You don’t need money to travel

What you need is courage.

I can hear many of you scoffing. “Ya, right! You’re probably saying that because you HAVE money.” I wish I could say that was true. I mean, sure, I’m not perennially broke like I used to be when I had just started working, barely managing to keep at least the minimum withdrawable amount in my bank account by the end of the month. I was living by myself, and all my money went into rent and eating out. I am better off (financially at least) now than that girl. But I’m by no means rich enough to take exotic international vacations once a quarter or even once a year.

So then what do I mean when I say that one doesn’t need money, but the courage to travel? Here’s what I have figured out. Money can be saved. You can plan ahead, save like crazy, and have enough in your account to travel at least once in three months if you want to. But you need courage. You need the courage to decide that you want to step out of your comfort zone and imbibe new experiences. Courage to walk up to your boss and ask for a week’s leave. Courage to tell your family that traveling is not just a hobby for you but a way of life, so please excuse for not wanting to waste your precious leave on attending that aunt’s husband’s brother’s daughter’s first wedding. Courage to just pick a place and book those damn tickets. Courage to decide that even if no one else is coming with you, you will be fine to travel on your own. Courage to make certain lifestyle choices that may not exactly be comfortable or conventional, but oh-so-rewarding.

Maybe courage is not the right word. But for me, it did take courage. I had traveled largely only with family, and that too the yearly summer vacation trips to grandparents’. The first major trip that I went on was with my friends to Goa in 2012. A post-breakup-I-need-to-be-drunk-out-of-my-wits trip. I remember how excited and terrified I was – taking a bus all the way to Goa, on my own. The amount of pride I felt at reaching Goa safely and figuring out how to get from the bus stop to my homestay was immeasurable.

Early last year, I decided to take my first ever solo trip, to Hampi. Booked the tickets before even booking the accommodation. Built up courage over a month to go on my own, but chickened out at the last minute and called a friend along. A few months later, a random friend-ing on Facebook from many years ago led me to Spiti. I went on THE most epic trip of my life with three women I was meeting for the first time. Many many kilometres away from all that was familiar to me, to a land of unforgiving terrain and wonderful people.

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Chandrataal Lake
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Langza’s guardian angel

The Spiti trip only helped in stoking the fire in me. And this year, I finally decided to travel all by myself. No company, no back-up. Went from Chennai to Delhi by train, Delhi to Mcleodganj by bus. I heaved a sigh of relief only after I’d checked into my B&B and locked the room safely.

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Hello from the Himalayas!
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A glorious sunset caught from a nook in Temple Road, Mcleodganj
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Illiterati Cafe, Mcleodganj
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A quiet moment in one of the many cafes of Mcleodganj

But I realised something last year once my Spiti trip was planned. Unconsciously, I had started saving money. Not that I was a big spendthrift earlier, but I had become even more careful once I knew that I would be traveling in four months. Cut down my excesses, so to say. Every new piece of clothing I was attracted to, I would ask myself, “Do I want this, or do I need this? I could buy one train ticket with this money.” And back it would go on the rack. I would browse through e-commerce apps during sale time, add a bunch of things to my cart, and then remove it all. Uninstalled most of the shopping apps from my phone. Stopped buying exorbitantly-priced bottles of Sriracha sauce and fish sauce (and that sauce that starts with W which I can neither spell nor pronounce) from supermarkets, which I wouldn’t use more than once. I started going to the neighbourhood kirana store to buy my staples so that I don’t get distracted by too many choices. I cut down on eating out, preferring to make at least roti and sabji at home as much as possible. Every spending decision of mine started revolving around travel. Without even realising it, I was saving money.

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Metal sculpture at Norbulingka Institute

And once I made a conscious decision that travelling is going to be a significant part of my life – that it’s not going to be just a “hey it’s a long weekend, let’s go somewhere” thought but more of an “I’m going to travel to Himachal Pradesh and stay there for a month” choice – all my decisions were aligned to it. Career switch, financial decisions, the kind of people I choose to interact with, the people I follow on social media – everything.

If you have managed to read this far, a big thank you. You have tremendous patience. Now use that patience to save money, a little every month, and travel. Start that Recurring Deposit. Eat one less meal out. Shop less, refurbish your clothes if you must. Baby steps. At every step, question yourself – Do I want this, or do I needthis?

And ask yourself – do you want to travel, or do you need to travel? Because those are two very different things.

 

This article was originally written for The Way, the official magazine of Wandertrails.

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The restless mind of a first-time paraglider


To be completely honest, I hadn’t even heard of Bir Billing until last year. And I found out about it just like I have found out about a lot of other places – while doing research for another trip. My Spiti trip was a few months away, and I started Googling the life out of Himachal Pradesh. The two-week plan slowly panned out into a month-long one (that it didn’t happen is a different story I won’t bore you with), and that’s when I stumbled upon the names of Bir and Billing, and what significance it holds.

For the uninitiated, Bir and Billing are two little villages in Himachal Pradesh, known for being one of the best spots around the world for paragliding. In fact, India hosted the World Paragliding Championship in 2015. How cool is that! At an elevation of 2430 m, Billing is the ideal take off spot. It literally feels like you are on top of the world. And Bir is a tiny little town teeming with Tibetans, it being a Tibetan settlement.


So when I planned my second trip to Himachal, I was determined to make this happen. Come rain or shine, I will fly. Err, ok, maybe not in rain. April is a great time for paragliding, although except for the rainy season, paragliding is an all-weather sport. My pilot informed me that they fly for almost eight months in a year. Billing, the take-off site, is about 17 kms uphill from Bir, the landing site. The ride up to Billing is a delightful experience in itself – quiet, untouched by civilization, with bright red rhododendron flowers peeking out of the foliage all along.

“Oh look! Rhododendron flowers! Ruskin Bond, I can finally see what you’ve been raving about all this while.”

“I have to tell A (a fellow Bond fan) about this. Oh, shoot, no network. Maybe later then.”

“Imagine living up here. No network, no people. Bliss.”

“But how would I Instagram if there is no network?” #thestruggleisreal

And then we reached the take-off spot, with a sign board proudly announcing “Billing – 2430 m”. and I swear to god, my breath caught. I clambered onto the peaks like a mountain goat (who am I kidding? There is video evidence of my heavy panting serving as background score for a sweeping view of the mountains).


Once the initial excitement of seeing the colourful gliders wore off, the butterflies made their presence known in my tummy. I was literally going to jump off the edge of a cliff, and I was putting my life in the hands of a 20-something pahadi boy I had met just over an hour ago.

Yeah, that sounds like a good plan.

Wow! Just… wow!

Ok, I think I have to pee. Or should I wait? I’ll wait. It’s not that urgent.

*after five minutes of thinking only about whether I want to pee or not*

Maybe I should. What if it gets intense during the flight? And it might be cold too up there. Bladders may function differently up in the air. I might as well go.

*after realising that there is nothing in the vicinity except for a small shop selling chai and Maggi which clearly doesn’t have a restroom*

Umm.. maybe I’ll hold it. Or wait, I can go in the open. Why not? When I have mountains around me to give cover, why do I need walls? Ya, I’ll just go behind that peak over there.

See, that wasn’t so hard.

So there I was, bladder emptied, harness fitted, helmet on, heart thumping, trying not to look down. It was a tandem ride, so my pilot was right behind me. It took us a few minutes to get going, since it’s dependant on the wind, but once the wind caught the gliders, we were off. And honest to god, it’s hard to describe what it feels like. There’s panic initially, yes. Lots of panic.

What if my harness falls off?

What if I fall off the harness?

Will my spectacles fall off if I look down? I won’t even be able to enjoy the view then. Not to mention, the rest of my trip (I’m blind as a bat, you see).

What if there is a giant hole in the glider that they did not know about because of which I will be plummeting to my death very soon?!

Would I plummet straight down or crash into these trees? I hope I get a few rhododendron flowers stuck in my hair if I do. At least I would be a pretty corpse.

What if the pilot loses control of the glider and we float all the way up to Dharamshala (which I was told is a good 3-hour glide away)? That wouldn’t be so bad, I suppose.

But then the panic subsides and you settle in. You just need to let go and admire the beauty laid out in front of you. And maybe try to hush the voices inside your head. Yeah, good luck with that.

Damn, I hope my shoes don’t fall off, why did I have to wear these ballerinas, why couldn’t have I worn my sneakers?

What if it falls off? What if just one shoe falls off? Should I let the other one drop too?

I mean, what will I do with just one anyway?

I hope it doesn’t fall on the bald head of a monk. Dear god, no!

Hey, I see a monastery there! I wonder which one that is. So gorgeous.

On top of this, they gave me the Go Pro to hold, attached to a heavy selfie stick. A moment here to pay respects to all those regular selfie-stick wielders. Like, how? How do you do it! So I was supposed to hold on to the stick for the entirety of the flight so that I could get videos, but I was more worried that I would drop it, even though it is attached to my harness by a rope. And the pilot kept telling me to look into the camera and smile. *cue heavy eye rolling here*

Oh god, this selfie stick is so darn heavy. Maybe I’ll switch hands.

Oh wait, what if it falls while I’m switching? Will I have to pay them for the camera?

Damn, how much does a Go Pro cost? No less than 10k, I’m guessing. I could buy one for myself with that money.

And of course, the eternal “What if I die?” question.

To which my mind promptly answered, “Well, not many people get to die with a view like that. What exactly are you complaining about? I mean, just look around. Forget about your shoes, forget about the camera, forget about the trees you might crash into. This is what you came out here for. For the view, and for that whirlpool feeling in your tummy. Try to enjoy that, will you?

Before I knew it, it was time for me to land. I could see the landing spot come into view, a vast empty field with plenty of onlookers, all with their heads turned skywards. I could hear my pilot giving me instructions for safe landing.

Madam, as soon you touch the ground, you have to kneel down.” Which I heard as “Madam, as soon as you touch the ground, you have to fall flat on your face and then get up as though it’s all cool.

Ah, well.  

(This piece was originally written for The Way, the official magazine of Wandertrails).

Make love to my mind

I don’t need a man to give me orgasms. I don’t need anyone to give me an orgasm. I can take care of that for myself.

But.

Can you turn me on with your thoughts? Can you light a fire in me without even touching me?

Can you see the naked me before you even strip my clothes? More importantly, would you still want me when you have seen the real deal, when all the flaws are out in the open? When you come to know of all the insecurities, eccentricities, the bouts of depression, moody silences, enthusiastic chatter, would you still want to hug me and tell me that I am as wonderful as sunshine on a winter’s day?

If one day, I don’t wish to make love, but want to stay up into the wee hours of the night talking, baring my soul, telling you things I’ve never told anyone, things that I have never spoken out loud to even myself for fear of judgment, would you want to stay awake with me and listen to it all? What if it is my mask that comes off instead of my clothes when the lights are turned off, would you want to keep undressing me? When my demons scream louder than I do in the whirls of passion, would you still want to hear me out?

Can you make love to me with your words? Not by whispering sweet nothings to me. I don’t want that. I want meaningful somethings. Thought provoking anythings. Mindblowing everythings. I want to be seduced by your voice – the excitement in it when you tell me of all the places you want to see; the melancholy in it when you speak of your lost loves; the longing when you talk about your eternal search for the one.

But can I tell you a secret? There is no such thing as “the one”. There is me, there is you, and there is now.

There are our beautiful minds. And when two beautiful minds mate, magic happens. The earth shifts. The stars realign. The gods smile. Flowers high-five each other.

Can you make that happen? Can we make magic with our minds?

Today

Tomorrow, we will talk about it.

Tomorrow, we will deal with this like adults.

Tomorrow, perhaps, we will find a solution to this.

Tomorrow, we will discuss all the “What is this?”, “Where is this going?”, “What next?”

Tomorrow, we will try to get some answers.

But not today.

Today, you will bury me in your arms and shield me from reality.

Today, you will kiss all my doubts and fears away.

Today, I will discover the real you.

Today, I will find out what makes you cry and how deep you sigh.

Today, you will know my silliest mistakes, my biggest fears, my darkest secrets.

Today, we will share a bed and many many stories.

Today, I will tell you about the boy who broke my heart and how I’m afraid it’s going to happen again.

Today, I will memorize you with my hands and my lips, and etch every bit of you within me.

Today, we will explore each other – mind, body and soul.

Today, I will light a fire within you that only I can put out.

Today, I will run my fingers through your hair and mess it up and watch you get annoyed.

Today, we will let our tacit desires see the light of the day.

Today, you will open that closed book of yours and write me in as one of the chapters.

Tomorrow, we will try to make sense of us.

Or maybe we will emerge out of our cocoon and fly away to our separate nests.

But not today.

Today, we will love.

Today, we will live.

 

P.S:- Hi, I’m alive. 🙂

Old Wine, New Bottle

It’s been more than three weeks since my Spiti trip ended and I grudgingly got back to reality.

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Dhankar Gompa, Spiti Valley

Three weeks of getting back to the routine of work and home. Three weeks of reliving the tales to friends and family. Three weeks of showing the pictures (even when they showed only very mild interest) to everyone and trying to explain how beautiful the place is in real. Three weeks of recommending it as the next holiday spot to others, as though I know every nook and cranny of it.

Three weeks of getting disappointed each time I look at the sky and finding that the blue is just not blue enough. Three weeks of wondering why there are so few stars in the sky. Three weeks of sweating buckets and having to shower twice a day. Three weeks of dealing with people who test your patience to the very last limit. Three weeks of wincing each time anyone starts talking too loudly. Three weeks of getting stuck in traffic jams. Three weeks of living in denial that THIS is the real world, and Spiti was just a break.

It’s also been three weeks of trying to frame the perfect draft to encapsulate everything that this trip meant to me. I have been waiting for some divine inspiration to strike me, so that I could pen down the most fitting words for Spiti. Well, turns out, there ain’t no divine inspiration striking, and there ain’t words perfect enough to describe Spiti.

So I’m gonna try my best here.

Where do I begin?

Let me begin with how this trip came about. For that, I’ll have to rewind a few years to how I became friends with this girl called Priyanka Shinde from Mumbai. Well, not friends, exactly. We became Facebook friends. She had read one of my blog posts via a mutual friend and wanted to know me more. So we added each other on FB. But that was it. We never connected more than that. We were just there on each other’s walls. I’d like an occasional post, she’d do the same. But every year, without fail, she would call me on my birthday to wish me. We’d talk about how we should meet up some day, and hang up without making any plans towards it. We’d chat on Whatsapp once in a blue moon. But ya, that was it. I lived my life in Chennai, and she hers in Mumbai.

So there I was, sometime during April 2016, going through a particularly low phase at work. But, like many others like me, I trudged along, sulking and stuffing my face with food when humans got too difficult to handle. I’d been wanting to travel but nothing was working out because S had recently switched jobs and owing to a marketing profile, was travelling almost every other week. And making plans with friends was becoming next to impossible with each one in a different state / country/continent. The final blow came when a girls’ trip to Sri Lanka, which had been in the make since August 2015, got cancelled due to some logistical issues. The last major trip I’d been on was to Andaman in September and a three-day trip to Hampi in January.

But it was not just about going someplace new. It was simply about getting away for a while. I wanted to be away from everything and everyone familiar. Needed some peace and quiet. That’s when I saw Priyanka share a trip to Spiti on her FB page. I’d heard of Lahaul and Spiti from a friend of mine many years ago and added it to my to-go list, but never made any concrete plans. “Why not now?”, I asked myself. So I got in touch with her, asked her the details, and before I knew it, I had signed up for a trip with two women from Mumbai, only one of whom I knew vaguely. One more lady joined us a few weeks later.

I don’t know about you, but I constantly need something to look forward to in life. If I know there is something coming up a few months down the line, more often than not a trip, it gives me that extra bit of motivation to get by. And at that point, believe me, I needed some MAJOR motivation. With the trip planned for July, I was beginning to get into a better mood.

And then, with exactly a month left to go for the trip, I got chicken pox.

You know what? I think I’ve rambled on for far too long. Why don’t I tell you the rest in my next post? Come back, ok?

And oh, thank you for coming by! I hope you stay around. (Who am I kidding? I hope I stay around)

P.S.: I’m new to WordPress and still finding my way around. Bear with me, ok?