Sunday, October 04, 2009


Characteristically, we decided on Scotland shortly after I had downed two margaritas and Krishnan two cuba libres at Cafe Pacifico. We had argued about places and settled it when we realised that Scotland had the f***ing high f***ing lands. So next morning while I was yawning in office, Krishnan booked the flights to Edinburgh and I booked a castle in Tain. Much later, after we had heard Robert Plant wail his oooos and ahhhs, around 2 in morning I realised we had a flight at 6 AM. So we booked a cab to pick us up at 4 AM.

At 5AM we sleep-walked our way into security, snoozed through an easy jet flight, flopped into Edinburgh airport and found ourselves at Costa Coffee wondering what to do next. A few altercations at Avis later, we were in a pub in Edinburgh and a beautiful waitress walked up to us and asked - "Isn't it cold outside?" That's when I realised that we were in Scotland.
I stared at the girl for a while and walked out to check if it was really cold, while Krishnan did the "He he he ..yes it's cold" to the girl. Of course when Krishnan came out I scowled at him and told him what James Bond would have said instead - "Very cold, we could use some warmth, don't you think?" Krishnan speculated "She must be from a warm place." I marvelled at his deductive logic. We found our Ford and drove off to Stirling.

That's where we found our ice-cream man. A man in a colorful box with wheels, with a round head popping out of a window. I had some vanilla ice cream, and I told him it was nice. Then I asked him the slowest way to get to Inverness. He scratched his round head and said Keylennderr end Fooorth Willyemmmm. So I passed him a tissue paper and a pen. He wrote Callandar, Fort William and implied Lochearnhead, Portnellan, Tyndrum, Bridge of Orchy, Black Mount, Upper Carnoch, Ballachulish, Keppanach and Drimarben.

Green, green whooshing green of outstretched branches swayed in our wake, as we speed and suddenly what is that shiny, glimmery, bright, shimmering, oh my god it is a lake isn't it? So we had to nudge the car into an empty space and jump into this pebbly path to a lake surrounded by Scottish mountains. Our first taste of Scottish wilderness. We thought the lake would taste of whiskey, or some monster would wiggle, wiggle its knobbly head and squint at us from the waters surface. Quick glance at the watch and more trees, trees and surely we must be climbing, the trees have all had haircuts - look they are conical and pointy headed. Green grasses, carpets cover this patch of earth, we are rising, rising higher, higher. Glimmering lake in the distance, but in the distance look the mountains are all gray, even black, clad in suits. Misty mountain hop playing in the car stereo, clouds all around us and we keep climbing, climbing. Gray, rocky bare is this place of the mountains. How austere and grim are the black mountains. A patch of moss and grass, to cover up some spots, but he is too absorbed to care, the mountain is surely no friend of man, just a cloud gazer, stoned baby boomer too high to bother about the mundane. Knoll after knoll bob up from the gray earth, and we snake through them. And then a bridge to the land of the lakes. A long lake, languid, limpid lake appears to our left and the dull hum of the engine is enough to leave you drowsy. The trees return and so do the shaky, bushy leaves, that caress the windscreen distractedly.

A few hours later, in the evening, after 6. The sun begins to recede and in our hurry we almost miss a sign that says 'Turn here for Urquhart'. The Urquhart Castle is closed, and there is a couple standing outside their parked car, sighing as they see the castle in the distance. I find the that the gate has no lock, but has a large sign on it that says 'Tresspassers will be Prosecuted'. "Surely they won't shoot us Krishnan." "You never know in Scotland, Wriju." "I'll take my chances", and I open the gate and walk in. The couple follows me and then Krishnan follows us, gingerly, like a nervous squirrel. There is a second gate and this one is properly locked. I jump over it, the couple do the same, but Krishnan won't budge. I run inside hoping to take a few snaps before the guards chase me away. But there is no guard. The castle is ours in all its majesty. Urquhart castle is like a jigsaw puzzle that someone forgot to complete. With parts sticking out and a beautiful waterscape showing through the gaps. The walls, punctured possibly by canon shots fired by the Williamite forces in 1692. It is a multilayered structure, that is carefully laid out along the incline of a hill. It perches like a bird on the edge of a precipice, a bird with a 270 degrees field of vision. The lake tapers to the left and to the right, guided by the mountains. It is a spectacular sight. Krishnan can't stay away to long, and he casts away his scruples and scrambles into the castle. Half an hour later we are sitting on the highest wall, looking at the sunset in the distance. The picture is tranquil and it makes you silent and introspective.

By the time we reach our hotel (called Mansfield castle) in Tain, its half past nine. Dinner is served and gobbled up in minutes. Then we chat up the friendly receptionist lady, who prints us a map of the area and tells us what to do in the morning. Our room is through a maze of passages. It is evident the place is old, the receptionist tells us there are ghosts. But we are brave souls, we fall asleep soon after.

Next morning, it's bright and Mansfield Castle is bathed in sunlight. As soon as we are in the dining hall, we realise what a wonderful castle it is and what a large lawn there is outside. The decor is victorian, and the sunlight falling on the carpet and the wooden furniture is a sight to behold. From outside our hotel looks quite majestic, and we sit on a bench in the lawn and ponder about the castle, about the day before and how amazing this trip was turning out to be. Once we got into the car and I realized the GPS wasn't working. We were headed for Portmahomack, so while I was fiddling the GPS, Krishnan was figuring out the road signs. I tried a few random addresses and the GPS came back to life and spurted, "Please turn left". Krishnan took a sharp left. I said, 'Why did you take the left, I haven't put the address in yet?" But we kept going anyways into the narrow village road.

We couldn't help it really. There were golden fields, and beyond them the houses, then a line of blue (an estuary, perhaps) and then the mountains on the other side. It was lovely. So much so that we had to get down from the car and marvel. We climbed a fence and broke into it a field of hay, with the field patterned by treadmarks of a tractor. The field seemed endless stretching all the way to the sky lined by the estuary and houses to the left, and the desolate village road to the right. To the right of the village road was what could have been a Salvador Dali painting. Endless cylindrical reams of hay, each 10 feet tall, spaced evenly all the way up to infinity. Not too far away lay some scattered sheep, bleating avidly at each other. I lay down on the field and stared vacantly at the blue sky. So did Krishnan after a while, who looked robbed of speech and moist-eyed.

Sometime later, back on the village road, we found it curled leftward towards the line of blue. A row of houses appeared to the right and suddenly as I turned to my left, I spotted the sea. The north sea. The gray beach was shaped like a parabola, terminating at Portmahomack. A large family was on the gray beach - a baby on a pram wheeled neatly upon the beach, a little boy and a girl, and four others of varying ages. There were boats laid out along the pier a short distance away, lolloping on the sea. The sea seemed to abut upon the gray mountains in the distance. But that was the nature of the place - the sea was punctuated by mountains, and the mountains encumbered by the sea.

As we drove on, green fields alternated with golden fields of hay to our right, and the sea would often disappear behind a row of houses or a patchy little knoll, only to emerge minutes later, radiant in the sunlight. This went on for miles, while Krishnan and me mostly communicated in exclamation marks. We couldn't string two words together. The car audio, wailed in the voice of Robert Plant -

I hear the horses' thunder down in the valley below,
I'm waiting for the angels of Avalon, waiting for the eastern glow.

We drifted southward to Nigg and reached the tip of this landmass. Then we drove our car into a ferry. I remember doing that once in Butterworth in Malaysia, but for Krishnan it was a first. The ferry plies every half hour from Nigg to Cromerty and then the same ferry heads back to Nigg with passengers and cars. It looks like a floating steamroller and can carry two cars and lots of passengers. On the upper deck of the ferry, the wind is cold and to see Nigg fade away into the distance is a bit sad. It was in the afternoon and we had to reach Edinburgh by five to catch our flight back. Krishnan, of course, like a veritable James Bond, showed no sign of worry. Minutes later at a restaurant in Cromerty, he supped his cream of tomato soup with gusto. I munched on my sandwich and drank my coffee thinking my next time in Scotland I'll surely stay back at Portmahomack for a couple of days and just gaze at the sea all day.

1 comment:

Vasu said...

Scotland, it is :)
And, I like the chattiness of this blog post :D
Oh, the last pic is WOW.