Having spent the last 96 hours in London and visiting every tourist spot imaginable, my caged soul soon became despairingly thirsty for an escape route. The only way to quench this thirst was to experience a dramatic shift in locale and that was by leaving London behind. As I shifted gears and gazed into the rear view mirror, I saw the noise, the lights and the black cabs that have characterized metropolitan London for years fade into oblivion, echoing the superficiality of the capitalist charisma the city exudes.
Plugging in my iPod, I shuffled through the playlist and finally settled on a song that seemed to suit my current mission as I made a beeline towards the northern part of the United Kingdom. Six hours, two cappuccinos and three hot dogs later, the topography of the surrounding region started to mystically transform into the canvas God had originally crafted. Winding roads that disappeared in between mountains, stone houses with their windows gently aglow and the wild serenity trapped within Loch Tay enticingly welcomed me. The highlands, were soon within sight, draped in what seemed like a carpet of the richest green, with dark clouds billowing across their top and as the needle of the speedometer climbed in my haste to arrive, the temperature did exactly the opposite.
Once known as the City of Literature, Edinburgh is not just another economic capital, but is also home to some of the most fascinating castles, historical figures and stories that make Scotland the land it is today. Residing in the city center, my first stop was Arthur’s Seat which, situated just outside the city, is the perfect location for panoramic views of Edinburgh. But perhaps, the main reason tourists flock to the Scottish capital was the iconic and imperious Edinburgh Castle that has dominated the city’s outline since the 12th century, with inhabitants residing on its base as early as 850 BC. As I walked up towards the castle esplanade, the uneven, cobbled streets and whistling winds almost echoed the clashing of swords and gruesome tyranny of kings centuries ago.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the tour was the Crown, Scepter and the Sword of State which, collectively referred to as the Honors of Scotland, are also the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles. What I absolutely did not expect were the real, gut-wrenching messages engraved on wooden doors by prisoners of war, most of whom had abandoned all hope of ever seeing their families again.
My European friends had encouraged me, albeit with a warning to try the signature Scottish pudding that was the national food of the country. Haggis, a savory pudding dish that is not particularly for the faint-hearted gastronomical fans, is far from the usual fare one can order at restaurants. Assumingly a creation of Scandinavian Scotland, haggis contains sheep’s pluck intensified with salts, spices and oatmeal and is served in perhaps the most bizarre of casings. Maybe an acquired taste, I thought to myself as I left the eatery, and promised myself to give my Indian taste buds another chance to taste the Scottish ‘culture’.
Haggis and the Edinburgh Castle however, are not the only charms Scotland has in store. Intricately and beautifully crafted kilts are indeed a true reflection of the Scotsman pride and to fully understand the culture, a visit to the local kilt market is an absolute must.
With each color, tartan pattern and checkered design reflecting a different tribe, the ability of fully-grown beefy men to wear kilts (which look like skirts) and yet look masculine and royal was indeed remarkable. That and the haunting beauty of the bagpipes definitely make me want to settle down in the Scottish Highlands.
But maybe, I should acquire a taste for Haggis first.