There are many firsts in our lives that leave an indelible mark on our psyche, staying fresh in our memory for a lifetime. We remember these experiences, the sight, the sounds, the emotions associated with it, even the smells linger in our memory. I am trying to recount these firsts in my life, but not chronologically.
The first view of the sea.
I must have been about four or five. The place was Puri in Orissa. We had come by train, and were coming by a rickshaw towards the beach where we had rented a house. I had heard so much about the sea and seen pictures, and I could feel the salt on my lips, smell the peculiar salty air, and hear the constant undulating roar of the surf, before we crested a rise, and there it was, in all its majestic glory, the vast expanse of blue, with the breakers racing towards the beach, topped by white surf, and the yellow sand beach disappearing in the surf.
Nothing had prepared me for the grandeur. Since then I have been to numerous beaches all over India and in four different continents, had a sea journey, and learnt scuba diving; even been rescued after a boat capsize in the sea, but this first vision from early childhood remains vivid in my mind.
The first view of snow peaks.
I was six or seven. We had taken the train to NJP in North Bengal. From there we hired a jeep to take us up to the hills. As we drove out of the city, we could see the layers of green hills and further grey ranges behind them disappearing into the clouds. Suddenly the clouds lifted, and there, shining in the sunlight, the mighty Himalayas displaying her crown of snow peaks, the Kanchanjungha range.
All these years later, having seen all the major snow peaks in the Himalayas, the Alps and even mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, the memory of that first sight, with the cool crisp air and the smell of pines, remains fresh in my mind.
The first flight
I was in class six. We were off to our annual vacation to Darjeeling. The airplane was a propeller driven Fokker Friendship. I was excited beyond imagination. The roaring noise, the feeling of your stomach being left behind while the body is moving on, the ground rushing past and suddenly growing smaller, the bird’s eye view, the white clouds enveloping us, the ears getting blocked, toffees served, the entire thrilling journey is vivid in my memory, and all the frequent flyer points and intercontinental travel will not fade the memory of this first flight.
The First sight of….
Snow… Mountains of it, heaped on either side of the road on the way to Rohtang pass, the road a tunnel between walls of snow. We went tobogganing, made snowmen, had snow ball fights and even unsuccessfully tried to learn skiing. Left feeling sore, cold,wet and excited. Numerous treks in the snow later, which included being trapped by an avalanche in Drass, this remains vivid in my mind.
Snowfall… On the trek to Kedarnath. The first exciting flakes, cold and crisp to touch, melting with a tingle on the tip of the tongue that soon turned into a thick flurry that deteriorated into a life threatening blizzard. But that’s another story. And one that will stay with me till death.
The Taj Mahal…
Even after hearing and reading so much and all the pictures, the first view through the arch of the gateway is special. It gives you goose bumps. It was on a tour with my cousins while doing the very touristy golden triangle and numerous visits later, still remains fresh in my memory
The Niagara Falls…
Here too all the pictures and descriptions don’t prepare you for the majestic sight the feel of cold spray and the roar of the gigantic Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. Like the sea you can hear it before you see it. And the maid of the mist takes you up close and personal. There’s a walk behind the falls as well, a unique experience, and a scary zip line that swings you close to the wall of roaring water. I tried out everything.
The undersea world…
No amount of national geographic channel binge viewing can prepare you for the real thing. Once you have got over the fear of chocking or drowning and have learnt to maneuver yourself with the flippers, scuba diving is a dream come true. Weird and colorful sea creatures floating by and ignoring you. You feel like an invisible alien in a completely different world. Happened at jolly buoy in the Andaman’s before the tsunami ruined the reefs. I have tried scuba diving later too but nothing beats the first experience
The Everest from close up
My daughter gave me this privilege when I was visiting her in Kathmandu Nepal. A tiny ramshackle 16 seater aircraft of a local airline took us on the pre-dawn flight over the mighty Himalayan ranges at low altitude. It was incredibly exciting. Finally when we circled the Everest it was just another peak like many but it was an emotional experience. People started weeping. Champagne was served. We could all visit the cockpit by turns to get the full unrestricted view of the top of the world from up above, up close and personal. Will never ever forget tsunami
The tiger in the wild
Having read stories of the Indian jungle since childhood and being an avid watcher of geography channels I longed to see for myself the king of the jungle the royal Bengal tiger in her own domain. But every visit to the tiger sanctuaries proved futile. Till at last on my eighth visit at Bandhavgarh she finally gave darshan. And what an awesome experience. Six feet away from elephant back we witnessed a battle between two young princes over a kill.
After that I have sighted the big cat almost a dozen times but that first view with the putrid smell of the carcass the roar in my ears are as fresh as if it happened yesterday
The great animal migration of Serengeti..
In my childhood I had seen a film called Serengeti shall not die. Ever since visiting this place in person remained on my bucket list. I followed the event on geographic channels, saw all the films, and there are plenty, both documentaries and feature films, read all the books I could get starting with a childhood classic Chander Pahar or mountain of the moon. So finally we blew up our savings and went on a family vacation to Tanzania.
The first view of the graceful giraffes loping ahead and thousands of zebras gnus and antelope blocking the way all the way to the horizon, the crocodiles waiting in the river, the lions on the kill, it was an orgy of Kodak moments jostling for space in our memory. This has spoiled all future trips to wildlife sanctuaries as everything will be an anticlimax after this
Then there is the experience of para gliding off the mountains and white water rafting in the Rapids. Both experiences of being in elements alien to you and the adrenaline rush of flirting with death are heady and never pale, but the first experience is something that you never forget, much like the first experience of making love.
I have written about many of these experiences earlier and will write about the others too in separate stories.
This is a story about the first experiences that never fade