“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms”
When you go out and see the world, leaving behind your comfort zone, you realize many truths about the universe and yourself (like the one above). You also realize that you are not the first one to have realized them. Many wise men before you have also passed through the same dilemmas and felt the same emotions as you and they’ve put it so eloquently that you can’t help but quote them. Continuing with our annual tradition of recollecting past year’s travel experiences, this time Pratik, Shabbir and I are sharing our top travel moments of 2015. Moments of wonder, scepticism, fear, determination, joy, serenity. Moments which left a permanent mark. Moments which made us a tad bit wiser.
Part 1: Ghar se dur
1. Best Campsite Ever
(Mt Everest in North, Kanchenjunga in East and Cold Mountain Air Everywhere)
I witnessed this amazing campsite tucked away from the so called cult of tourists at the highest point in West Bengal during Sandakphu trek. The place was called Goat, mainly because of lots of cattle were grazing this place which included Yaks and Goats. I was the only person camping on this lush green carpet with a small 2 room lodge and a small eatery. On a clear day from my tent, I could see Mt Everest and Lhotse in the North and the Mighty Kanchenjunga “Sleeping Buddha” in the East direction. This campsite was also prone to attacks from Bears in nearby forests which made it more exciting and adventurous apart from being scenic.
2. In to the clouds : Kudremukh
When the skies are blue and everything else is green… Trek to this 3rd highest peak in Karnataka was truly breathtaking. You can only see vast expanse of green covered mountains with dark green patches of Shola Forests.
3. Near death experience in Zanskar river
It was our last day at Leh and we had decided to experience river rafting in Zanskar river. It was around 10am when we jumped into the raft clad in our wetsuits. After the initial briefing our rubber raft started moving forward in a calm and very mild flow of water. Our guide told us that we could go in the river and swim if we liked. So we held the rope that was wrapped around the raft and were floating in the water while the raft was moving at a steady pace. After a while we came back to raft and proceeded. A little ahead river was no more calm as before, flow was faster with little waves rising and settling down. We had to be attentive to control the raft under guide’s command.
After a while the guide once again asked if anyone wanted to jump in the river to experience mad water currents. If anythhing was to happen, they were there to save us. The waves were so high that it seemed like we were in an ocean rather than a river. Some of us hesitated but I stood up and went to the front of the raft and plunged into icy cold Zanskar. However, the timing of my dive was unfortunate as the wave was rising high and I due to my impact went went deep. Much deeper than I had expected. I was about 20-30 feet below the surface and took a lot more time to come back to the surface. This might have been perhaps just a few seconds from diving in and coming back to the surface but in the moment it felt like I won’t be able to come back and I am going to die. Thanks to the life jacket, I managed to surface but before I could take a proper breath the next wave pushed me underwater again. This continued for 4 – 5 times, by that time the raft had moved ahead. I was about 50 meters away from the raft by now. I was out of breath and all strength was drained away from my body. So I just stopped moving my hands and feet and started drifting in the direction of flow on my back. But the river did not want me to relax. I heard a faint voice ‘move there is a rock behind you’ I looked back and got scared that if I don’t move I would bang my head. The flow was getting faster by the second and I was rushing towards the giant rock. I had to make an effort now, else this was the end. I started swimming and gave my full efforts to get away and luckily I saved myself from the impending collision. However, this drained all my energy. Raft was still far. I asked the guide to throw the rope and finally they pulled me back up in the raft.
Thinking about this today, even after six months I get scared. What if my leg was stuck when I jumped, or my arms got cramped. The fear instilled by prospect of death is much stronger than love for life.
4. Scary ride with a drunk man
I took my first ever solo trip in 2015 to Kolkata, Darjeeling & Kalimpong. I was staying in a cute little village called Mirik near Kalimpong. To reach there you have to walk about a kilometer from the main road. This walk down the slope is such that only 4by4 vehicles or bikes can go there due to poor condition of the road.
While coming back from a Monastery visit, I was tired and wished that someone should give me a lift. Luckily, I saw this man on his bike and asked him if he can drop me till my base. He happily agreed and I hopped on to his bike. He started chatting and told me about what he does for a living. He was driving very rash but I was hesitant to ask him to slow down. A while later he stopped to pee and told me that he had been drinking since morning because he was missing his Nepali wife. There had been a quarrel between them and she went to her father’s house. During the remaining part of ride he kept saying that she was beautiful. At one time he nearly bumped into an oncoming jeep. All this while I was so scared and kept chanting all the prayers that I knew. Finally after about 5-7 minutes, which felt a lot longer, we reached the place where I was staying. While parting he asked for a selfie and kept hugging me. My guess is he thought of me as his angry wife. In hindsight this sounds totally hilarious but I was scared when it happened. The expressions on our faces says it all.
5. How a walk through foggy mountain trail helped me clear the fog in my head
I was in world’s most serene place. It was so close to nature, people were lovely and food was delicious. There were no other tourists. Yet, I had been having nightmares that woke me up in the middle of the night. Nightmares about getting falsely framed for a murder, about ugly fights in my family, about dear ones’ death, about finding a dead body in my bed etc. It was rather antithetical. On my last day I was gonna visit a nearby town called Lava. But I could not enjoy that trip as I was too preoccupied with figuring why I was getting all these nightmares. It couldn’t have been the place, because I had stayed in a lot worse places and always slept like baby. It couldn’t be people either, they took care of me just like my parents and granny. I did not believe in spirits or blemished history of the place. There was absolutely no apparent reason. All this overthinking made me anxious and I was considering not going back there. Just escaping directly from Lava to home. I didn’t care about my luggage which was in that village.
Driven by some kind of instinct I started walking from Lava to the next village Rishop. This walk of about 40 minutes was through a forest and there was dense fog all along the way. There wasn’t a soul for entire length of that trail.
I don’t know what happened during that walk, but at the end of the trail when I reached Rishop it was a bright sunny day. The fog had cleared – both literally and figuratively. I could hear my gut loud and clear and went back to that village to finish my stay as originally planned. That night I did not get any nightmares.
6. Udego badal mein…
My first experience of paragliding – or any adventure sport for that matter was in Kalimpong. After seeing the town of Bipul Chhetri (whose song “mountain high” is the above line from), by foot for two days, I thought it would be a sweet closure to see it from a bird’s eye view. In life too, sometimes you need to rise above and see things from top view to understand what’s going on down below.
Part 2: Home ground
7. Getting lost in a well-known terrain
I’ve been to Visapur 3 times now. Every time I came back from a slightly different route. It’s not difficult to find your way back because all the while Mumbai-Pune expressway is in your sight and you just have to follow that direction and keep going down. However, the last time we went there every path we tried kept leading us to dead-ends. After trying for more than an hour to find the correct path, we were starting to lose hope. We had about half an hour before the sun would set for the day. Prospect of sleeping in cold, wet jungle with no food wasn’t too exciting. So, in a desparate attempt to find either a way out or a village we set out on this road which was laden with “mississippi mud”.
8. Pangong of Maharashtra
I don’t know if I have become really smart in choosing weekend destinations or it’s just the universe playing its own game but I always end up at places where there are no other tourists apart from us. We went to Mulshi just by looking at its sheer size on the map. We did not do any research or look up any pictures online before going there. However, even if we had, no ammount of prior information could have prepared us for the magnanimity of this lake. For lack of better description, we can safely call Mulshi as Pangong of Maharashtra. It’s so huge that there are waves in this lake. Water is so clean that we could see our feet even when we stood in chest deep water. Later we found that packaged dinking water from this lake is sold at Rs 60 per litre.
9. Taj Islands
2015 was a year of lakes it seems. Bhandardhara lake is quie popular and you will always find lots of tourists in weekends. However, we managed to find a brilliantly isolated camping spot in the middle of the lake. We took a boat ride to an island in the middle of the lake and camped there. This island gets submerged in monsoons when water level rises and surfaces again in winter. Thus, there are no people or animals living there. Vegetation is also sparse. We practically owned that entire island for one night. And since there was no official name given to it, we baptised it as Taj Islands.
That’s all from bag of stories from 2015. Do share your top travel moments in the comments below. Wishing a travel filled 2016.