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Monday, October 24, 2011

journey to a floating island

After nine hours of flight, two transits and five minutes of boat ride, and having slept for only few hours in between, I reached Male, the capital of the archipelago of islands, Maldives. By then I was, literally, quite unstable, only made worse by the feeling that I was standing on some kind of a floating island, surrounded by blue sea from every corner.
Until that time, I thought travelling was one of my fortes, because I have done that, in worst of situations. I have climbed the rugged mountains through muddy trails, braving leech and lechers. For a delicate woman, such travail is a feat in itself.
This time, the trip to Maldives was a five star luxury on offer. Nothing could have been better. But I think, the abrupt transition in mis-en-scene, from the high mountains to the blue seas, took its own time to sink in.
Walking down the street, I was feeling wobbly, although nothing unusual for the people in Maldives. I feared I may fall down into the sea, and be engulfed its vastness. Yet amid the fear and frivolity, it was a quiet, often lonely, experience.
I was between the vast blue sky and the sea, one above and the other just near my feet and before. Gentle breeze blew fresh sea air into the coast. I was totally awestruck by the beauty of Maldives.
From the hotel room, one of the best in Male, I could see the sea waves rise and fall, rocking against the coast and seagulls fluttering above them. In the room, a huge comfy bed just for me. The sea food was delicious. Life is good, I told myself.
The only downside was that it was quite a lonely trip. I could have used some company.
After two days of rigorous meeting, I just had a few hours in my hands to go around. What amazed me is that Male is so small that you can tour the whole place in an hour. And up till now, I was thinking Thimphu is too small for a capital.
Maldives is way liberal for a Muslim country, except for booze. Maldivians are outspoken and of course hospitable. To top it all, just everywhere, I saw couples, hand in hand. Dating and public display of affection wasn’t a taboo at all in this island country.
Everything in Maldives is imported. Fish is found in abundance, although some have been complaining it is not enough for the locals as it is mostly consumed by the tourist, and the remaining exported. (Maldives receives around 90,000 tourists in a month).
The place is really expensive so much so it literally makes a tight fisted person out of you. Two packets of chips, a small bottle of juice and two chocolates cost me USD10; a quick calculation confirmed it is equivalent to Nu 500. With that kind of money it could easily buy a meal for two in Bhutan.
But besides that, Maldives stole my heart away.
Travelling so far away from home, alone, for the first time, and getting hoaxed at a transit airport, and stuck in rain and flood, Maldives was a pleasant breather. I won’t call it a disastrous trip but I had my own share of discomfort and pain, the humdrum part of travelling alone and getting lost.
For me Male would be one of the places to see before you die. And also, who knows this beautiful island country may never exist after a few decades, if we give into the looming dangers of climate change. God forbid!

confessions of a wrecked plane

Hundreds of miles away from modernization and thousands of meters above sea level, I lie high and dry in one of the country’s highest valleys, Sakteng.
They say, it all began over five decades ago when I landed here in the Rocky Mountains drifting away from my normal air traffic.
We are three brothers, from the neighboring countries. At one point in time we were all pride to our nations diving deep into the blue carrying passengers or fighting for our nations.  We were aircrafts till one day we got wrecked and became steel pieces that was of no use to anyone. Having lost our way we had in turns, landed here on the snow covered mountains of Sakteng.
Then on, we have been immobile shelters to Yak Herders and commuters, with the cold chill hitting us throughout the year.
Back in the villages of Sakteng we have become bed night tales for the younger generations and a subject of interest for visitors.
They say there were about 13 passengers on the aircraft of which nobody survived the wreck. The dead bodies of seven passengers were identified and transported home while six dead bodies were left behind to be buried in the grounds of the Himalayas
I don’t know about the two other aircrafts, but older folks say it was in the late 1960s when the Highlanders first started tearing me apart The first recorded incidence was of a sunny morning when a group of Brokpas hollered around me and shredded me into pieces. Most of the parts that they were able to carry became decorative pieces in the kitchen gardens and in the back yards.
At the beginning they didn’t know what to do with the wrecked aircrafts, but it was a matter of time before they realized how to use the parts of the aircrafts. Today, parts of me are used as window frames or wind chimes on the balcony. Other parts have been hung on the walls of drawing rooms that are normally the only modern utilities around.
The only remains of the three of us are the skeletons. We lie abandoned on the empty grounds, just because they could not drag us to their homes.
One of the habitats who has been around with the three of us is 70-year-old Aum Gem. Aum Gem was a teen ager when I first hit the grounds of Sakteng. She claims there were about three air crashes in Sakteng. When the first one happened the aircraft was abandoned for days because the highlanders then, didnt know what it was. By the time the last aircraft crashed, people rushed to the spot to gather around the parts and take home whatever they could.
The brokpas, not having seen flying machines those days was not sure of it being a helicopter or a plane but they did know it came from the neighboring countries.
Even now, when a helicopter soars through the sky, people living with modern amenities gaze upon it with amusement, but for the brokpas, it has just become another metallic piece in the sky.