Ok fine. So a lot of times I end up traveling to different parts of the world and don’t pay for tickets, food or accommodation. And to add salt to your wounds I end up staying at - if not some of the worlds leading hotels, then 5 stars, eating at the best restaurants and doing things people ordinarily wouldn’t get a chance to do. So far so good right? But what I forgot to mention is that I usually travel with about 10 to 15 people, tons of luggage, equipment, wake up by 6 every morning, run around like a headless chicken and have no fixed time to sleep, eat, no time whatsoever to truly explore the place, and no time for myself. After all, I have a job to do... an entire country to showcase in a week! Still think it’s a perfect holiday?
Well, honestly, its hard, frustrating, exhausting but a whole bundle of fun too. I certainly am not complaining! Especially when you’re traveling with 4 women you’ve never met before in your life from different countries and cultures. Welcome to Mtv D Tour. The story of 5 girls traveling and living together, doing a series of tasks to move on to the next one. The story so far is that its been 2 weeks already, we've been through haunted villages and Kings in Rajasthan, shopping and partying in Mumbai, Thai boxing and Thai dancing in Bangkok and losing any amount of left over sanity at a full moon rave in Koh Pha Ngan. Week 1, we were getting to know each other. Week 2, we knew who we did and didn't wanna be with. Week 3 - hmmmm...lets just say welcome to Japan and keep things pleasant, after all this is about travel and not cat fights...
It took forever for the plane to reach its parking spot after touchdown. Honestly don't think I've ever been to an airport so huge and wide spread in my life. It took another hour to reach Tokyo from Narita Airport. But it's all well worth the wait. This city doesn't impress you, it bowls you over at once! What a buzz! What a vibe! If you thought New York was great, just come to Tokyo and you'll see what a real melting pot is and how perfectly well balanced tradition and culture is with a super advanced world. Super efficient. Everything so well thought of and organised! Even their take away food in 7 Eleven's comes with forks/knives/chopsticks and tissues all packed in!
The best way to travel there is undoubtedly the train. (Yes even though we were shooting, we used the train!) Japan has amazing public transport and although it could be a bit steep, its still worth it as it saves you insane amounts of time and you travel very comfortably. Of course their local lines are jam packed at rush hour (much like Churchgate to Virar trains at 6pm), but they're air conditioned and clean and oh so frequent. People there are very shy, gentle and have much respect even for a stranger - so don't be suprised if you have a huge bag and are offered a seat. If you're heading to Nagoya like we did, I totally suggest you take the bullet train. It's super fast and quite an experience. Nagoya station at Christmas time is yet another experience.
Nagoya is mainly a university town with lots of young and terribly fashionable college going kids cycling all over the place. We were invited to not only witness but also participate in a sumo wrestling match at one of these colleges. 5 women wrapped in bundles of clothes (its freezing there in Dec), surrounded by 20 students studying to become sumo wrestlers in thongs... After learning the rules and doing some practise we each put on fat sumo suits and wrestled each other after which we were served a typical sumo wrestlers meal.
We proceeded on to Nikko, a place I think one must go to when in Japan. It has been the centre for Buddhist and Shinto worship for centuries and a visit to the Toshogu - a rather lavish shrine complex will prove just that to you. Besides this, Nikko is also famous for its incredibly picaresque landscape and Lake Chuzenji which can be reached via the "Irohazaka Winding Road". The coolest thing about this is that the road ascends more than 400 metres in altitude and the road originally consisted of 48 needlepoint curves and Japanese syllabary (Iroha) has the same number of letters.
The drive is stunning and we finally reached our ryokan, which was smack bang on the lake! Already a thousand plus metres high up and beyond the lake you see even higher snow capped mountains. Ryokans are typical Japanese rooms with just one piece of furniture being a low table. Seating is on cushions called zabutons and straw mats called tatami's are laid out all across the room. You must only walk on them with tabi's on. (Tabi's are typical Japanese socks with a parting for the big toe). Quilts are laid out on the tatami for a peaceful nights sleep. After dressing up in yukata's (Japanese Robes) and tanzen's (outer robes worn over the yukata's during winter), we indulged in the rather serious and strict tea ceremony. Its quite a weird experience and opens your eyes to a whole new culture and way of thinking. After that we headed down to the restaurant; still robed and all for a sushi dinner. Be warned though, sitting with your buttocks on your ankles throughout the entire course of dinner isn't for everyone... certainly wasn't for me! Oh! I think I forgot to mention- Nikko is also very well known for its hot springs...
And thats exactly where the 5 of us went after dinner. The hot tubs were out in the open, out in the freezing cold! We had a rather serious evening -respect is a huge thing for the Japanese and if you are loud, ill mannered or disrespect their ways, they get quite offended. But now it was time to let our hair down, damn discipline and go wild!! So we had nothing but towels on, jumped right in, had a water fight and then just soaked in all the goodness and the heat the hot springs provided...aaah. Thats the life!
Back in midst of hustle bustle, technology and of course fashion, Tokyo has a great variety of shopping and no, its really not as expensive as the world imagines it to be. You just gotta go to the right places. Shinjuku, one of Japans busiest stations is a great place to shop. You have designer stores, malls and also some cute little places where you don't pay as much but still pay for shopping in that area which is kinda high end. If you're looking for trendy stuff with great deals, Harajuku is the place to be. Its usually called Tokyo's Teenager town but you'll get anything and everything for anyone - even your dog! Never seen that huge a collection for dogs- Disney collection, space suits, sailor suits, army suits - you name it they have it. Takeshita street (don't judge the name) is the best. My favourite place to shop and my best buy was this thing that looks like mascara, is applied like mascara but is the best damned mascara remover I've ever used! What an invention! I will stop being such a girlie now and start harping over Shibuya a great district for electronics and gadgets. But just be careful when buying things like laptops, digi cams etc because they usually come fully loaded in Japanese.
After tearful goodbyes, heart warming hugs and kisses, all fights forgotten, I'm back at Narita airport where they are VERY strict about weight so make sure you aren't over weight or else, expect there to be a rupee left in your bank account - if you're lucky that is. Experience teaches you much... Just like the entire experience of meeting 4 wonderful people with whom I spent 3 great weeks of my life. Its been 6 months, I'm still in touch with them. My point is I know its expensive to travel, but if you do research on the net, buy a lonely planet, book in advance and use some charm its not that expensive... for everything you will come back with- the moments, the experiences, the wisdom, the stories, the smiles and the faces, I promise you, all of them will stay with you for the rest of your lives. Its seriously one of the best investments you can make. So stop working like a dog and saving up insane amounts - take that step and start living your life and enriching it for you never know, tomorrow may never be yours...
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