Spurned the bookmark.

Wikimedia Commons

Yet another time
That I spurn the bookmark
Wander, lost
Amidst the pages of my tome
Searching for the word where I left off
The word where I decided -
That reality was more pressing than fiction.

And so I read and reread
Words that already passed
The corridors of my mind.
I run my fingers along well-loved lines
While the one I seek
Waits mischievously on the sidelines. 

No, the book isn't done with me yet
Not done reprimanding me
For choosing Life over Literature
For abandoning mid-way
What I ought to have finished
Or at least marked with my presence. 

Label yourself.

Today, I read an excellent article about hypersomnia and by the end of it, I was really eager to find out who had written it. There it was at the bottom of the page - Virginia Hughes, science editor. Those two words 'science editor' stood out like a beacon in the dark. I was intrigued. Who exactly is a science editor? Is she a scientist or a journalist? I Googled Virginia Hughes and found that she had an impeccable profile - a bachelors in neuroscience from no less than Brown University (an Ivy League institution) and a masters in science writing from The John Hopkins University. Did you even know that one can get a masters degree in 'science writing'? I didn't. Her professional record was even better, spanning names such as Discovery and National Geographic and displaying a steady ascent up the corporate ladder. How does someone achieve such an exceptional level of what I define as success? (I believe one is successful when one is the best or one of the best in one's field). No doubt, Hughes must be really intelligent but what sets me thinking more, is how certain she must have been on what she wanted to do in life. She liked science. She was a good writer. There were a million options before her. But she had the knack of bringing a passion and a skill together to produce a career that would probably never ever bore her. Can you say the same about the profession you're engaged in? Me, I am where I want to be, but I guess I'm too much of a generalist. Maybe you are, too. And so, say what you will, but labels are so intoxicating. And if you can't label who you want to be, how can you even get there?

Corporate writer. Travel blogger. The second I embellished my profile with these labels, I felt better. I felt more purposeful and clearer about who I was and where I was going. If you want to achieve a goal, you have it to be able to put a label on it. Award-winning novelist. Does that sound pretentious? It does to me too, but it also absolves me from wasting my time on penny press fiction. Because I know that's not what I'm aiming at. If I'd said I want to be a best-selling novelist, the direction of my efforts would vary. I've been writing travelogues ever since I began travelling. But it was only when I felt confident enough to call myself a 'travel blogger' that I actually realised how much I enjoyed the activity and how committed I was to it. As a bonus effect, associating myself with the label increases my commitment to it even more. No you can't be an 'avid reader' if all you read is one book in three months. Label yourself but find a label that really means something to you; find one that aptly defines the person you dream of being. Find it, and do your very best to make it your own. Be someone.

P.S.: Labelling yourself on the basis of your beliefs and preferences (such as religion) will do little to make you a success. We're talking about action-oriented labels here.

I write on travel at Trail-stained Fingers. Feel free to get in touch through the website or connect on Facebook or Twitter.

Let's play the game of love

If I had to propose to my crush on Valentine's Day, how would I do it?

Source: http://cupidgames.closeup.in/play
Let me approach this question the other way round. How would I want someone to propose to me on Valentine's Day? Well for starters, no public displays around people I know! No, I don't think it's cute or romantic. It's just plain embarrassing! What I'd like is for my crush to tell me what it is that he loves about me. Ah yes. Isn't it always nice to know what people like about you? Besides, I ought to be convinced that the guy has concrete reasons for the crazy move he's decided to pull! But here's the thing - guys don't think the way women do. So I think I'd do just the opposite of what I'd like, if I had to propose to my crush on Valentine's Day.

Inspired by Closeup's new initiative, 'Cupid Games', I think, I'd propose to my crush on Valentine's Day with a game. I mean, which guy doesn't enjoy playing a game, right? I imagine that we'd have a few common friends if I know him well enough to have a crush on him. So for Valentine's Day, I'd propose a 'Single's Party' - all singles invited. Who knows, maybe along with me, a few others might rustle up the courage to ask their dream dates out as well!

On the D-Day, I'd have an array of games and activities ready, one of which would be the infamous 'Truth or Dare' game. I'm sure you know how that world. You have to spin a bottle or other elongated object while all the players sit in a circle around the object. When the bottle eventually stops, whichever person it's pointing at has to choose between 'truth' and 'dare'.  Now here is the secret - I'd pre-inform all my other friends, that whenever it's my turn, they are to ask me to perform a specific dare - I'm sure you can guess what it is. Since it's a game, if the guy (let's call him Mr X) refuses, it's all cool and if he agrees, hurray, I hit the love jackpot! So when the time comes, say friend A decides to dare me, he or she will tell me, "Your dare is to ask Mr X out for Valentine's Day and it's considered successful if he agrees!" You may say that Mr X will think I'm only doing it to stay in the game but trust me, my words and my expressions will lay all his doubts to rest. And if all goes well, I'll have a hell of a date this year!

So are you ready to play the love game? Go on, propose to your dream date this Valentine's Day. If you're going to do it with a game like me, be sure to be armed with an excellent speech that lists all the person's virtues in the most romantic and sincere way possible. And along with all that flattery, make sure your heart is reflected in your eyes, because that's what will make the difference in the end!

This post has been written for the Cupid Games 2015 activity by Indiblogger

Acne-free skin? Challenge accepted.

Hello, I'm Rakhee and I'm a researcher for Garnier. Everyday, I'm besieged by acne complaints. One day, I decided that enough was enough. This is my story.

Source: http://www.nopimplesnomarks.com/

Name one woman who has never had a break-out in her life. What do I hear there? Silence? Then you can imagine what my life is like, as a Garnier Pure Active researcher. A single day doesn't pass without hearing something like -

"I hate my skin! Why can't it look like the models in magazines?"

"Oh my God I have an interview tomorrow and I have a zit between my eyebrows!"

"It's that time of the month again when I feel like a teenager with a zillion pimples."

Today was a special day. It was my birthday eve, and as I donned my lab coat, I felt proud of having achieved this much at the age of 29. Life as a beauty and medical researcher for Garnier Pure Active was a dream come true for me. Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to enter the medical field and help people with problems that bother them everyday. Unlike illnesses, beauty is a constant concern. And when are we ever completely satisfied? With problems like acne to plague us, the quest for perfection can never end. So I had joined Garnier after completing my MBBS and masters in cosmetic science. I find my work immensely satisfying because I get to create products that satisfy people's innermost desires. When you look good, you can take on the world. And I've had a hand in making that happen for my lovely customers, more than once. I had only a few hours to go however, before I completed 30 years on this planet. 

Source: http://www.nopimplesnomarks.com/
I looked into the mirror to see if I had bags under my eyes as a result of the strenuous schedules I'd subjected myself to, over the last few days. But what I saw was even worse. There was an ugly pimple on the right side of my lips, mirroring my beauty spot on the other side! 

Now I understood what all my 'patients', friends and family went through. So far, I've been lucky. I get pimples very rarely and I've certainly never been attacked on a birthday. But this was a disaster. The one day when I wanted to look perfect - there was a blemish on my face. And trust me, there's where people look the most. People seldom notice your feet or what you're wearing. But your face? That never escapes their notice. I was done for. 

Neem leaves (Wikimedia Commons)
I got through that birthday somehow, but I resolved that midnight, that I would put a stop to the world's pimple woes - once and for all. Yes, it seems like a tall goal but I had some ideas. Over the last few years, many cosmetic companies have been admitting that going back to nature may be a better idea than resorting to harsh chemicals that end up causing more damage in the long run. I recalled the times when my mother had insisted I bathe in neem-infused water, to keep itches at bay. What if, the same herb could be the answer to the question that confronted me day and night?

I decided to speak to my boss, the head of cosmetic research for Garnier Pure Active, Dr Maneka Sharma. "Hey Maneka, want to get a cup of tea?" Dr Sharma was more than happy to accompany me to the chaiwala outside. One needed a break from the sterile atmosphere of a lab at times. "Maneka, I was thinking, shouldn't we come up with a product that targets the root causes of acne?" The chai was strong and sweet, just like I enjoyed it. "But we already have the Blackheads Uprooting Scrub and Pore Unclogging Facewash," Maneka pointed out. Those had been the products of our hard work as well, but I felt that there was still room for a more 'desi' product. "I agree, but I don't think everyone is comfortable with chemical-based products, even if they do work." Maneka realised that I had something up my sleeve. "Tell me what's cooking in that head of yours." "Neem!" I burst out. "It's a time-tested remedy for all skin woes - especially acne. You know it works! But who has access to real neem leaves any more? What if I worked on a formula for a neem-based face wash?" Maneka looked interested. "That's true. Neem has been an Indian staple remedy since a long time." She finished her tea and paid the chaiwala, who was now busy making a new batch of piping hot, cutting chai. "All right. You have my permission to work on this. But it better be good." She was smiling as she said it, so I wasn't too worried. 

Source: http://www.nopimplesnomarks.com/

Over the next few weeks, I worked without a pause. During my research, I was elated to discover that neem extracts combined beautifully with tea tree oil and both together appeared to offer formidable benefits against the causes of acne. Of course, I would have to test the product several times before I zeroed in on the perfect formula. It wasn't just what went in it - I also had to consider the texture, consistency, smell and colour of the face wash. "Do you like your face wash creamy or runny, ma?" I asked on a Sunday afternoon. My mother was glad that I was home for a change. "Depends on what kind of face wash it is," she replied. "For a moisturising, winter facewash, I'd prefer a creamy consistency. But if the focus is cleansing and freshness, then it would have to be thinner." "That makes sense. My facewash will fight germs and pollution and ensure freedom from excess oil and dirty pores." Ma always came to my rescue with regards to doubts like these. 

Source: http://www.garnier.in/face-care/beauty/garnier/pure-active/neem-face-wash
The very first time that we tested the product, we had seven out of ten acne-prone participants tell us that their skin felt much better after using the facewash for a week, along with abstinence from oily foods and other acne triggers. "That's always key - combining beauty aids with the right lifestyle choices. You can't expect one thing to work miracles if you're going wrong everywhere else," Dr Sharma told me. It had been her suggestion to have the participants follow other rules while they were a part of the test. "That's true. I'm so glad they rated the product four on five." One participant said, "I tried it at the end of a long work day and after a quick wash, it felt like my skin had never been subjected to all that smoke and dust." I had tried it myself, and the light green colour and thin consistency felt just right. A few months later, we got the green signal to launch the product! "I am so proud of you Rakhee. Your very first pet project will soon be in stores," Maneka told me and gave me a hug. I had tears in my eyes myself, as I saw the advertisement campaign for Garnier Pure Active Neem Face Wash go live. Do people ever think about all the years of work that goes into their favourite creams and lotions? I doubt it. But maybe you will, the next time you pick up a shampoo or a face wash. :)

(The content above is completely fictitious and has been written as a part of an Indiblogger and Garnier activity)

I scored 90% and I opted for Arts.

I scored 90 per cent in my tenth grade and I opted for the Arts stream. This may not raise that many eyebrows now but back then, quite a few of my peers and teachers were surprised that I wasn't opting for what they believed were 'better' options (science and commerce). This is the same mindset that the stereotype about women being suited for certain professions (and not being suited for others) stems from. When I was a child, I knew nothing of such biases and I really believed that I could do whatever I wanted. I still believe that, but I am more than aware of the obstacles that I might (and almost surely will) face.

It's strange but apart from external appearances and my romantic preferences, I don't feel like my gender is my primary defining factor. I am first, a living being. Then, a human being; with desires, opinions and aspirations. I'm not always exactly the same person and my likes and dislikes are subject to change. They are not slave to what society expects of me and I know I don't owe it to anyone to live a life they think I should be living. I'm a writer; an artist; a singer; a daughter; a friend; a sister; a girlfriend and a traveller. I am many things and I can be any number of things. Being a woman has nothing to do with any of it. Then why does it make headlines when a woman excels in what is considered a 'man's profession'? While we're on the subject, why does the vice versa also make headlines? Why are male fashion designers perceived to be 'sissies' or worse, homosexuals? Since when did we become so jaundiced and bigoted? Since when did our tolerance for off-the-mill run so low? I don't know who decided to make these rules but I'm definitely not going to follow them. And neither should you.

When I was in my teens, I believed the world would be a different place by the time I grew up. I was surrounded (fortunately) by people who never made me feel any lesser than a man or anyone else. But today I find that at the workplace, a lot of men are more comfortable working with other men. They feel women don't really 'get' them. I also find that when a beautiful woman succeeds, it's often attributed to her looks. Sadly, that is often true, because mostly, women are judged first on their appearance and then on their abilities. Yet, I have hope, that if we continue to plough on, one day, the winds will change. And what can hasten their speed is campaigns like these. More voices equal more noise. And if it's loud enough, the world is bound to take heed.

This post is a part of #UseYourAnd activity at BlogAdda in association with Gillette Venus

She's a success story of many 'ands'.

Wikimedia Commons
I will write about a woman I've never met but I know her story intimately well. I'm sure many of you would, too. Because she is the writer of one of the most popular children's book series in the world. Yes, I am referring to J K Rowling, writer of the Harry Potter series and one of the richest women in the world. We all know her rags to riches story and I admire her for the fact that she found inspiration to be so amazingly creative at a time when she didn't have enough money to feed herself and her child. She is a mother and an author and she excels at both! Opting for and instead of or doesn't mean that you have to do a shoddy job of both. Rowling proves that excellence is possible in varied areas of your life.

I identify with her particularly because I'm a writer myself and while professional success is certainly important to me, I would not give up on a family for that. One of my teachers during post-graduation is a successful media professional but her personal life is in shambles. That is not a choice I want to make. As a writer for a newspaper, I keep encountering readers who have trouble balancing their personal and professional lives. Sometimes, it's the in-laws expecting the woman to stay at home and prioritise housekeeping over a salaried job. At other times, it is society itself and organisational restrictions that prevent women from aiming for the sky.

Rowling lost her mother; she lost her husband; she lost perhaps the naive idea that a perfect state of affairs could last forever. But in spite of it all (or perhaps even fuelled by it all), she crafted for herself, a miraculous story of overnight success and adulation. My childhood wouldn't have been the same without Harry Potter's coming of age, the life lessons and the arresting new world that the books allowed me to slip into. I had my own periods of darkness, as did Rowling and the character she wrought. Although women are often praised for their multitasking abilities, when push comes to shove, they are expected to be a stellar homemaker or a ladder-climbing professional. Women who settle for lesser jobs post marriage and motherhood, often get nods of approval from family members, friends and society while those that fight for opportunities equal to their abilities are seen as 'wanting too much'. Rowling emulates the #UseYourAnd spirit and I believe the time is right for many more women to follow her example as well.

This world is far from equal but it has definitely become more tolerant towards the non-conformists. We do have the occasional success story of a women who did it all (and well) and with this campaign, I hope the number will multiply and society will shun unfair expectations and limitations.

This post is a part of #UseYourAnd activity at BlogAdda in association with Gillette Venus

Bangalore, here I come!

Mangoes at a market in Bangalore
I clicked this picture when I went to Bangalore a year ago to visit one of my best friends, along with a common friend of ours. The three of us had an absolute blast, exploring the theatres, eateries, shopping nooks and famed pubs of India's very own garden city - Bangalore. Oh, the very second I entered the city, I felt like I had entered a magical place with natural air-conditioning and I knew I was in love. So if I had an opportunity to say, join my newspaper in its Bangalore branch (and my boyfriend also got a job in the city - it's very likely since he's in IT), it would be nothing short of a dream come true!

Now, a little while ago, while I was purchasing a hard disk, headphones and memory card from India's best online marketplace Quikr, I was surprised to find that the website had much more than just consumer products. One could even find houses, tutors and pets through the website! So if I had an opportunity to move to Bangalore, the first thing I would do is check out the 'apartments for rent' section on Quikr. The rent is just 8000 rupees for a good 1 BHK flat in Whitefield, a homely area of the city! That's incredibly cheap, compared to the ridiculous rates in Mumbai. I can sort the results as per their price and date of posting, which would make my task easier. After all, who wants to waste time on a dated advertisement?

Next, I'd need my own vehicle. Public transport in Bangalore is not as great as Mumbai and besides, a Nano should be well within my budget. So I'd trot over to the Cars and Bikes section, where I see the listings as per brand and type of vehicle. When I click on Tata, the very first listing is a Nano! Is that providence or what? I see that I can pick from brand new vehicles and used ones. Used Nanos are available from one lakh, which is something even I can afford! Quikr would come in handy indeed. Else, I would have to put in hours of physically scouring through showrooms and then poring through tons of newspaper ads to find the car I wanted!

But what if I didn't have a job in hand before I decided to make the brave decision to live on my own? Guess what, Quikr would have come to my rescue in that respect as well! Sounds unbelievable I know. I didn't know you could find jobs there either. until I stumbled upon this page. Ah yes, I now recall that posting ads on Quikr is absolutely free! No job advertisement website is going to offer that kind of a deal. It's not surprising then, that so many recruiters have chosen to post their requirements on Quikr. I spot a client servicing job opening with a leading advertising agency. That looks good. The ad tells me everything from the compensation, the work timings to the amount of on-field work required. That's quite thorough! I might have applied to that job if this move was for real (who knows, it might be).

Job? Check. House? Check. Car? Check. What would come next in my beautiful journey to being a true-blue Banglorean? If I was single, finding a boyfriend might have been on top of the list. But since I'm not, I think my next stop would be the nearest pub because all this hard work would have definitely made me thirsty for a drink!

This post has been written as a part of an Indiblogger and Quikr activity.

Would you give up anything for love?

By Jasaya on deviantart.com
It's a humbling feeling when you realise you'd do just about anything; give up the things you hold most dear and adopt that which you never identified with, to be with the one you love. Yes, you scoffed at people when they did it for the ones they loved. You said they were weak and lacked individuality. You said no one should bow down to such demands - even for love. And you were certain, you'd never be so pathetic. You'd never put another person before your own needs and you'd never choose anything over your own desires. Me first. That was your motto. Yet, now you humbly accept, that nothing would mean anything without your soul mate. And with them in your life, even the things that meant nothing - they suddenly add joy to your life. Yes, it's sad that the world is built such that you have to make all these sacrifices. But truth is, you do them quite happily. Because what you get in exchange is just too sweet - sweet enough to temper the pain of what you have to lose.

Sachin Tendulkar for a day!

I'm lucky - I get to live my dream and be a writer. My boyfriend on the other hand, has had to give up much of his passion for cricket in his quest to bring happiness to his family with professional success. He is a SAP consultant (a specialisation in IT) and cricket is now the furthest thing from his lifestyle. Nevertheless, it's still the leitmotif in his thoughts and a persistent theme in his nightly dreams. How do I know? I know because it's all he talks about, for at least 90 per cent of the day. When he gazes into the distance, it's because he's recalling the last match he saw. And if there's anything he gets wistful about, it's his days of captainship during graduation and the inter-departmental cricket tournaments that happened in his last job. It's the time when as a child, his parents reluctantly agreed to let him go for cricket coaching classes in exchange for a promise that his studies wouldn't suffer (and they didn't). And it's the time when he travelled to Goa for the first time in his life for a cricket championship. Be it as a player or a viewer, his devotion to this game has never wavered. But right now, the thread that binds him to cricket is very tenuous and I'd like to change that.

A perfect day for my guy!

It doesn't get better than this for a cricket lover. If I could have any super power in the world, I'd turn my guy into Sachin Tendulkar for a day. He'd get to play the world's best games, meet all the awesome people that Sachin knows and experience firsthand, what life is like for the master blaster.

If I could make anything happen, I'd have my boyfriend meet the Indian cricket team, talk to them, spend time with them, play with them and learn tips from them on playing better and making it big in cricket. I'm sure he would be ecstatic at the opportunity to feel like a part of Team India!

A cricket extravaganza would be incomplete without an epic match against the world's best cricket team (after India of course :P). So I'd make sure my boyfriend was on top of the batting order in an exciting match against the Australian team. And post-match, I'm sure he would enjoy interacting the stalwarts of Team Australia as well!

Although Sachin is considered as the God of Indian cricket, my boyfriend's favourite cricketer has always been Rahul Dravid. He looks up to this elegant player for more reasons than one; his impeccable character and track record being one. I would organise a private tete-a-tete where my bf gets to know Rahul on a personal basis and I'm certain that they will spend hours discussing the nitty gritties of their favourite game!

Good cricket bats don't come cheap and ever since we met, my bf has been begging for a really fine one! So if I had alll the super powers in the world, I would gift him the world's best cricket bat and what's more, I'd have Virat Kohli do the honour. Perhaps if my super powers included superhuman magic as well, I'd infuse the bat with the ability to ensure that my bf always got to play cricket, at every stage in life, in some form or the other.

So this is how I'd make it the most memorable day in my guy's life. I'm sure if this happened, he'd never forget a single moment of it for the rest of his life.

This post has been written for Baggout's Blogging Contest on Valentine's Day. Baggout provides awesome deals on Flipkart, Myntra, Jabong, Snapdeal, Amazon and 100+ online stores.

Be among the few.

There's beauty in poverty. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Anyone can click a good photograph in a beautiful place. Only some can cast a veil of beauty on the viewer's eye even in a photograph of a derelict place.

Anyone can romanticise a sunny day. Only some can write poetry on dank ones.

Be among those few, because the world needs them more.

Always another way.

There are -
more ways than one
to spread sunny cheer
and some may do it through their speech
elating those around and near
and some may do it through their art
gladdening those far and apart
So worry not
if you make none smile
There's always another way
to go that extra mile.

I don't know why I wrote that - I think it's because I always worry, that because I'm quiet and rarely perceived as the 'nice one', I may not be doing such a great job of spreading joy in this world. And trust me, that's the only goal worth having. It's the only resolution worth making, Nietzsche has convinced me. Reading about his decision to 'beautify the world', I found myself greatly troubled. I'm not funny and I barely say a word, except to the precious few that are closest to me. Am I contributing to people's lives in any way at all? I'm not the one many would approach in their time of need and I'm not the one they'd turn to if they needed cheering up. Then am I living a selfish existence - adding nothing; yet taking from the world?

And that's when it struck me - there is more than one way to spread cheer. It's not easy to light a spark in the hearts of those miles, countries away, and yet, I do believe I achieve that impossible task, sometimes, with a line or two that rings particularly well with the reader. And I do believe, cheering the distant reader isn't any less than humoring the nearby neighbour. That thought comforts me and lessens my unease at being an introvert who is extremely lazy about conversations and people relations.

A date with the wild

The video above offers a glimpse of my dream trip from The Active Holiday Company - Multi Active Kenya. The 11 day trip includes rafting at River Tana, trekking to Mount Kenya and safaris at Lake Nakuru National Park and Masai Mara Game Reserve. An adrenalin-filled journey through the forests and primitive wilderness of Africa is a long-cherished dream. This relatively untouched continent symbolises nature in all her uncivilised, untamed beauty for me. I remember this time when I had trekked to Tungareshwar temple on the outskirts of Mumbai city with my parents, just after the monsoons. Sitting there atop the mountain, with acres of green forest beneath me, I felt like I was the world and the world was me. Some core element of my being seemed to reach out to that silent wilderness and find that, they fit perfectly together. That feeling of peaceful, detached and expansive perfection is what I seek to magnify and recapture on a visit to the Savannahs of East Africa.

Take me back to where I came from
Primeval nature
Untouched, unaltered
Where wilderness finds free expression
And lions roam with their mightiness unclipped
Where man's invasive hands have been swatted away
And majestic cheetahs have their haughty way
Where dawn's golden rays reach the earth, unhindered
And the world's original splendour 
Purifies beast and all.

Now, my idea of travelling has never been to book myself at a four-star resort and the laze the days away by an indoor pool. I like to discover new places all the time, pack in several in a single day and push myself to the point of exhaustion, in my quest for hidden secrets and breathtaking sights and quaint communities. The Active Holiday Company is a tour operator that caters to travellers like me and if you're also the exploring, active kind, you will love the kind of tours they have on offer. There are cycling tours, marathons, polar expeditions, wildlife safaris and aqua adventures to choose from. So let me take you through my dream trip - Multi Active Kenya - Rafting, Trekking and Safari (11 Days).

Here's a quiz you might want to take, before you embark on this journey with me:
1. I'm an outdoors person.
A. Yes B. No C. Maybe
2. I prefer forests and mountains over beaches.
A. Yes B. No C. Maybe
3. I'm comfortable with mountainous terrain and rivers.
A. Yes B. No C. Maybe
4. I can name most wild animals and birds.
A. Yes B. No C. Maybe
5. I enjoy camping.
A. Yes B. No C. Maybe
Answered 'yes' to most of the questions? Then, read on. Else, hop over to http://www.activeholidaycompany.com/ and find something that's more up your street. :)

The diary of a traveller on the Multi Active Kenya trip...

Day 1. 
I arrived at Nairobi airport, armed with my rucksack and a truckload of enthusiasm and excitement. A friendly representative from The Active Holiday Company received me at the arrivals lounge and my journey of a lifetime began.

Day 2.
I was up at the unearthly hour at 5 AM but I didn't even need an alarm because I was so excited! I had a scrumptious breakfast with my co-travellers and at 6:45 AM, our driver plus guide took us to the small Kenyan town of Sagana, known for its river rafting camps. It was an hour and a half's drive to River Tana, where I'd be having my first ever white water rafting experience.

We reached the base camp and just like in an airplane, a safety briefing happened with the only difference being that here we had to wear all the gear beforehand, rather than waiting for a mishap to occur. The possibility of slight risk only heightened the adrenalin rushing through me. A ten minute drive later, we were on the water. It was simply incredible being so close to the water and braving the rapids with the sound of the water in my ears and the forest wind sweeping past my face and hair.

I was amazed when our guide said we could swim during the minor rapids! That was one time when I was supremely grateful for never having missed my swimming lessons when I was younger. But nothing prepared us for the 'spasm' - a succession of stunning drops over nearly a kilometre-long stretch. I was scared and I was also exhilarated. I do believe my soul sang out loud when the raft plunged through those rapids and misty white water fell in huge sheets all around me. I was totally famished by the end of the experience and was glad to return to our camp for a delicious barbeque lunch.
After lunch, we relaxed for a while and soaked in the lovely surroundings. I was already dreaming about the next leg of this incredible tour which included a trek up Mount Kenya. In the late afternoon, we packed our things and left for the Naro Moru River Lodge in Nanyuki.

Day 3.
I wanted to ask the days to slow down because I'd never had so much fun in my life! But all too soon, it was time to get our trekking kits sorted and then drive to Sirimon Park where we would begin our ascent up the famous Kenyan mountain.

We began with quite an easy and pleasant trek in the forest, which would take us to Old Moses camp. The helpful guide said that this was to help us acclimatize to the altitude and surroundings. Everything was breathtakingly beautiful and all the colours from the blue of the sky to the green of the grass, seemed deeper than ever before.
Before twilight, we reached Judmaier Camp with its lovely mountain tents, 3300m high. The view from the precipice was indescribably beautiful - with brown and green valleys stretching into the horizon in every direction we looked. That night, I slept particularly well in the absolute silence and I dreamt of a time when electricity did not exist and human needs never exceeded what the earth had to offer.

Day 4.
I woke up to the most spectacular sunrise of my life, up in those lofty, primitive mountains. Later, walking up the Sirimon Track to Likii North Valley, my mind was absolutely blank as I allowed nature to work her magic on me.

That night, we slept in tents set up at Likii North Valley, 3990, high up Mt Kenya. The valley was picture perfect, with its view of the snow-tipped peaks of Teleki and Sendeyo, between which it was nestled. Over a bonfire, our guide told us that they used to serve as vents to the main peaks.

Day 5.
Today, we climbed up to 4300m and my limbs were starting to feel the effects of the trek. But the surroundings and the nightly silence were so rejuvenating that there was no other place I'd have rather been. We left Likii Valley behind and made our way to the broad Mackinder's Valley.

We camped right at the top of the valley, below the Batian and Nelion peaks. The deep blue sky provided a wonderful contrast against the russet coloured mountains towering around us. I wondered if our footfalls disturbed their peace but perhaps, they enjoyed the intermittent company. At night, we camped at the Shiptons camp, which was quite comfortable.

Day 6.
I don't think I've ever woken up this early in my life. Long before the sun had time to peep between the inky clouds of the night sky, we had embarked on our journey to Pt Lenana (4985m), the third highest peak of Mt Kenya. We walked for a good four hours to the summit and then began our descent down Teleki Valley. The valley was picturesque and I paused a few times, to click mental photographs and preserve the scenes in my heart for posterity.
At night, we relaxed at Mackinder's Camp and told each other stories about our lives back home. I realised that I'd grown quite close to a few of my co-travellers and we made plans to visit each other's countries once this trip ended.

Day 7.
It was time to say goodbye to Mt Kenya, though not to the African hinterland. With a lot of good memories and revitalised spirits, we began our descent down the mountain and returned to our lodge at night.

Day 8.
This was the part I'd been most looking forward to - wildlife safaris to Lake Nakuru National Park and the Masai Mara Game Reserves. After a hectic week of rafting and trekking, we could now sit back and enjoy the feral delights of East Africa. After having breakfast, we drove past the northern part of the Aberdare Mountains and made our way down Rift Valley. On our way, we caught wonderful glimpses of the serene Lake Nakuru.
We were also treated to spectacular views of the Thompson Falls and a 73m deep plunge where the driver stopped, to allow us to take a better look. Gazing into that endless ravine, I felt my worries drop away and the significance of life briefly reveal itself to me.
We had lunch at Nakuru town and then it was time for a game viewing drive. I had seen pink flamingoes back home at Sewri but the sight that greeted me at Lake Nakuru National Park was simply unparalleled. I was also blessed to spot the white and rare black rhino.
But the most memorable moment of all was when we saw a leopard and her cubs in all their majestic glory. They were so oblivious to our presence that I briefly felt like an intruder.

Day 9.
The previous day's safari had left me completely awed. But what lay ahead was even more awe-inspiring. After breakfast, we left for the Masai Mara Game Reserve, where we would be able to see wild animals in their natural avatar - completely uncensored. Until now, the kinds of phenomena I had only seen on television such as lions roaring, cheetahs chasing their prey, wildebeest migrating and elephants trumpeting so loudly that they send the birds aflutter - all these would now be visible in their unfettered ferocity.

Day 10.
We spent the day roaming around the reserve and driving down secret trails in our quest for the famed members of the Big Five (African lion, Cape buffalo, African elephant, African leopard and black/white rhinoceros). We were also privileged to see the Masai people in their traditional costumes and interact with them briefly. Seeing the quiet happiness of these tribes made me wonder about the correlation between riches and mental satisfaction. Perhaps, we had it all wrong.

Day 11.
We took our last look at wild heart of the African continent and left for Nairobi. I picked up some souvenirs for friends and family back home and with a smile on my face, I bid goodbye to the country that had filled my mind and soul with so much beauty.

Take me for an intrepid tour, Active Holiday Company. And the wildness in my soul shall also roam freely.

All photos in this post are licensed under Creative Commons. This post has been written for The Active Holiday Company's Intrepid tour to Thailand campaign.