17 May 2011

Travelogue - Langkawi

Seldom do I struggle to take up my pen for writing the account of my travels. This time I am struggling, which is more surprising than frustrating. What do I write then?
Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 or 104 islands in the Andaman Sea off the west coast of Malaysia. 99 or 104 are not a geographical approximation but the effect of tides; there are 99 islands or rather islets when the tide is high and 104 when it is low. Doesn’t that, in itself, sound appealing? Normally, I would have written about the itinerary, how to go, what to see, things to do, where to stay and what to eat. In case of my current destination, these details are best gleaned from tripadvisor.com which is where I did my research in the first place. This time over, I do not want to write these things. This occlusion of items from my normal travelogue writing agenda is the chief reason for the aforementioned struggle. What do I write then?

Frankly, I am in no mood to start the ramble on how incredibly stunning the islands are, and use grandiloquent adjectives to extol the destination. It has been done over and over again by people far more capable than me, and finding one more star in a star studding sky does not improve the night’s brilliance. My ten twenty sentences of pure panegyric will not make Langkawi more astounding, more awesome and more heavenly. What do I write then?

I believe every travel should add to one’s intrinsic value else it is better to stay at home sweet home. While on the return journey from my travels, I excuse myself into a private world of deep introspection in pursuit of justifying the value addition or erosion that has occurred during the time I was holidaying. I ask myself a simple question. After spending time, effort and tons of money; what value have I added to myself? On the Air Asia flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bangalore, this was the profound question which seduced my faculties and my evolving attempt to answer the question is what I should and will write about.

There is a certain reptile which has no limbs and evokes an instant defensive or repulsive reflex in most humans. Whether I belong to the class of ‘most humans’ is an attractive argument, but the fact shall stay that I have always loved snakes. (For the purpose of this blog – love, like, admire, fascination is interchangeable!). During this trip, I finally did something which translated this intangible love into tangible action. After having seen countless programs on Discovery, Animal Planet and Nat Geo on snakes, I yearned for seeing the real thing, in its real environment. This yearn was finally quenched when the mangrove boat trip presented an opportunity to watch vipers from close range. The guide and boatman managed to spot 6 Malaysian shore pit vipers for me. Then, towards the evening came the big moment. At one of the town squares, a man was standing with his pet, adult python and offering a picture with the snake coiled around you for a sum of 5 Ringgits. I stopped and considered the prospect, not so much the monetary part but the risk involved. As expected, I chickened and moved on, but with a sense of smothering guilt; I had the opportunity to do something I always dreamt of since long and had let it go. The next 15 minutes were full of compunction, my heart not believing what its conductor the mind had ordered. While retracing the steps, I finally decided, this is the moment and carpe diem it! So there it was, the longest snake in the world, the famous Reticulated Python draped around my neck and torso, and I gently holding its neck. The snake’s handler was a funny guy, cracking jokes and scaring people. Seeing my relative ease, he urged me to leave the snake’s neck and stretch out my arms wide. Almost immediately, I could feel the snake wriggling down along my right leg. It is the most amazing sensation I have ever felt in my life. The python’s muscles are as hard as granite, and when such strong mass flexes on your neck as it moves down, you get the most brilliant neck massage ever imaginable.
The Snakes at Langkawi were the first item on my list of value added for me. An experience I will remember for many years to come, until I do something bigger, like track a King Cobra in the Western Ghats of India :-)

Driving in Langkawi in a rented car is the second item. For a person who only learnt how to confidently drive a petrol propelled quadruped a year ago, the feat of clocking 300 kms on pristine, desolate roads using maps is definitely value adding.

Are you one among many who are geographically challenged with the ASEAN region? Would you fail to differentiate between Malaysia and Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand, Borneo and Sarawak if presented an unnamed map? Is your memory of Malaysia restricted to learning its capital and currency for intra school GK quiz competition and invariably getting both wrong when you pressed the buzzer? Forgive me for this figure of speech where I am addressing ‘you’ where all these questions are basically a reflection of me!. But not any more. Increased geographical awareness towards Malaysia has been the third value I have added. If someone were to now say to me he is going for a vacation to Kota Kinabalu, his neighbor is just back from Selangor and last year his boss visited Tioman & the Perhentian Islands, I would not present my inquiring eyes arched with those clouded eyebrows.

What can be more pleasing than a fair, genuine and unexpected compliment? I take the compliment I received from a full time, licensed naturalist when he was amazed by my knowledgeable conversation about bats as the fourth and final value add from my trip to Langkawi. This small compliment has proved to be a major catalyst, so much so, I am considering enrolling for a 3 day long Naturalist Training Program just to try something different. More on that later, hopefully.

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