Giant skyscrapers rose up between the dust clouds accumulating under the midday heat out of my plane window as we began our descent into Mumbai airport. Here I was meeting Geo, a friend from home who was in Mumbai for a conference, and together we were off to Nashik for the weekend, a town 3 hours outside Mumbai where another friend Kalpesh lived. I met Kalpesh 8 years ago whilst we were both doing a summer internship at the University of Hokkaido in Sapporo (the north most island of Japan), and we hadn’t seen each other since!
Beginning our journey away from this unknown city, we watched the sun-bleached high-rise flats interspersed with palm trees lining the surrounding highways, morph into a bare barren hilly landscape scattered with half finished buildings. There was clearly a lot of development happening here (as with everywhere in India!).
It was so good to see Geo, and as it grew dark our conversation was still in full swing, when suddenly we saw a van drifting into our pathway on the motorway. We were going at such a high speed there wasn’t much chance to slow down, and to our disbelieving eyes the van continued to drift perpendicularly into the road almost completely blocking our route. The reaction of our driver was impeccable and we swerved through a gap between this van and a steep drop at the side of the road, barely big enough for us to fit through… 2 feet further to starboard and we would have tumbled over the edge of the cliff…
On arrival (still in one piece), Kalpesh’s family kindly welcomed us into their home for dinner, and we had a lovely evening filled with catching up and curry.
Our plan for the weekend was to attend a music festival held every year at a vineyards on the outskirts of the town. It is well known that wine and music are a great combination, and we were pleasantly surprised to find some familiar names such as Cat Empire and Balkan Beat Box on the line up. But the highlight was the headlining Hindi band, Kailasa, who set the crowd alight, and filled the air with flicking wrists, swishing hair, wiggling heads and twisting shoulders. And when a slow song came on, instead of holding up lighters, everyone turned on the torch application on their mobiles and waved them around in the air instead!
Rather controversially, “wine city” as Nashik is often known as, is also a famous holy place, so we took some time out of our hedonistic activities for Kalpesh to show us some temples, including a spot where a muslim and hindu temple stand peacefully side by side. We stopped to sooth our souls and listen to the jingle of the prayer bells hanging from arches, the jangle of anklets around cracked bare feet glimpsed beneath sari folds, the jingle of toy deities hanging from key rings, and the jangle of bells dangling from the necks of nearby meandering cows.
I finished the weekend in Indian style with one final curry, and an auto ride to the airport to catch my flight back to the UK for my friends wedding. Waiting in the queue for security, an official walked past and asked “Indian passport maam?” – so seems I am a little bit more Indian than when I arrived 🙂