"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page" - St Augustine
The above is one of my favourite quotes. Indeed, the world is a fascinating place to be in. The sheer variety that nature has an offer makes travel such a fulfiling pursuit. Like most others, I am always eager to visit and explore new places in new countries. And like most others, I too have a list of must-visit destinations that I aim to visit atleast once in my lifetime. Till recently, Australia used to top that list. Vast open spaces of the outback, the great Australian love for sport and, of course, the kangaroo made it a really special place to visit. The forthcoming ICC Cricket World Cup in February-March 2015 provides people like me with the perfect opportunity to marry their love of cricket and their desire to go Down Under. Planning will start in right earnest soon and I will to watch a India game in a packed MCG on that tour. Friends Down Under, have given you nearly 3 years notice :)
While Australia still remains a destination to aim at, the relative ease in getting and staying there (direct flights, friends who have setlled there and the sizable Indian diaspora) mean that it is no longer the exotic place that it might have been a few decades ago. If I were to talk about visiting a completely new place, then the continent of South America would probably be the first place that I would mention. For Indians, who have, by their sheer strength of numbers, have 'colonized' most of the world, South America remains the 'final frontier' :). In fact, most of us (esp. those who do not follow soccer) would even struggle to name 5 countries in South America apart from Brazil and Argentina. Partly because so little of the place is known to us, it has recently worked its way towards the top of my 'to-do' list. And the main calling card in South America for me are the spectacular Andes range of mountains.
|The Salt Pans of Bolivia (Salar de Uyuni)..|
At over 7000km long and with an average elevation of 4000m, the Andes are truly close to the Himalayas in laying claim asthe world's most formidable mountain range. And nestled within it are, supposedly, few of the world's most breathtaking places : the ruins of Macchu Picchu in Peru, Lake Titicaca and the Bolivian salt pans (see picture - which when covered with water become the world's largest mirror !!!). It also has one of the most inhospitable terrains on the planet which means, of course, that has one to be physically very fit to attempt some of the treks, including the 4-day long trek to Macchu Picchu. In this, and in many other respects, I am a long way away from attempting my South American adventure. Take the cuisine, for example. For a veggie like me, life can be quite difficult in those areas. And one also needs to have a decent understanding of Spanish in order to interact with the people there. To add to it are the finances and the logistics involved. Given the long travel times involved (a Mumbai- Lima, Peru return ticket costs upward of Rs 1 lakh and total one-way travel time is more than 30 hrs), it makes sense to 'make it large' and cover most of the continent in one trip. That would imply atleast three weeks of stay there and estimated per person cost of about Rs 4-5 lakhs. Still some way to go !!!
But till I manage that, the Andes and South America would remain one of my dream destinations. One day, I will definitely say aloud 'América del Sur, aquí estoy!'