We could have waited for a volvo but the mere thought of staying another hour in the mentally chaotic humidity was too much to bear. Five minutes in the rickety, old bus and we were already regretting getting on board, though. As the heavily crowded bus very painstakingly dragged itself through blind curves and steep slopes, I had a million asses thrust right into my face and by the time we got off, I was wearing sweat of diverse origin.
A six day vacation in what has been one of the most beautiful places I have visited in a long time, was liberating. There is a soul-diminishing struggle going on in individual lives at each moment. The world keeps speeding up but we simply can’t run fast enough to catch up. We try to keep our balance but we fall, every second we fall. Sundernagar, a small town in district Mandi in Himachal Pradesh proved to a perfect getaway from a monotonous life dangling between cold concrete walls and tasteless preserved food. For somebody like me who was born in the mountains and for more than half her life, the mountains were all she knew, urban lifestyle doesn’t come naturally. The mind becomes a haven to such a chaos. The noise is deafening. Thoughts becoming emotions becoming thoughts becoming emotions in a full circle. There is an overdose of senseless stories. I yearn for a plot-less life. I’d like to pack up my opinions, hopes, desires, ambitions, passions, needs, fears, judgments, joys and all that there is under that deafening roar, and remove them from my vicinity for a while. So, every once in a while I need to pause, stop all that I’m doing, take a deep breath in and escape into nature’s womb in order to detoxicate my systems. Sundernagar was once such escape.
Whenever I travel, I make it a point to breathe in the minutest details of the place. It’s only when I’m out on the streets- without an agenda in hand, a bus to catch or millions of distracting tour guides- do I actually feel the adrenaline rushing madly through every vein in my body. Rather than sitting down with a map, tracing out popular tourist destinations and planning my trip down to the restaurants I’d have my meals at and the shop from where I’d buy souvenirs, I prefer travelling less prepared and more flexible. I let myself become a part of the cities I travel to. If you were to open the “Travel Photographs” folder on my laptop, more than finding pictures of tonnes of historic monuments scattered around all the places that I have been to, you would find random pictures of the localities, street food, the vegetable market, dhobhi ghats and traffic signals. The essence of a place lies in its people, its roads and its day-to-day frenzy – whether it be the rush of a common man to reach office in time or a mother who takes her child out on the stroller in the evening.
Sundernagar was an impromptu plan. No train booking, no hotel bookings and no maps in the bag, I set on a journey into a remote town set within the great Himalayas.
An early morning walk around the lake set against a breathtaking backdrop of lush green hills was sheer happiness. Small town people and their always-happy-to-help attitude is enough to fill every part of you with rainbow-scribble laughter. Most of them haven’t ever seen a mobile phone or a camera and when I’d roam around carrying my DSLR, trails of excited children would follow me. The awed expression, with which they looked at the photographs I’d have clicked, was priceless. Once, when I asked them to recite a poem for me, one little girl came in front and sang a Pahari song. I hugged her and she gave me a kiss. Small joys. Whenever Food— eat-until-you-can’t-eat-anymore-cuz-if-you-do-you’d-burst-open food— was the story at the breakfast/lunch/dinner table all alike, without fail. Chennai Express at an old, filthy theater (think railway platforms) with broken wooden chairs and a pathetic sound system was an exhilarating experience. Evenings of Antakshri games, old folks versus the kids, turned out to be an amalgamation of Lata’s serenity and loud Balam Pichkaris. Scooty rides in a soft drizzle, shopping for Tibetan jewelry, roadside jalebis, I could go on. From the moment I took in the first gulp of the Himalayan air to the moment I bid the mountains adieu, every minute, every second my heart swayed in love, laughter and unadulterated life.
Right now, as I sit in my room back in the hostel, I thought I’d write about my trip in detail. I couldn’t, of course. A perfect narration is running at the back of my head but ink and paper betray me. Some part of me fears that all my memories will disappear forever if they don’t materialize and claim some part of this existence. Every cell in my brain that dies each second somehow erases and kills some part of me and destroys few threads from the cobweb of my memories. I worry in vain, though. What is important is that I lived these memories. No one can take that away from me.
Before I went on this trip, the last of my personal fireflies had abandoned me.
Or so I thought.
I just spotted one glowing on my shoulder.