Manali Memoir

“TRAVEL MAKES ONE MODEST, YOU SEE WHAT A TINY PLACE YOU OCCUPY IN THE WORLD.” ~ GUSTAVE FLAUBERT

Summer 2018,
… it had been a year since I’d moved back in with my family after spending two years away for a Masters programme. While I’d grown up in that house and lived with everyone for almost two and a half decades, but these two years seemed to have helped me grow in more ways than one.
So, behaving like a typical early adult- lacking patience and full of fire coupled with self assurance; I booked my seat on a week long get away that promised an absolute disconnect from the society and its hum-drum. With two friends accompanying me and about ten strangers to be befriended, I packed my rucksack for a taste of the mountains during the scorching heat.

Disclaimer: I’m not about to share the itinerary, but I plan to take you through what those seven days continue mean to me.

What started with an over night bus journey of dead silence and quiet observation of one another was about to turn into a week that I will continue to remember with great fondness for more reason than one. Stationed at a pit-stop the next morning to stretch our stiff muscles, freshen up and meet our local organisers… the first day began. I do not have a chronological memory of each day but a lot of small stories and some large eventual impacts on myself (of which I was unaware back then) that come rushing to my mind at this point.
So a chilly shower followed by an ice-breaking breakfast session accompanied by some of the most joyful dogs, did we get to know about the first place we were to hike to and stay camped for two nights…. oh wait, I promised no Itinerary! In which case, let’s keep it crisp, we had three different places where we stayed over the week, each of which is kept so pure and un-touched that one has to fall in love with them.

The more I got to know about the Mountaineerz – the company involved in organising this getaway, the more assured I felt that this is exactly what I needed. A couple from the metropolitans who packed their bags and started calling the mountains their home. They promise only what they can provide- an experience that encompasses the quiet and the wild, the divine, the exotic and the spiritual.
Imagine sitting in a clearing, amidst mountains. The sky wearing the darkest of blues and little lights scattered up above. A large ball of light helping you see your surroundings. No boundaries, no walls. Just the background music of water flowing and soothing you just the way a lullaby from your mother does. A blaring flame as if marking the epicentre of your group- keeping us together and keeping us warm. Then new but now familiar voices breaking into songs in different languages and all of them failing to feel strange.
Or… or just imagine being unloaded from your cars and after a hot-cuppa-in-the-cold-hills sort of tea, being asked to hop onto an open top light utility vehicle to make an up-hill journey into a quiet, almost self-sufficient and progressive village. A village I’v found difficulty in locating through google maps. Living in the home of the then Sarpanch, whose father-in-law had also served the community in the past. Jumping into cold water pools formed by the rivers in the mountain ranges and drying ourselves under the sun while just lying in abandoned meadows. Taking a walk around this simple and hardworking village with the Sarpanch’s husband, who seemed more than happy and proud being the home maker. Advocating women’s education and equal rights for them, he had me in absolute awe.
Waking up pre-dawn and wandering the village to find the right spot to immerse ourselves in the experience of watching the sun hop out from between the mountains, just like the drawings we all made as kids. Freshening up each morning using ice cold water. Re-filling our water supplies from the river and fetching wild ferns and mushrooms for our next meal, and learning to find the right kind of wood for our bonfire ritual. Learning about the traditions of the land while savouring the home cooked ‘siddu‘ and trout.

It was this trip and a friends I made and the time that I spent with myself that I’ll always be grateful for, when thinking about my writing and the beginning of blogging. One morning while I sat by myself on a plank at a certain height, just taking in the beauty around me that I felt the urge to write my thoughts down. In that quietness my mind was dropping deafening beats and a few scribbled words proved to be the only medium of noise cancellation. A few brief sentences down, I knew this was about to be a few pages. And a constant nagging by the newly acquainted co-traveller, our organiser and my now valued friend, had me convinced to let him in on the pages. The next thing I know he fed me the idea of making writing a regular process and soon creating the page.
It is funny to think that I had been so unsure and intimidated by this confidence that I told him that I’m going to give this project just six months of time and then quit. And today, it helps me get in touch with myself and sometimes even acknowledge my own thoughts.


By no means is this a promotional post, just me reminiscing in the memories of one of the best getaway I’ve ever had. It wouldn’t have been possible without the team that made it happen, hence the acknowledgement of Mountaineerz and Wandermile. Thank you for giving me a memory of a lifetime.
Let me introduce you to a popular Himachali folk song that I heard during the trip: Himachali Song that has stuck with me. Hope you enjoy it too!

Earth Day

“The Earth Is What We All Have In Common”
-Wendell Berry

Earth Day 2019

Am I about to patronise the day and ask you to be more like a certain X, Y or Z?
NO.

I’m not 24 hours late on expressing my feelings towards the day, but I believe that just about any day on the calendar is good enough to start talking and working towards the earth.


It was pretty recent, while talking to a friend over coffee that we discussed the infamous topic of ‘Believers v/s Atheists’. Let’s just say that I’m more than glad that there was a lot to take back from that conversation and I’m glad that there were no casualties at the end of it unlike most other times. We threw our understanding of the concept at each other and patiently looked at what stuck with the other, lending an open mind and quite lips. The coffee lost its heat while our thoughts ran warm and greased. It is safe to say, I respect her a little more than I did before.

I walked out of the coffee house with a vague sense of satisfaction, even though we did not completely agree with one another most of the time. But there is something that I knew I was about to carry with me for a long time.
I’m not who said it or who thought it, but we agreed that being an Atheist is not the lack of belief or faith in God. But its just the lack of belief in anything. And somewhere down the line we realised that, if our idea of atheism is the parameter, then there aren’t many (any) who are atheists.

If that is the case then who is a believer?
To get to the point, we thought that anyone who believes in the existence of something bigger, stronger and more valuable than themselves in this world becomes a believer.
To ride over examples, someone who values honesty over everything and believes that it is the universal necessity, then s/he is a believer.

Feeling fully comfortable in sharing my thoughts without the fear of judgement or social awkwardness, I admitted that I do not understand organised religions and the competitions they uphold. I still do believe that there is an all knowing and consuming force in the nature which will continue to exist even when we are long gone. And this force is made up of five elements according to my belief system- Earth, Sky, Air, Fire and Water.
While I’m no expert in religion, I respect them all for I have realised that all religions have one thing in common. All the traditions that they promote are, at a grass root level, actually in line with respecting nature. So how could I not?


Remember, we are only above it while we are alive, but these bodies that we love so much are about to spend a larger amount of time under it. Just like our homes above, lets make sure that we create and leave for ourselves a resting space worth our while.

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.

John Muir

Viet Weak

Ever since I remember traveling, I know I’ve enjoyed it.
Ever since I remember enjoying travel, I have romanticized about it.
Ever since I’ve romanticized about travel, I’ve tried making it a consistent in my life.
And ever since I’ve been able to travel often, I’ve started to learn a little more about myself.

Quickly gaining popularity, for all the right reasons, is a country with perseverance like no other. Vietnam is home to a large number of motorbikes, so much so that crossing a street felt like an adventure sport to me. One of the last to fight a war for independence among 195 countries of the world, it is a land of farmers, workers, intellectuals, youth and soldiers.
I had the fortune of visiting this admirable country for a week and here is what I found out!

Here’s how the itinerary looked:
2 days in Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh (the commercial capital)
1.5 days in DaNang (a beauty by the coast)
1.5 days in Hoi An (lantern town)
2 days on Phu Quoc Islands (blue waters like I’ve never seen before)
(I know I skipped some of the must-go-to provinces and places, but there’s only so much I could see in such little time!)

Did you know, Vietnam is the only country that fought a super power for two whole decades without once folding?
Yep! Apart from the preliminary research that one can do from sitting at home, it is amazing how the country proudly showcases its history, struggles and achievements across museums and preserved strategic locations. The country and its people are nothing short of warm and hospitable. Serving bowls of the world’s healthiest food, they are brewery lovers through and through. As a communist country, there is no official religion but there is always a Church, a Pagoda or a Shrine, in whose beauty you can wallow.
With a blend of Communist and Non-Communist beliefs, the country proudly houses underground bunks and pathways (Cu Chi Tunnels) that were developed to convert their limitations into strategic strength during war. With Mekong river in the South and Red river to the North, Vietnam has very fertile lands and houses a large number of flora and fauna.

~that’s where I stop with the over whelming fact file~

Lets Talk About The Experience!!

Every time someone has asked me “How was your trip?”, “How did you find the country?”, “Tell me all about your week long getaway to Vietnam!”, etc… I’ve been consistent with some of these:
“I truly under estimated the country for its beauty and everything else that it has to offer.”, “I’m so glad that I got a sneak peak into it before it became an overly crowded tourist destination.”, “I’m in absolute awe with how someone (referring to the entire population) with such great strength and prowess can continue to remain so grounded and simple.”
Well, its true! The flowers look a little extra bright, the fruits and vegetable are a little extra juicy, the people are a little extra nice and the country is a little extra amazing.

The day I was to leave from DaNang and get to Hoi An, I wanted to visit the Marble Mountain, en route. The only issue was that I couldn’t drag my luggage along with me for four hours up a hill, into the caves and under the sun. So I decided to ditch it all in the truck of my taxi apart from a backpack that held my passport, some cash and a bottle of water, and paid him off for the ride thus far. I was a little skeptical and knew I was being extra crazy!
Now fast forward to: 4 hours, a drenched t-shirt, a few scars, dusty knees and elbows, parched throat, drained mobile battery and a gallery full of pictures later… My phone is hanging by the thread for life and it begins to ring!
Its my taxi driver calling to ask me if he should come to pick me up from the coffee house that we had decided upon. He needed 30 minutes to get there and that’s as much I’d need to get down once I started to wrap up. With our wrist watches pre-matched, we met at the point agreed upon and there he was smiling at my sun baked cheeks and my speed of drinking fresh coconut water!
(Some precautions/ safety tips, if you may)

Living with a local in Ho Chi Minh city, I was briefed about the country in general as I was about to step out for my first ever solo travel in the forth coming days. And this is how it went:

  • Always stay hydrated
  • Do not second guess the street food, if the spot is crowded you should try it
  • Avoid carrying your belongings in your land as snatching is a possibility (thank God for pockets :P)
  • Do not hesitate to ask for help, just smile and ask patiently
  • Its a trusting Country but you should do so responsibly and wisely
  • Women dominate the country in almost all fields and are well respected
  • People here are always willing to have a good chat and get to know about you, that’s just who they are
  • There is free Wifi almost everywhere!
  • Make sure you bargain; everything without a printed MRP is subject to price reduction based on your bargaining skills

This here is the summary to what I think about Vietnam, in an overview format.
I’m looking forward to sharing some more specific experiences, soon!
I hope you now know why I’m feeling Weak For Viet!!

Responsible Travel

For a few days or a good portion of your lifetime, if you’re spending time somewhere, then at that point in your life that place is Home!
And taking responsibility for your home is only fair.

Before we dive into this one, I thought I should ask you a few quick questions-
1. Do you like to travel?
2. Have you ever moved around (for work or leisure, for short or long term)?
3. Do you think the world is a beautiful place, full of surprises?
4. Do you take responsibility for your surroundings?

Now that you know your answers, lets talk about the most amazing teacher that the universe has offered us and how we can begin or continue to show it our utmost respect!
The chance to experience life from different perspectives teaches us things that most libraries fail to. To witness cultures different from ones own, makes us more accepting than any diploma. A rendezvous with a heterogenous crowd is sometimes all the spiritual awakening needed.

As promised to myself earlier, I asked for insights and help from people around me and I’ve had the most absorbing learning experience. To hear someone passionately talk about things close to their heart rubs off a certain sense of high even on its audience and that’s exactly how I felt. Be it scaling mountains, finding off-beat locations, swimming around the corals or creating experiences… it has been intoxicating.
While my three points of contact had me giddy with the information and the imageries they painted, I’ve tried to summarise and make a list of things that they couldn’t stress enough and are simple to practice.

I got in touch with each one of them individually and they have re-affirmed my approach towards travel and tourism. To me, travel is when I visit a place and let the place submerge me into itself, from the folks to the lores, its economy and cuisines, all of it. Travel lacks the fear of missing out, which for me is usually associated with tourism; the need to finish my checklist of places-to-visit, not necessarily taking the chance to truly enjoy it. (1)

Before I start with their insights, let me list the 7 outdoor ethics that the world should live by.
1. Plan ahead and prepare
2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
3. Dispose of waste property
4. Leave what you find
5. Minimize campfire impacts
6. Respect wildlife
7. Be considerate of other visitors
These pointers form the framework of responsibility and remain universal. These are further explained in detail by Leave No Trace; an organisation that is working towards sustaining the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy the nature responsibly.

Moving on, here are the super obvious seeming things that most of us could easily over look while planning the next getaway, but should not. Things that were suggested by these super amazing travellers, and I know I’m going to adopt as a practice in my travels and life in general.
1. Research. Research. Research. Know the rules and laws of the land that you’re visiting. Acquaint yourself with their culture and practices so as to not offend anyone. Know the climatic swings and the culture sensitive points.
2. Travel Insurance. Its always better to be safe and protected.
3. Maps! Network and connectivity over mobile data could restrict you from exploring isolated spaces, but these will keep you from being lost.
4. Eat, Stay and Shop Local. The best way to support a community and enjoy it to the fullest is by being a part of it.
5. Do Not Feed Wild Animals
6. Carry your waste with you. If you cannot find a waste bin/basket on-site, then carry it with you until you reach one; plastic, cigarette buds, food leftovers, packaging wastes, etc.
7. Bring Reusable Bags. They are always handy and do not occupy space in your luggage.
8. Skip Straws and Single Use Plastic Water bottles. Use a water purifying system as and when possible.
9. DO NOT LITTER. Even if the locals do, and should goes without reason.
10. Lights Out. Everytime you leave a premise make sure to switch the lights off and other appliances, and try to use electricity mindfully.
11. Use Public Transport or Carpool. You never know which interesting story you might hear or become a part of!
12. Conserve Water.

TRAVEL FUN FACTS…. because, what better way to prove the above point!
Driving without your headlights on is illegal in Denmark, even during the day time.
It is illegal to spit in Barcelona.
Eating during Ramadan when in UAE is illegal.
You cannot frown in Milan.

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Much love and power to Mountaineerz, Wandermile and The Lume Weaver for being my points of contact, source of information and sharing their insights.

The picture is by Prakritee Sandilya, thank you love!!