Waking up in Binsar.

Sojourns of a lonely being who savours getting lost.

Picture credits: Sunaina Patnaik
“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” 
― Mary Anne Radmacher

My first solo trip was garnished with commute delays, grim uncertainties, and pleasant surprises. The beginnings and the first steps, I believe, are always the toughest. They are probably built on a foundation that crumbles with the slightest of trepidation. But I pushed my apprehensions into a corner of my mind (only after a few friends forced me), packed my bags with notebooks and an anticipation of adventures and discoveries.

Binsar is a delightful hamlet in Uttarakhand. I was there for the Himalayan Writing Retreat. More than the adventure, I was keen on meeting other writers and forming new friendships. The result was solid — the starlit nights, bonfire bonhomie, food that kept us asking for more, sunsets and sunrises that put the word ‘beauty’ to shame, late night conversations with my roomie, and the frightening night silence. If I could do Binsar again, I would do it.

Binsar Forest Retreat, Uttarakhand

If our days ended with the cranky civets prancing on our roof, they began with birds chirping. The sunrise from the glorious Trishul peaks cajoled us out of the bed. Cupping our palms around a coffee cup, we watched the Sun — which looked different every day. The nights at Binsar were equally wonderful with the stargazing and conversations over dinner.

The laid-back mornings led to hearty breakfasts and writing. To be in a room full of individuals who can spin a yarn in distinct ways is a brilliant opportunity to learn and grow. Apart from writing from different perspectives and points of view, we engaged in peer reviews, one on one feedback, reading and more writing. Over cups of tea, we pored over the writing style of a certain author and what makes our favourite book so special. We scribbled in our notebooks and wrote like never before. Writing is a mentally exhaustive task, but at the retreat, we learned how to flex our brain muscles, relax, and more importantly, how to tend to our writing block and render even gibberish into something meaningful.

Himalayan Writing Retreat
“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” 
― Sylvia Plath
Zero Point, Binsar

On the fourth day, we hiked to the Zero Point from Binsar Forest Retreat to watch the sunrise. It’s a fairly easy hike, although the path is paved with thorny bushes and rocks. But the view from the Zero Point is worth waking up at 5:00 AM and walking in the pitch dark, cold path. It’s not hard to guess what a sentimental fool I am, so the Sun rising from the peaks and spreading its light over the snow-clad mountains was overwhelming. This makes me wonder: do people living there get used to waking up to sights such as this? And if they do, will they stop appreciating what they see? Or will it be overwhelming every day?

The Journey

Going back to the basics, I took ‘Ranikhet Express’, an overnight train from Delhi to Kathgodam and booked a taxi from Kathgodam to Binsar. The 5-hour journey on the ghat roads took us through greenery, villages with homes perched on hilltops, Bheemtal and its teal blue lake, the bustling markets of Almora rustling with the sound of school bells, elegant young women in chic suits walking to a nearby college, and local politicians and residents protesting against Modi. As if things didn’t get alluring enough, we dashed through roads adorned by dainty waterfalls, clear skies with Moon at 12 in the noon, sweet-smelling shops selling delicacies. On reaching Binsar, we crossed the rocky, narrow roads of the forest to reach Binsar Forest Retreat. It could be scary but hey, try and be fearless, okay? Or close your eyes like I did.

This picture was taken at 5:30 PM. If you notice well, you’ll spot the Moon.
“An adventurous life does not necessarily mean climbing mountains, swimming with sharks, or jumping off cliffs. It means risking yourself by leaving a little piece of you behind in all those you meet along the way.”
- Shawna Grapentin
Bheemtal Lake

I returned by Shatabdi Express (it serves horrible food just in case you’re interested to know) which pulled down in Delhi within 6 hours. My struggle as a solo traveler began when I had to spend nearly twelve hours in the airport.

Things I did similar to Tom Hanks in ‘The Terminal’:

  • Loafed around the terminal for hours.
  • Observed my fellow passengers, took notes of their idiosyncrasies for churning better characters for a book I might write in future.
  • Bathed.
  • Read everything I could lay my hands on. Newspapers to magazines to completing a book to TV displays. Look if you need to know what you could do at Indira Gandhi International Airport’s T3, I’m your girl. I might even add an additional skill on my LinkedIn profile: Pro Bono adviser on how to effectively kill time when stuck in transit.
  • Checked out the prices of Alcohol and compared them with our usual rates.
  • Noticed how ridiculous people look when they’re sleeping or yawning.
  • Bathed, again.
  • Consumed coffee.
  • Loafed around the terminal and bought things I already own. (I can also tell you what not to buy.)
  • Wondered why Chetan Bhagat writes.
  • Helped a woman with her luggage because I’m a Good Samaritan.
  • Went batshit crazy about the flight delay; dreamt of home and my bed.
  • Slept.
  • Edited the pictures I took in Uttarakhand.

As you could tell, I accomplished quite a lot.

Sunset time, Binsar

I have been told that people who travel alone learn a great deal about themselves. I’m unsure if I was able to except realize that I’m more impatient and crabby than I’d like to believe. Out of the many steps I’ve taken out of my comfort zone this year, this definitely has taken me far (even in terms of the distance). I have come a long way from a girl who struggled to cross the roads to a girl who navigated decently through the unknowns. I do not want to gloat but I’m proud of myself and I really hope someday, I’ll do more. Be more.

The Himalayan Writing Retreat is a workshop led by Chetan Mahajan and Vandita. If you are scrambling to write a book or have one in mind, this might give you the right push.

To know more, visit http://www.himalayanwritingretreat.com/

You’re sure to make great friends and have epic conversations. I did. So will you. Also, why should you miss a chance to be in the Himalayas?

Nandaghunti 2, Binsar Forest Retreat

Binsar Forest Retreat is warm, but not more than its hosts- Preetham, Pallavi, and their lovely daughter, Ahana.

To know more about the Retreat, visit http://www.binsarforestretreat.com/

If you’re going to Binsar, don’t think twice about staying here.

I’m soon taking off to another incredible place. I’ll write about it when I’m back. Until then, toodles!

Tune for the day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mer6X7nOY_o