A look of total disbelief was the inevitable first reaction.
“Oh, you must be meeting your blog friends there,” so said those who know about this space.
“Meeting friends there?” asked a few.
“You must be joking,” said the others.
Patience has never been one of my virtues. I took the pain, nevertheless. As if explaining to a young child, ” Yes, you heard right. I am taking a vacation in Himachal. A week. All alone. No family. No friends.”
The reactions were quite interesting. Many of them, mostly the guys, looked at me as though I’d gone totally crazy. The women folk had a twinge of longing in their eyes as they told me, “I’ve always dreamed of something like this…….some day….”
The five year old girl sat staring out into the dark. The bus went up the winding roads, the scent of the strong breeze on her face was strange and new. The passing silhouettes were tall and imposing. As someone pulled down the dirty green shutters of the rickety old bus,the folds reminded her of the paper fans that she made with her sisters back home. There was a sudden feeling of loss, as if something that she loved deeply was denied to her, all of a sudden, without any reason. The next thing she remembers is waking up to hills all around. She could not understand the feeling of joy and the unexplainable heaviness in her heart. All she wanted to do was run up one of those fairway hills and wander around the woods like a carefree butterfly. As she returned to her home in the plains, it was as if she had left her very soul behind. That day, the wind in the hills carried a few seeds in their wings, that of a lifetime longing.
Maybe it was something to do with the place that I grew up in. Wherever you turned to, it was water all around. Like life, the terrain was also flat, it went on in the same manner, with no particular ups and downs. There were visits to,the hills after that, the fascination only grew, transforming to an insatiable thirst, to be one among the clouds, to cavort around the hills, to feel its highs and lows, to inhale and infuse the scent into my soul and very being. Even after traversing up and down the Western Ghats, there was a feeling of not being complete, as if the soul was still searching for something that was lost long ago, even though I couldn’t exactly put my finger on what I was searching for.
Somewhere in the not so adventurous school years, the mighty Himalayas found its way in. Like any another ambitious school kid, first it was Mount Everest that I wanted to conquer. As lazy as I was even back then, that dream was shelved even before it grew wings. The highest peak was too much trouble. That was when the fragrance from the Valley of Flowers seeped in. And there was no looking back. It’s another matter that the dream remained just that, for years.
I”m sure Paulo Coelho appropriated the thought from somewhere else. But that didn’t stop me from waiting for the conspiracy to come true – that of wanting something so badly that the Universe is forced to conspire. It took many years and a few jobs in between for the elements to join forces and present two whole weeks before me. No job. Nothing to be unduly worried about. It was as if the perfect opportunity dropped by itself, straight into my lap.
Unseen forces are always at work behind the scenes, don’t you think? Else, why would a friend decide to go to, of all places, Himachal Pradesh, and that too, a lovely place so unpretentiously named ‘Raju Bharti Guest House’? He is a wandering soul himself, so caught on immediately as I voiced my plans. The winds were blowing this way, definitely. The place , which is normally booked months in advance was free when I wanted. Even Vayu Bhagwan was kind , tickets available at half the normal price and that too, just for the two flights that I was looking at. My moment had arrived, definitely.
It’s not for nothing that certain people in our lives are called the better halves. For, more often that not, they are far better at making us believe that we are capable of things beyond our belief. Yes, I had travelled alone before (mostly on work), knew the kids would be safe and sound, and there would be no tsunamis or earthquakes if I let go for a week. Still, there is this nagging guilt that is the birthright of many a woman like me, that it is not right to leave the family behind, to do something just for yourself, by yourself. The logical brain says, ‘bah! Humbug!’ , while the guilt inducing emotional side tries to nag, “should I ?” The practical man just said, “Go”.
And that is just what I did. Go. 7 days. Alone. No friends. No family.
Was it easy? Not initially. To get out of the comfort zone and do something out of the ordinary is not easy. However brave or unconventional others think you are. Some of the initial excitement turned into anxiety as the day approached. Chandigarh was a totally new place. There was no one or no where that I knew in the city. And I had to spend 8 hours there and catch an over night bus. Well, have I ever told you that angels do exist ? One phone call was all it took and there was a ready made family waiting for me there. Ruchira, whatever you might say, what you did is something I can never thank you enough for.
Yes, there is an element of uncertainty at each step. What if I miss the connecting flight? What if I reach there in the middle of the night? What if the taxi driver is a criminal? What if the other people at the home stay is horrible? What if the place itself is not as I expected it to be? What if I meet with an accident? The what ifs are endless and can kill you, but only if you allow it a free reign.
The place was all mine for the first few days, another group that had made reservations cancelled at the last moment. Solitude was what I asked for and that was exactly what Was given to me. I went on a short walk , a medium trek and a slightly harder one, all alone. There was anxiety, I have to admit. It was like learning to walk, in a sense. I had to stop for breath after every ten steps, but walk I did. And reached the end. And then walked all the way back. Trekked uphill, over narrow mountain paths, not a single soul around, in absolute wilderness. Yes, I was scared, more than a bit. But I knew I had to do it, for myself. I had to believe that this old bag of creaky bones still had something of the old spirit left in it. And believe I did. And was proved right. The body was weary in the end, but the spirit was soaring and the soul , triumphant.
“Didn’t you get bored?” many asked on my return. Not for a moment. Honestly. But then, I’ve always been a dreamer, who could spend hours by a river doing nothing. Wander around aimlessly, with nay a thought or worry in the world. And switch off from the rest of the world, easily. So there I was , waking up before six everyday, listening to the birds chirping around, talking back to the stream gushing by in all the excitement of youth, biting into juicy green apples straight off the tree, sitting by the river bed for hours, reading, writing, dreaming, even dozing off now and then.
“What about my family?” you ask? The other half says I would have gone anyway, irrespective of his opinions. Maybe. But, the fact that he gave that push right from the moment I uttered “shall I ?” mattered, quite a lot. He did not have an iota of doubt, even if he had, loved me enough not to show it. And that glint of pride that I see in his eyes is proof enough, not that there is need for any proof. Without him here, I wouldn’t have done it, with such a sense of abandon. As for the kids, son seemed happy that there wouldn’t be anyone breathing down his neck for a week, especially with exams looming around the horizon. The drama queen that the daughter is, she tried her usual “I’ll miss you so much” routine and was duly silenced by the father, “it’s amma’s dream. Let’s her go and enjoy”. Thank God for kindred souls that turn into better halves.
Looking back, the trip and especially the trek feels like a dream. Son asks half in earnest and half jokingly, “but amma, why did you have to go all the way to Himalayas for a walk?” My answer is instant and from the heart, “it was my dream.” Hopefully, that is what will remain in their young minds. That you could have dreams, and make them come true. Even mothers. Especially mothers.