Does travel always have to be about sugar spice and everything nice? About rainbows, sunshine, sand and snow? What lies on the dark side when you flip the coin? Oh no, this isn’t an article about traumatic travel and bad experiences, on the contrary it is about finding your baddest self, pushing boundaries and coming out a survivor.
In the peak of summer vacations (May 2018), trying to get last minute train tickets to North India is an adventure of its own. After 2 weeks and ₹6,000, I had no tickets in my hand. As postponing the trip was not an option, it was time to find alternative mode of transport and so; 35 hours, 5 states and 4 “cheapest available” buses later, my broke ass was in Delhi.
In the next 12 hours I cramped in a cold shower, a nice lunch and one hour of sleep on a bed that wasn’t moving at 60km/hr; before hopping on to bus #5; now accompanied by my friend that finally got us to Mcleod Ganj. In the second that my eyes feel upon the golden snowy peaks at 6am, the past 57 hours just melted away. IT WAS ALL WORTH IT!
Excited to start the hike, we dropped our luggage, had a nice breakfast and at 10am began walking on the 9km trail to the famous (and crowded) Triund top. Taking our time, enjoying the views and constantly struggling to find peaceful sweet spots between Bluetooth enabled music warriors, we made it to the top at 2.30pm.
Enjoying the warm sun and cool breeze we stared at the awe inspiring snowcapped mountains, mesmerized and lost. It was all sunshine and sheep (coz their ain’t no daisies up there) till at 5.30pm we suddenly saw darrrkk clouds approaching. Before we knew it, it seemed like the ridge was floating as everything around disappeared. The clouds were moving in so fast that it looked like a time-lapse. Amused by the approaching storm, the pests of Triund started hooting and howling; like rowdy teenagers aboard a train in a tunnel.
Triund was soon hit by a thunderstorm. At 6pm it turned pitch black, with rain accompanied by thunder and lightning coming down hard. People had taken refuge in their tents or the tiny shops on the ridge and were enjoying this weather. My friend and I, sipped hot tea, watching the pouring rain, blissfully unaware of what was in store for us that night.
Soon the rain stopped, AND IT STARTED HAILING!!! We left the overcrowded shop and ran to our tent. As we lay there laughing at people in the neighbouring tents demanding room service, I managed to doze off.
Suddenly, I woke up to the sensation of someone hurling stones at my leg. It took me a while to realize that the wall of the tent was now sticking to my leg and through it the hail was hitting me hard. Before I could gather my thoughts, I felt the tent uproot. It was a tiny tent, and before I knew it a quarter of the tent was already off the ground. We hastily grabbed what we could, put on our shoes and abandoned the tent. The second we stepped out, our tent took flight like an eagle. I held on to it with all my strength but surrounded by tents on all sides there was no way the tent and I could both survive. Having no intention of Mary Poppins-ing my way down the valley; I sacrificed the ₹3000 tent and ran for my ₹3100 life.
Feeling cramped yet safe in the tiny stone structure, we were unapologetically sipping on hot chai and licking plates of steaming hot Maggie and Rajma Chawal; while a local who had dragged our (surprisingly still intact) tent patiently waited for us to leave. After something close to 2 hours he shoved the still assembled tent into our hand and virtually kicked us out of the shop. (Guys, people in Himachal are the nicest people you will ever meet and it there was really no place for him to keep us).
We dragged our half drenched asses with the still assembled tent to the shop we had rented from; but there was no shelter for us there either. Like an animal, we inspected various spots and plopped ourselves on the most protected (by few rocks and other tents, also as far from the edge as possible) and least mucky piece of land. The tent owner zipped us in and warned us to not unzip the tent no matter what. There was now a sense of security in knowing that I would drag 20 other tents with me if I took flight again.
Lightning lit up Triund relentlessly while hail persistently tried to rip through our tent. As I lay there drenched, shivering in my sleeping bag next to my snoring friend I wondered if “I’d ever see civilization again?”; “Would I see another sunrise?”; “Was this the end?”, when the winds picked up again and I was pulled out my open-eyed nightmare.
Next thing I know, the entire tent has been pushed down on me. As I lay there flat on my back, suffocating under the tent while the hail stabbed me, I started to laugh. In total acceptance of the dangers around me, there was a weird sense of freedom in that moment. Being on that open ridge, exposed to roaring thunder and lightning, I felt more alive than I ever had. The fleeting nature of our lives; that we live through in such oblivion had never been so clear to me.
The winds slowed, the tent went back to normal and believe it or not I actually managed to sleep through that thunder storm. As soon as dawn broke, the snowcapped peaks glistened gold against the bluest sky I’d ever seen. With a hot cup of chai, I soaked in the chirping birds, grazing sheep and sparkling green grass. Smiling at my new self, ‘the survivor of the storm’.
500 people ran down Triund that day. Every café, street corner, souvenir shop of Mcleod Ganj was abuzz with stories of terrified campers from Triund top. The locals laughed and the tourists swore they would never go back to Triund.
As for me, I cannot wait to go back; and beyond.
Everyone today is a “traveler” and every “traveler” wants to “find themselves”. Often we get on a plane, get off at a tourist spot and see everything around us through the screens of our phones and view-finder’s on our cameras.
Travelling has become more about posting stories, clicking pictures (that you will never see again) or making vlogs. But do we actually try to find ourselves? Do we leave behind the world we come from and try to connect with the world we have come to? To experience it, soak it in, live in it? Or are we just trying to impress the circles on our social media apps? Don’t travel for your phones, “Travel for you Soul”.
That night, a storm hit Triund again. From the safety of the balcony at my hostel I looked at the lightening, the clouds and the rain. Sipping on my chai and smirking at the roaring thunder, hoping this storm too would help calm the storm inside a traveler.
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