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Captain Nero Reflects on 2021

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It’ll be November in four days. And I thought I’d take a few moments and reflect.

Two days back, I took a toy train ride with three friends. An hour later, I was gaping at wolves and red pandas in arguably India’s best zoo – Darjeeling. A few days before that I was stunned and overwhelmed by the fall colours at Yumthang in North Sikkim. Nature had run riot in Sikkim, waterfalls were streaming down every mountain, the Teesta was white and frothing, the flowers were dancing.

This year I have seen three other sights I would never forget. A waterfall in the Jaintia Hills, that seemed ours and ours alone. Just to reach to it, it took us over an hour, a short boat ride, some hopping through fields and rocks. Second, baby sharks and manta rays from the beach in Maldives. And third, the trek from Aru to Lidderwat in Kashmir. The greenest of the Himalayas, and the snowy white Lidder river racing next to us. Us standing on wooden logs and makeshift bridges and staring at the water below us.

During the peak of the second wave, I was already in the north east and took refuge in a small town in Arunachal. The warmest family took care of us in their homestay. Three of my friends and I stayed there for a month, going on hikes daily, eating home food and listening to their tales. It was such a happy month.

Locals recognize me on Agonda beach streets, in Wayanad, at Bagdogra and Guwahati airports. Walking absent mindedly, I am startled out of my reverie with a voice screaming ‘Captain, Captain aaya”. Cheeky saloon boys shout out my name when I cross their shack, an omlette selling aunty smiles at me everytime I Scooty past her.

On trips, old trippers treat me like family. Especially boys. Any boy tripper who comes back for a trip, signs up for every task. Mostly we just communicate with eyes. Some day when I hang up my boots and people ask me my legacy, I would say it’s this unconditional love and respect that thirty odd people gave me on my trips that I will always treasure the most. My boys and girls will be in my life forever.

304 days till end of October and I must have spent 270-280 of them with friends, different friends, new friends, laughing, dancing, watching shooting stars, hiking, lazing in a house, eating Wazwan, kadai chicken, fried momos; planning birthdays on trips, sharing fish pond messages on the last day of each trip, laughing my guts out while playing dark room.

On July 31, I didn’t have network. But my friends wrote umpteen messages celebrating one year of my book being released.

But what is success. Not just money no? Laughing like a child, going on a walk at 4 am, singing 90s ka songs, dancing in a bus, tears at separation, watching some one see their first snowfall, watching someone jump with joy seeing their first shooting star. There is this little restaurant in Darjeeling. Kungas. They have maybe six tables. Always packed. People always queuing outside. They could have expanded, doubled their tables. They don’t. Some people wait outside, others walk off. But Kungas is happy catering to only those many people. Okay with not earning that extra money they could have if they had expanded. I like that. I hope we stay like that always.

That’s how my year has gone this Covid year. How do I not feel like God’s favourite son.

Read about Captain Nero’s time in Kashmir here!

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Neeraj Narayanan

Neeraj Narayanan, a.k.a Captain Nero, is the founder of OHOT. In the summer of 2013, he quit his corporate job and went backpacking around the world. In a year full of (mis)adventures, he ended up being chased by a bear in a Croatian forest, being held at gunpoint by a mafia gang lord in Turkey, running with the bulls in Spain, and dancing in the clubs of Spain and Italy. A year later, he started leading group trips for people.

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