This is on-sen-sation

Image courtsey Google

We visited Japan last December, in winter and it was freezing cold. The temperature would usually range between -3 to +3 C with some very chilly winds. I am writing today about an experience I had in Nozawa Onsen and to understand this post completely, you need to know some Onsen Etiquette’s (a community bath). Basically there is a dress code – you can only wear your birthday suit and carry a small wash towel. The water in the onsen is hot, I mean seriously hot like 45-46 C, these baths are open to public, before you get carried away, there are different areas for men and women. The ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) where we stayed had an onsen which ran on natural spring water. “WOW! Snow outside, hot water in the bath, steam rising – awesome setting, this would be so relaxing – almost spiritual” is what I thought when I saw the brochure… “Let’s do it, its gonna be surreal pleasure” I had convinced Ashu.

I was super-excited about the onsen experience just until the time to go through the experience arrived, the single most embarrassing bit started pricking me – other women sitting naked and me walking in – what would that be like, eeewww maybe this is a bad idea… but I was the one who had insisted on this experience, I could not back out, and anyway barring that one thing its going to be such an awesome experience, I remembered the brochure again. I tried to think smartly and scheduled our visit at lunch time when we had the highest chance of finding the place empty.

At 12:30pm, collecting every bit of courage possible, when I entered the ladies dressing room I saw this oldish woman in the correct dress-code casually applying moisturizer – can’t say I was very comfortable with the sight, so I decided if there are more women here I am running away. I peeped in the bath from the tiny glass window, exactly like in the brochure I thought, there was no one there. I waited for the lady to finish her business – I walked around, flipped through a magazine, checked my weight (which I realized wasn’t the best idea) she gave me a look clearly saying “another dumb tourist, huh!” and finally she left. Then I was the queen… I got appropriately dressed and walked out of the dressing room, which I later realized was equipped with the best heating system ever, as soon as I stepped out I did not know what hit me (actually I knew what hit me, it was the freezing chilly cold breeze) I started the shower but there was no warm water, after showering in the coldest water I’ve ever touched (except while drinking) every inch of my body went numb, the hot water was exactly what I needed then – or did I? When I set foot in the bath, it was like my foot was boiling – what did I do to deserve this hell on earth to get boiled alive! I ran back to the dressing room took a warm shower.

When I walked out I saw Ashu lazing happily on a couch… did he even go in – I really doubt, I will never know, he claims he did! We went out for dinner, hogged on awesome sushi and sashimi drank some good ol’ sake and life was bliss again. Later that evening I thought, things that look like surreal pleasures – like sleeping on the beach, bathing in a waterfall, walking bare-feet in a lawn – are not as much pleasures in experiencing as they are in anticipation. Will I ever indulge in any ‘surreal pleasure’ again or will i just derive pleasure thinking about them? Hell yeah I’ll indulge! that’s what life is all about – experiences! Its so easy to just do the ordinary and be happy… What say you?

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I jumped in the middle of the sea!

Though I was never a horrible student my folks often thought that I was not sincere enough… and  even after 5 long years I still remember that 2 months before my 3rd Semester MBA exams they forced me into studying while they took Manu (my kid sis) to Andaman for a holiday… Among the other fun things that she did there she also snorkeled in Andaman Sea, she loved it and often told me that it was one of the most wonderful experiences one could ever have, she is much braver than me, but the fact that she proved it, used to prick my conscience! On various occasions I got chances to have that ‘wonderful experience’ but I never even showed an inclination simply because I never thought I could handle it. I am scared of practically everything involved – water, depth, fish, water current, the motion of the boat…I knew I would never snorkel and this was a done deal!

A couple of weeks ago we decided to do something fun and exciting to break the routine of our mundane life of paid slavery and hence sprang the idea of snorkeling – of proving my mettle! Now when you watch people snorkeling it looks easy you just float and see the beautiful life in the ocean but for a fattu like me its nothing short of a BIG adventure… after a lot of contemplation we signed up for a ‘snorkeling tour’ in which the hotel guy would take us in a boat to some place and we would snorkel there for an hour and would get back – sounded quite simple.

We reached the pick-up point (i.e. the point from where you board the ferry, you perv!) A lad took us to a dark and dingy room and asked to pick and check our equipments – both Ashu and I had no clue what to pick and definitely no idea what to check, we looked at others and picked up a pair of fins, a snorkel with mask attached and a life jacket each. Once we took these we were in the boat and now I saw the mix of our team except us there were two ladies and two guys – the ladies were from Ireland and the two guys were desis. The guide howled “How many beginners?” male ego jumped in and none of the guys raised their hand, Ashu had to when I gave him a “look”. Then I asked the other guys “Oh so you’ve done it before?” reply “Nah all of us are beginners actually” one of the chicks said “We aren’t, we’re experts” For me the fun had begun!

We started on the boat and reached a spot where I could see some heads with colorful pipes floating in the sea. Then there was a briefing – put the snorkel in your mouth; don’t breathe with nose breathe with mouth; if the mask gets dirty just dip it in water and clean it; that’s it! One of the chicks (in a bored and frustrated voice) screamed “hey can we jump now” and before the reply off they went! Now the desi dudes geared up and jumped… Ashu and I were still tying our jackets and adjusting the equipment then finally Ashu jumped… I however sat at the rim & looked around, the land was far far away, suddenly the guide held my jacket and said “you jump on 5, I count now 1, 2…..” in those couple of seconds my whole life flashed in front of me, weird thoughts came to my mind – is this the last thing I am ever going to do? I did not even call my parents before coming here! Will I ever see them again?… “5” and off I went into the water, in panic I forgot everything and gasped for breath and in the process gulped some sea water then I held the boat as tightly as I could took a few deep breaths but I did not give up, once my breathing restored the guide held my hand and just asked me to float and keep breathing through the snorkel.

What I saw after that can not be described it was a whole new world of colors and life – hundreds of colorful fish swimming by me; beautiful and colorful corals, no aquariums can bring out the beauty of the ocean as I saw there, nothing that man makes can capture the beauty of this world. I counted at-least 12 different types of fish. After a while I was comfortable and the guide left me to wander around myself. It was bliss! Then I held Ashu’s hand and we were floating effortlessly looking at the wonderful ocean while we swam back to the boat… Ashu went down and picked something he handed it to me, it was a crab shell… trust me it was more romantic than the most beautiful flowers he has ever given me… Then he pointed at something and I found Nemo!

The 60mins which initially looked like eternity to me passed in a jiffy and we were signaled to come back. Without a doubt snorkeling is the most beautiful experience I’ve ever had – it’s as close to nature as you can get – its nature itself! I do not swim and I feel very uncomfortable in water I do not go beyond 1.2m in the pool yet I jumped in the middle of the sea and enjoyed it!