My Travels With R
When I was seventeen and she was twenty, I didn’t speak to R for almost a year. Sibling rivalry, carried to an extreme, is dangerous, as Abel would certify. I hated R for something that was never remembered thereafter. She was a nuisance, an embarrassment, a hideous competitor for my parents’ affection, and a detestable role model. Her transgressions, many and varied, irritated me at every stage, and their culmination was the year of boycott. The silence served no purpose except to reinforce her presence in my life, a malign shadow that stalked me through everything. And then she left us for a year, and the shadow was gone, leaving the sun to beat down upon my head. She returned, and when I received her at the railway station, I hugged her and the silence was forgotten, demolished by the force of shared love.
I mention this because R and I are now the best of friends, as sisters often are. The younger-older paradigm is long forgotten, buried under years of challenges, marriage, children, ageing parents. Three years ago, when the second of my two children left for college, R and I made a pact to travel together once a year. As we step into the taxi on the way to the airport, we become children, curious and fearful, excited about the possibilities about to unfold. We are in charge, and yet free, unbound, liberated from all the constraints engendered by a conventional ‘family’, unfettered by the roles and expectations that are heaped upon the ‘woman of the family’. We are two gals, giggling our way through life. We bring nothing to the table except ourselves, no cleverness, no sobriety, not even any experience. We never say ‘This was, so this is’. The taxi to the airport races past our combined past, and we become just two holiday people. If people are colours, then we are a bright blue, the colour of a perfectly clear day.
R and I embark on a journey that’s as much about discovering a foreign land as it is about finding ourselves. Like the children that we become, we leave without our chequebooks, fearfully budgeting our travels to ensure the maximum fun at the minimum cost. That means no taxis, no fancy hotels or restaurants, no designer stores. And yet we indulge! This time together is our biggest luxury, of course, but next to that is our passion for literature and theatre, a passion inherited from our parents, and one that we gratify liberally, allocating a large part of our budget to this activity. Each visit is bejewelled with a literary activity, and the mementoes from each trip remind us of our literary roots.
My travels with R are a pilgrimage, one where I’m the pilgrim and temple both.
My travels with… the wild ones.
Travelling is more of a mental journey than a physical one. It’s an experience that gets you closer to yourself. Makes you reflect. Think about the past, and makes you plan the future. It also gets you closer and into the intimate spaces of the ones you’re travelling with. Or in my case, the ones who chose to travel with you, on your journey.
On one magical expedition of mine, I felt blessed to have been welcomed into the intimate and wild territory of carefree mountain dogs! If you’re a dog lover, you should know that Himachal Pradesh is a warm, fluffy, doggie haven. As my fellow human travelers and I backpacked from one quaint village to another, we realized that this pristine valley had more for us to feel than see. The people were warm and welcoming. But what was more welcoming were the cold noses and excited tails of the most amazing dogs.
We bumped into our first dog buddy early in the morning, just as we reached the base of Parvati valley. As we ate breakfast after a long night’s journey, she looked at us with a look that said, “Hey, you look new! Now scratch my belly and have fun!” We rubbed her belly, spoke to her for 2 minutes, and then she was gone. We then continued our journey up, higher into the mountains. The plan was to spend 2 nights at each village. We stayed at 4.
Over the 10 days of our travel, we made many doggie buddies. They all moved us in unique ways. But I’ll tell you about the ones who came back with us for life.
Introducing, the wise German Shepard. It was on a leisurely afternoon walk in the woods, that he surprised us. We decided to venture out and explore the local village without a map. We then reached a point where we thought we were lost. Any further into the woods and we wouldn’t have found our way back. But then, he came along. Sitting regally under the soft rays of sun, this guy looked at us with a commanding look that said, “Come here, pet me.” We did just that. He was a gorgeous man. He then stood up and took lead, almost gesturing us to follow him. So we did. To our sheer amazement he took us to the most perfect spot in the woods. The land was flat. The large roots of towering trees were perfect to sit on. We thanked him and sat down. He sat beside us. We looked up into the sky and the sight was overwhelming. The glorious pine trees were so tall, they looked like they met the clouds. The sky was a ting of paradise blue. We were breathless. By not just the walk, but the overpowering beauty of nature. As we pulled out of this gaze with the sky, we realized that our wise doggie buddy had disappeared. We don’t know when he left us, or where he went. But he was gone. He guided us and just left. We named him “Emmanuel”.
Our next encounter was a handful. A pack of 4 black puppy siblings and their nurturing brown and white uncle. We met these buddies at our last village. As we walked into our picturesque log cottage, this bunch walked along and showed us around. They were the happiest souls on earth. Their coats were full of little droplets, shimmering in the mountain sun. Their tiny paws were covered with wet mud, that left the cutest pug marks. The village just had a passing shower, and these little ones looked like they enjoyed it the most.
As the sun began to set, these fur balls queued up outside our door, refusing to leave. We had to let them in. One by one, they found a spot on the bed, and curled up with their bodies against ours. It was a warm fuzzy feeling I just can’t put words too. For the next 2 days, these new buddies never left our sight. They sat with us as we ate, run with us into the vegetable garden, played with us under a double rainbow, and even waited outside the bathroom till I finished my shower .We grew closer than ever to these guys. And leaving them after 2 days was the most painful thing to do. But we had to.
Our journey had come to an end now. We kissed them bye and picked up our backpacks. But just as we began to walk, these guys were walking with us too. We had to trek down from one mountain and climb another, to reach the next village and catch our bus. It took us 2 hours. But they were still with us. Half-way through the trek we kept telling them to “stop” and “go back home”. But they didn’t listen. An hour and a half into the trek, and we could see that 3 of the 4 puppies were tired. The brown and white uncle noticed this too. He then looked at them with a look that said, “You‘ll should stop now. Go back home. I’ll see you’ll after I drop them.” They began to yelp and we saw hesitance in their stride. 3 puppies stopped at a bridge we were crossing, and didn’t walk any further. They were good children who listened to their uncle. My heart began to break.
One puppy and the uncle then gave us company till the very end. Panting but still wagging their tails, they lead us to a main road, where within seconds our bus appeared. It happened so quickly we couldn’t even hug them bye. We jumped into the bus. We wanted to turn back and look at them one last time. But we just couldn’t. Their act of friendship and loyalty was too big for a small thank you. I also knew eye contact with them would just break me down. I didn’t want them to see me sad. I didn’t want to see them sad either. Because our journey with them was only about joy.
Whenever I travel, I make a checklist of items to take with me. On it, you will find the usual suspects: toiletries, wallet, passport etc. Over the past few years, there’s been an addition to the list, a pair of purple scissors, that upon reflection, I realised I have carried around with me since 2011.
For me, these scissors aren’t so much for cosmetic use as they are for my art practise. Unlike most artists, I’m not one to usually keep a sketchbook. My go-to medium for experimentation is Collage. The process of cutting and sticking is therapeutic and almost meditative. Found images, magazines, photo books, fabric, string, wrappers.. anything that can be cut up, jig-sawed and stuck are materials that I am most comfortable with.
During a recent trip to the states, I created a series of collages for my aunt.
I carried my glue-stick, pages ripped from magazines and old photo-books and of course, the scissors.
My favorite thing about collage is that multiple meanings can be derived from the images chosen and their juxtaposition against one another. I don’t believe that there can be one right or wrong reading so I leave that up to you. Make of it what you will.
My travels with my dad started when I was five. We made a trip to London, this was my first experience of what it meant to travel and also how to travel. My dad being a pilot made travel both accessible and novel.
I was involved in all parts of the journey.
We worked on my VISA application together, which involved coming up with a signature that I use to this date, and also how to respond to interview questions.
We worked out how to be prepped for the London weather, I learned that the secret to being warm is layering.
We worked on an itinerary, and came up with a list of places I wanted to go and things I wanted to see, which include dinosaurs, penguins and Lego.
I got to travel with the crew, which was exciting. I got to visit the cockpit, see the pilots in action and was even in on the crew secrets. They had special bunks to sleep in and a different menu.
In London, we packed every day with activities. We checked out the palace, the natural history museum, the parks, the zoo and Lego Land.
We used public transportation and walked as far as possible.
We ate as much as possible, and I had my first, slightly confusing, bangers and mash experience.
We were exhausted at the end of every day and even though the trip was only for three days it felt like I spent a couple weeks there. The trip was compact, exhaustive and fun, and by the end I was ready to go home.
My dad taught me to be an active traveler and that being engaged with the travel was extremely rewarding. I have used this template for every trip that has followed and have distilled down my criteria for a successful trip to the following:
1. Being prepped with paperwork, clothing and activities.
2. Being engaged during flights, train, bus and car rides.
3. Using public transportation.
4. Spending a day to walk and look around.
4. Eating locally and eating something new.
5. Getting exhausted.
6. Keeping the trip compact.
My Travels with – myself
There are 3 times I travel to any place. 3 holidays in the same location. Usually within a month.
Pretty weird, you may say. Maybe. But each of my trips is different, even though the location may be the same.
My first trip is through websites and brochures and stories heard from friends & travel blogs or books. An immersion of sorts, through several different perspectives. What is the place all about, where can one stay, drive, dance, eat, listen, party, sit, watch…what do those who have been there say and recommend? It’s not just reading about it, it’s also watching videos, talking to friends, planning a first draft.
This trip is idealistic – like a new romance – all wide-eyed and innocent and full of possibilities. Raring to go. Seeing only the best parts. Going by hearsay. Starry-eyed. Excited. Full of hope.
Then comes the second trip – the actual physical one. The entire experience, involving all the senses. Aching feet, sights sounds smells, meeting people, soaking in reality, breeze in your face, immersion in the here and now. Living it up.
Something that adds to you as a person, that expands your understanding of life. That draws another arc in your circle of life.
And then, a few days after you have come back, comes the third trip. When you look at the pictures, narrate the stories, laugh with friends & family, look at something and feel that warm resonance again. You see new elements in a photograph, you look at yourself or a fellow traveller and see something you had missed out during the experience – an uninhibited surge of laughter maybe, or a pensive expression of the young one sitting at the foot of that tall statue – maybe wondering who would have created that masterpiece?
You see the trip with a vision that comes out of hindsight. You learn to read more than you can see, to decipher moments that have passed, you create bonds in retrospect.
You relive the experience. With an added richness of life.
Which is why I travel thrice to the same place.