When people hear of our long term and slow travel stories, we are often asked questions – how do we plan, what do we plan and for how long do we plan. And when we say that we don’t really plan anything at all, more questions follow. We have always said that serendipity is a big part of our travel and we let the road lead the way.
We are starting this series from our first long term trip (well, it wasn’t THAT long but for us, it was, at the time) – our 3 months in the Himalayas. We won’t talk much about the place and our experience but about how did we decide the next destination, how we moved ahead and how the decision panned out. We will just “write out loud” what was going on in our minds. We hope this series throws light into the psyche of long term travel and acts as a guiding tool for future aspirants.
…Continued from Part 9
Dispatch #46 – A sense of familiar
Coming back to Leh felt like being jolted back to civilisation. Markets, cafes, restaurants, tourists – we hadn’t really seen any of it since we had stepped into the mountains. The epitome of this was going out with our new friends for dinner and having pizza! That night, walking through the lanes we met the three girls we had met in our homestay in Sani. “Hey, our friends from Sani!”, when you haven’t seen any known faces for weeks, this sudden sight of familiar faces was wonderful.
The next morning we climbed up to Shanti Stupa for sunrise. You would imagine spending all these days at this high altitude would’ve made climbing up easy. Nope, not happening!
On the way back we met a girl from Slovenia we had met in Padum. Over breakfast, we spoke of how our days had been since then. Altitude sickness, treks, language problems – just a casual chit chat among friends.
“Lemme know if you get to Slovenia!”
“Good luck with your trek!”
We then rented a bike from the Leh market. This time, we met a guy we had met early on, on our first day in Srinagar. We had shared a cab in a traffic jam around the Dal lake followed by a happy dinner of rajma chawal.
“Wow long time, you guys haven’t been to Mumbai since?”
We then went on to the Hemis monastery followed by a visit to Thicksey. Here too, we met the photographer we had on the hill at Lamayuru.
Sunset was approaching. “Go catch that golden light”, he said as we hurried to an open spot.
That evening, our last high altitude evening, didn’t disappoint at all. A golden glow, stunning clouds, even a double rainbow – we got it all.
Enough to stock it all up until we meet again!
Dispatch #47 – Goodbye…almost
It was still dark when we got into the HP State Transport bus. All we knew of this route was that this was one of the roads to reach Ladakh.
What the road was like, what would we be crossing – we had no idea.
And boy, were we in for a treat – or a shock, depending on your mental condition at the time.
We would be lying if we said we were staring out of the window open-mouthed the whole time. Simply because you can’t be open-mouthed throughout the day!
With every pass, we were discovering something new – like the colour of the mountain could be red, we didn’t know all the shades of brown yet, even when you thought you were at the edge of the road, things could get edgier. Mountains could look like sandcastles. New landforms are being created all the time. And that nature rules.
And brave men and women endure all of this to make a road so we could experience all of the above. They stay away from their homes for months. They do among the toughest jobs there are for humans. And they do it all for a paltry sum.
Pass after pass, our respect for the driver increased. The stress of a corporate job started to pale in comparison to the level of responsibility these guys carried on their shoulders.
We had thought the Leh Manali journey would be just the end to our high altitude time.
It turned out to be a summation of it all – sort of a revision of all lessons learnt.
Dispatch #48 – Green green green
Another start in the dark. When we left Keylong, we had no idea what was around, it was pitch dark. By the time daylight broke in, the picture wasn’t so pretty.
We were now on Rohtang Pass. The roads had worsened since yesterday. It was a new driver so we didn’t know how much we could trust him. And when your bus, on the side of a valley takes a reverse on a road that can hardly be called that, it’s imperative that you trust the driver.
The landscape changed drastically, however, once we were on the other side of the Rohtang Pass. The roads became smoother. We saw something we hadn’t seen in the last several days (weeks) – greenery. Not that we could actually see much of it. The valley was covered in a thick fog. We couldn’t see anything through the front screen. Could the driver see?
“If the bus falls off now, we have seen the most majestic part of this planet”. This did cross our mind.
Beyond the Rohtang, it was a pleasant drive through the forest. The drastic change of landscape was playing with our mind now. The awe that we had felt for these mountains ever since we crossed Zoji la was turning back to mirth, a sense of friendship. The mountains that you could call “lovely” were returning back.
We got a room by the Beas river in Manali and decided to stay for a couple of nights. The stomach infection we had had earlier was showing residual effects. We decided to not do another long journey immediately.
The next day we went to Manikaran and when the lushness of the Parvati valley didn’t stir something up, we knew for now that our hearts were full.
We had to read the signs and leave
Dispatch #49 – OMG, how are we going to handle this?
In Manali, we made the decision to head back to Mumbai in a couple of weeks and booked tickets accordingly.
So the feeling of “having all the time in the world” changed. Also, our constant companion for the past few weeks – the sound of our hearts beating in our ears vanished. And we could run and climb stair without feeling like the hearts were going to explode.
We took the bus from Manali to Chandigarh, seeing the last of the mountains. By midday, we hit the highway – a smooth flat and a straight road. It felt good to not be winding up and down. But suddenly, we were surrounded by just too many cars. The reality that we were no longer in the far off mountains hit us hard. This was a city where wide roads, yes, but also people, cars and traffic existed!
Chandigarh as a first city to come to, helped. The evening at Sukhna lake reminded us of Mumbai. For the first time since we left, we were seeing someone who we used to be – people out for an evening walk and then heading home for the rest of the evening.
But at that moment, we were so far removed from any of that! No home to go to but any home to go to.
After a day in Chandigarh, we moved to Amritsar. Found a room close to the Golden Temple and ended up spending an entire day there. It was a calm soothing time. We just sat by the lake and observed – the devotees, the volunteers, the rush, the queue, the lake, the fish in the lake and the actual golden temple.
We had thought we would travel a bit more through Punjab, but the thought of changing places every two days seemed tiring.
We called our friends in Delhi and told them we were ready to come back.
Dispatch #50 – Home…or not?
We stayed in Delhi and left for a short trip to Agra. It felt like we were on the final stretch now. Neither of us had visited the Taj Mahal before and before we embarked on any long term journey abroad, we wanted to make sure we had taken “darshan” of Taj Mahal.
Agra as a city was dirty and dusty. But the beauty of Fatehpur Sikri and Taj Mahal was worth the suffering of Agra. We had plans to visit the Agra fort and travel across the river to Mehtab Bagh as well, but around midday, Chetan started to feel unwell.
We just relaxed in the cafes around the Taj Mahal until it was time for us to board our train back to Delhi. But before that, Chetan did manage to get his “perfect Taj Mahal photo”.
In Delhi, the first thing we did was manage to fall sick. It was as if our bodies had sensed that they could now demand some rest.
We were tanned beyond recognition, we had lost huge amounts of weight. A friend with whom we were staying had asked us the night we had arrived, ”are you that dirty right now, or that tanned?” Until then, we hadn’t realised the extent of tanning.
When another friend asked if our lives had changed, we had laughed it off saying, “as if that happens”.
But then a friend who was following our journey closely wisely commented, “Say what you want, but now you can’t go back to your old life. That part of you is gone.”
We realised what that meant when, three months after we had left, we reached Mumbai.
And for the first time ever, did NOT feel like we had reached home.
The End of this series. The entire #LongtermTravelWithSandeepaChetan is here.