From the Journals: A Stranger to Travel.

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On the Hanuman Temple Hill, Hosur.

Many, many feet above sea level, the wind whipped my hair. Was it angry that I was cloistered in a closed space all this while, shutting out the world, face buried in a laptop? Or was it just a friendly whack to the back of my head that said it was glad I was finally out in the open? Questions, always so many questions. This need to find an answer to everything – to know for sure – when did it start taking over?

I shook my head and focused on the moment, the here and now. Massive rocks overlooking a sparsely populated landscape hundreds of feet below with patches of glittering green and brown fields… and I was standing on top of the highest one. I was high metaphorically as well – I had just climbed a mountain stacked with sharp, gigantic boulders just to prove to myself that I could. I breathed heavily, but it was a welcome sensation as the invisible chains around my soul came off. Travelling anchors me, but these days, I don’t travel as much. And I feel uncertain, unanchored. A piece of driftwood in a world that constantly pushes one to prove one’s abilities and work more, play more, live more. Live? Really?

The wind whirled around me again. While my cousins were busy taking selfies and swinging from trees, I took a moment to gather my senses. To see if I could reach out and find myself. “Get away from the edge! Don’t be a fool, sit back a little!”, my aunt said, looking at me. “I won’t fall”, I assured her, the wind still whipping my hair. I won’t fall. Into this rigmarole. This pattern of waking up, working, coming home, passing out, managing family expectations, social expectations, not finding time to reorient myself. Not finding the time to travel. To be me. About time I broke this pattern. I need to. I cannot live without hitting the road, driving past paddy fields and waterfalls and fishing boats and islands and processions and waving to strangers on the road guilelessly. I cannot live without driving through lonely forest roads in dark nights on the way to Goa or wondering how I’m going to trek to a monastery two mountains away from the starting point. Without feeling the sand tickle my toes and the water terrifying me. I cannot not travel.

So, I made up my mind and shut out my everyday existence. Took two days off – days that seemed like a lifetime – and went away with the family. I walked, ran, slipped and slid, climbed rocks, sang, bathed in moonlight, got kissed by the sun, lived in the fear of a close encounter with some wild animal, slept like a log, laughed hard, talked, sang, danced… I lived.

And in that moment, as I stood there on that magnificent rock, revelling in the pleasure of feeling anchored again, the wind changed course and made its way through my hair and into the curves of my ear. “Welcome back, stranger”, it whooshed.

I smiled in reply.

From the Journals: For the first time.

*‘From the Journals’ is a new series of posts on Adventures of Potli Baba that features the experiences, observations and gamut of emotions that stay with me long after my journey is complete.*

***

It was 11 p.m. An icy wind came roaring from the snow-capped Himalayas and knocked against the windows of my room. I didn’t pay much attention; my mind was on next day’s drive to Khardung-La, the world’s highest motorable road. In six hours, I would be 18,400 feet above sea level and living a childhood dream.

***

The road to Khardung-La is quite treacherous – melted snow forms a sheath of slush on the narrow mud roads, giving them the appearance of chocolate gelato gone wrong. With jagged mountains on one side and a sheer drop on the other, our 4X4 struggles to stay on the slippery roads. I’m torn between praying for life, keeping my eyes peeled on the road and catching a glimpse of the magnificent Leh valley below us – a palette of blues, greens and browns dotted with compact, boxy homes.

As we inch our way upwards, the landscape gradually changes from plain rock to snow-streaked sections with icicles hanging over the road’s edge. I grow impatient, wanting to leap out and touch the snow. Minutes later, the 4X4 comes to a halt at the top of Khardung-La and my wish is granted. “You guys are lucky”, our driver says, “It snowed just a few hours ago.”

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My pink down jacket is the only spot of colour in a blanket of white. (Well, that and cars full of tourists, but my sensory overdrive blocks out everything except the snow.) I quell my excitement and slowly, almost nonchalantly, walk towards the nearest pile – it would be easy to blame my high-pitched bursts of excitement on the lack of oxygen at that level, but years of conditioning have taught me to behave lady-like amidst strangers. My fast-freezing fingers pick up a handful and I blink my eyes rapidly in an attempt to stop my brain from reacting to the icy cold of the snow, but the sensation of holding thousands of shimmering diamonds stays. It’s the first time I have ever seen or touched snow; the experience is unreal.

I feel its coolness against my palm seconds before it starts to turn to liquid. My mouth savours the feather-like kisses of the fresher flakes before they melt on my tongue. They taste of Bollywood song sequences and snow angels and ice skating in faraway places that I have only been to in my head. More than anything, they taste of a 10-year old girl’s dream to see snow someday.

A smile of pure delight bursts from somewhere deep inside me, and I become that 10-year old again.

***

I sat sipping a cup of steaming Ginger-Lemon tea from the army canteen at Khardung-La and drank in the sight of snow. My eyes moved rapidly over every bit of the white landscape, etching an image in my mind for posterity. I couldn’t stop smiling and thought, this moment can’t get any more perfect.

It did, though.

It started snowing again.