bit hot too! But at least it's crossed off my bucket list.
Saving the best for last
I finally made it to one of the Unseen Trails that I have been coveting since Arva launched them. I opted for their Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve Drive that gave us the opportunity to see the work the team at DDCR do in conserving desert flora and fauna. Being here in the desert we have seen falcon exhibitions, aimed at educating us on the role they play in the fragile desert ecosystem but for the first time we saw desert owl and learnt about them, saw a few gazelles, the magnificent Oryx and saw the spoor of a few of the smaller beings including rodents and insects. It was all very educational and definitely something different for us city dwellers and visitors. Many locally based organizations joined hands to make this experience memorable: Frying Pan Adventures (with whom I have explored various parts of Dubai and Sharjah through my stomach), Gulf Photo Plus (photography tips), the DDCR team (for their magnificent work and hosting us in the reserve), Royal Shaheen (our falconer/Owl guides - fun and knowledgeable), Baker & Spice (for an original picnic of local Arabic breakfast - my special favourite the laban), Goumbook (Give a Ghaf program - where a Ghaf tree has been planted by us and we get to name it. I and another traveller teamed up and named our Mustaqbal which I believe means the future?).
Here's to many more first-time experiences in 2017 and many more adventures with my friends and family. Will you join me?