“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” Gustave Flaubert
This morning as I sat by the window, biting into my sandwich and sipping hot tea, I was suddenly taken back in time to a chilly morning many many years ago.
It was October. We were in a remote little village called Rimbik, bordering Darjeeling. Facing the Himalayas, surrounded by an imposing range of hills full of conifers, in the Singalila National Park in West Bengal. At a height of 7,500 feet, a small group of people were returning from a trek to Sandakphu and I was one among them. Having climbed the Sandakphu peak and witnessing stunning views of the Himalayas the evening before, our minds as much as our cameras had captured some exceptionally beautiful images, and now, we were headed for a downward descent.
My fellow trekkers were all on a mission of sorts. Having quit our respective jobs and with definite ambitions to explore into the unknown, all of us seemed to be on a pilgrimage — only that this had nothing to do with religion. It was more of a quest, to know oneself. Thoreau had once said “Not until we are lost, do we begin to understand ourselves.”
And this is what we must have all been looking for, on that trek — each trying to find the answers to the questions plaguing us. The trek we were on, gave us an unparalleled opportunity to rummage through and then, question, critique and weigh out every idea from the depths of our consciousness, at an unhurried pace and in perfect harmony with nature. How I wish I could go back in time once again!
Over the three days of trekking, I remember how often we had moments of absolute quiet, when we sat on the edge of a cliff, gazing into the vast expanse ahead of us and thinking our own thoughts. One was busy scribbling into the log book, the other staring into rapturous admiration into the mighty soaring Kanchenjunga. One was busy reading when not taking photographs and generally looking lost, as if the object he was looking for, lay there, hidden in the midst of the unknown. One thing was certain. For all of us, the trek was deeply metaphorical. The journey was mostly inwards. We all had our own battles to fight. There was no reason to break the perfect silence which surrounded us. And we seemed to be in perfect harmony with nature. The sound of silence surrounded us everywhere.
Perhaps, the reason for suddenly remembering all that, so many years later, sitting in the comfort of my warm sun-lit home, was in recalling what might have been going on in our minds that day. I guess it had to do with us being young and full of adventure, of willing to risk it all and take on a gamble. With time, the biggest casualty for all of us has been this sense of adventure, hardened as it were, by living life and seeing the world in a different light.
The memory of that morning in Rimbik, is still fresh today. I can almost see myself seated on a wooden bench, having hot tea and biscuits by a road-side tea stall with my friends. I remember the feeling of being free. It was wonderful traveling alone, with my thoughts unbridled, unhindered, to help me make sense of where I was heading to, in life — and where I wanted to be.
As time passes, of the many things that have come and gone in our lives, travel has been a constant. I have enjoyed every journey taken. And, almost every trip has taught me, in a unique way, how much there is to discover, every time we set foot outside our comfort zone.
That is precisely why we need to push ourselves out into the unknown every now and then.
That’s the only way to grow I think.