• Elita • Nomadic Thunker

How Travel Happened To Me

The breeze makes its presence felt through the crevices of the shut window pane even as the sun has been making an appearance despite the winter haze. It makes me want to envelop myself. From eight down to four layers of clothing in this my first week, I think I’m surviving the Patna winter rather well for someone who belongs to the western coast. 

I painfully wait for my Twitter timeline to refresh. I struggle with the phantom called 3G. I’m convinced no such thing exists just yet! When I can finally scroll through, I stumble upon this quote:

On earth, there is no heaven but there are pieces of it” ~Jules Renard

and I'm instantly reflecting on why I chose Travel.

prayer flags, northeast India
Reflecting on why I chose Travel

Tracing back the point of origin

October 2012. One solo trip – my first – did the trick. It happened with me contemplating how I could allow my paid-leaves to lapse and then before I knew it, I was sitting at a beach, reading.

It wouldn’t be until another six months before I’d set out again. In other words, I wasn't ‘reformed’ in an instant and it wouldn't be until six months later when I'd set off again!

So how did it go from ‘travel-not-on-my-mind’ to have-feet-will-travel?

September 2013. Ladakh.

Ladakh was that watershed moment of my life. It was my second time in the region but something clicked and a lot changed. I returned home to find myself furiously typing away at my laptop - almost immediately - spending an entire day travelogue-ing every experience I could recollect from the preceding fortnight. It's as if, I was under a spell – a spell that helped me break away from my earlier blocks. Thus began a journey – a journey of traversing through lands outside and of worlds within.

At that moment, I found myself taking a little pledge; that I’d start 'taking off' once every quarter, at least. It’s a pledge I adhered to.

Breathing life into my self-pledge

In the 15 months between that Ladakhi September and the December of 2014, I planned my annual paid-leaves from work (which were no more than 29 days including public and national holidays). I capitalized on the weekends such that I could take off on a Friday evening and return at the end of the following weekend on a Sunday evening - or sometimes even on an early Monday morning, showing up bright and refreshed to work directly! It easily gave me one 9-day holiday; of which only 5 days comprised of paid-leave!

map of India
My 15 months between that Ladakhi September and the December of 2014

If you do the math, you realize that one can easily get away with this once every quarter and still have 9 days of leave remaining at the end of the year. That is how I transitioned from travelling once every five-odd months to then travelling at least once every quarter; the emphasis being on ‘at least’.

Soon enough, once a quarter seemed too much of a wait.

I wasn’t travelling solo all the time. Regardless, I’d begun to earn the reputation of being the person who knew what her two consecutive holiday destinations over the next few months - or weeks, as it gradually turned out - would be.

Before I knew it I was taking off from the city every other weekend exploring and experiencing places that were no more than a local train ride away from home. I did the math. In those 15 months, I covered way too many kilometres to count.

But that wasn’t all.

Travel had made me want to write more. It made me want to share my every little anecdote from the road and not merely of posing next to a monument or two but of experiencing humanity, of finding ways to put my faith back, one personal encounter at a time.

On second thoughts, maybe I should retract my earlier statement about choosing Travel. I didn’t choose Travel; it chose me. And explains better why I'm braving the winter of 2015 in the erstwhile city of Patliputra as I pen these thoughts.

trek, hike, Sandakphu, West Bengal, India
There comes a point when you decide to throw caution to the winds and instead let them just carry you.

A fledgeling in motion

In hindsight, I'd say that there comes a point when you decide to throw caution to the winds and instead let them just carry you. That’s possibly the only way I can explain how I am putting these thoughts to (digital) paper all the way from Bihar, far away from everything that was once familiar. It’s still all a little too premature but one thing’s for certain: I am a fledgeling in motion.

If there’s anything that remained consistently true of my travels between that Ladakhi September and the December of 2014, it’d been the nameless Samaritans I encountered during my journeys. “Take a seat here. Be comfortable” “Here’s my number. Don’t hesitate to give me a call the next time you’re here” “I can help you chalk out an itinerary” “If you give them my reference they’ll provide you with a 20% discount” …I could never tire from recounting these experiences. This is what I have come to call ‘experiencing humanity’.

Those 15 months made one thing clear: Every sliver of hope I needed I would find on the road. In exchange, I’d have to leave behind the comforts of my familiar environs.

The multi-tasking sceptic with her '9-to-6-and-beyond job' had to be replaced.

With what though?

And even more importantly how?

Converting travel from being a 24*7 preoccupation to possibly a 24*7 activity

Replacement felt like the right thing to do. Period. From there began the slow but steady process of laying it all out: What did I want to achieve by taking this step?

I was already travelling enough, whether solo or not. I was blogging consistently and it was being read. I wanted to spread the let’s-experience-humanity vibe beyond my own circle and beyond my own experiences too. I wasn’t going to focus on the must-sees and must-go-tos of the world. It wasn't my niche; just like food-photography wasn't!

I was convincing myself, first, that I was ready for this – ready to take up travel from being a 24*7 preoccupation to possibly becoming a 24*7 activity and where there would be no comfort zone.

I started looking around for inspiration to give my seemingly crazy idea better direction. I began to understand I wouldn’t have all the answers. Not all at once and definitely not right at the beginning.

What helped me then was the (mostly) unconditional non-judgmental support from family, friends, and even acquaintances – my emphasis, of course, is on the word ‘non-judgmental’. No one ever denied the risk involved – in just the same way no one denied that the only way to know better was to undertake that risk.

Dzukou Valley, Nagaland, India
I acknowledged to myself that all I could do was to be open to the possibilities and to keep trying.

Weighing the pros and the cons

I started looking around for opportunities.

Could I bag a free holiday (and save on my already modest savings)?

Would I design travel itineraries (that let people ‘experience humanity’)?

Did I want to take on purely travel writing assignments (that may not always involve the travel part)?

Would I find something at the confluence of my academic background + work ex in the social-sector along with travel (if such a thing existed that is)?

Of the lot, option 1 was most preferable but then I factored in Murphy’s love for me and the odds of ever getting that lucky!

Everything came down to what I wanted. I acknowledged to myself that all I could do was to be open to the possibilities and to keep trying. It’s a crazy balance to strike (and keep striking).

It wasn't until a few months later when an opportunity of a Fellowship I'd applied for came through – one that tasked me with the responsibility of travelling through India to meet leaders within the social-sector, i.e NGOs, with the aim of taking technology to the grassroots.

Read: Travel In The Time of Prejudice

I still haven’t figured whether I ticked my fourth checkbox or whether it checked me.

Before I had any time to fully absorb what this opportunity entailed, I was packing my bags to move base from Mumbai (read: comfort zone of the multi-tasking sceptic) to really not having a base per se.

That explains why my current location reads as Bihar. Needless to say that experiencing humanity is the mainstay!

Ever let the winds carry you too? Do share your experience as comments below.

Thanks for submitting!