I realize that its been almost 6 years since I quit my job to live a world of travel.
It all started as an innocent one month Europe solo backpacking trip. Six years back, this day, I would never have imagined that the next 2000 odd days would involve travelling to close to forty three countries. Or unwittingly leaving phone chargers, toothbrushes torn shoes in half of them. Breezing through the memories – living in a Gypsy cave in Granada, climbing an active volcano in Indonesia, being chased by a bear in Croatia, ferrying in the Aegean, Baltic, Adriatic and a hundred other Seas and feeling their salty sprays on my face; running with the bulls in Spain, getting knifed, making everyone in the clubs of Barcelona dance to Bollywood, travelling in the 28 hour “journey to hell” bus between Laos and Vietnam, diving in Krabi and losing my lenses and (half losing) my life jacket in the ocean, besides a hundred other things.
A year after I first quit, I started leading my own trips and today, I have lead 2000 odd people into the Himalayas, North east India, South east Asia and Europe. The page now has over 1 lakh likes.
The memories. I can’t count the number of people I have hugged in these five years. I can’t count the number of times I have been sitting in the centre of a room telling stories to people, whether Indians or Europeans, Australians and Americans. Maybe it shouldn’t but it makes me feel like a hero. I don’t know how many times I have schemed to throw a snowball at an unsuspecting victim, and I can’t count the number of lakes, hotel rooms, hillocks, or buses in which a boy or girl shared their deepest feelings or secrets with me. I live in the moment, but if I look back, it’s like a movie in blur – faces, hundreds of them, passing by in super fast motion, hugs, dogs, treks, waterfalls, more hugs… the faces, as they pass by, they are all smiling. And I smile back.
My belief that nothing terribly bad can happen to me, keeps strengthening. But of course there will be downs. There have been so many ups, that it is but natural that there will be some where I lose. When the airlines lost my bag in Belarus, the number of people who wished for it to come back (even if just as a comment on fb) was so huge, that I kept feeling that when so many people were wishing for one thing, it would come true. And my bag turned up, in typical Bollywood style, just hours before I was supposed to leave the country forever!
And it wasn’t just Indians, there were enough people in Belarus itself writing in to me, saying that they felt terrible about my situation and volunteered to show me around their city. For some unfathomable reason, the world keeps being amazingly kind to me. And again, the maximum kindness I have found are in the places people tell you “I don’t think its safe” – Bosnia, Albania, Kashmir, and more. I don’t really choose countries to go to, I just pick a starting point and then follow the land map route across countries. I want to go everywhere, and I hope I can come back with stories from poor and rich countries, from developed as well as war torn ones, to tell people that by and large, it is safe to go anywhere.
Travelling with western backpackers, I realize the odds are mostly stacked against me. Or against Indians. While passports of Europeans, Americans, Australians allow them to enter most countries without a visa,for Indians, it is almost Rs 6000 – 15000 to get a visa for any one country. And not just the money, but the paperwork too. The fact that everything from tickets onwards have to be provided in advance, kills the idea of spontaneous travel.
But then that’s the way it is. And there is no point cribbing. I, just need to work at it harder than these other backpackers, and go about wherever I want. If you want something, don’t expect it on a platter. Go for it hard, and stay graceful whatever the result.
The geek in me keeps poring over the world map, and charting journeys in my head.
It is hard to travel, just harder not to do so.