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Ambika Bhardwaj: The Girl Who Belonged to The Mountains

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Manali, Himachal Pradesh

Ambika Bhardwaj is a travel blogger, a photographer and pahaad lover. I started following her stories sometime back when she was travelling all around India. It was very interesting because she was hitchhiking, staying with locals, staying in camps or resorts for free in exchange for covering their stories, and getting into all sorts of adventures or misadventures. What shone through for me in her story, was her trust in the world that it would take care of her and she would come to no harm. The experience must have changed her because soon she quit her job, her city life and moved for good to the mountains.

Through our questions to her, and her replies, we try to bring to you her story. Enjoy! 🙂

1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

The moment I read it, my head ran a random search in the notions I perceive about myself– things like– Ohh I live in the mountains, run a small homestay here, live with 9 dogs, am crazily in love with travel yada yada yada. Bullshit!

To be honest, most of time it’s one me telling the other me, let’s please not do this and the other me always does it and then we are in on an adventure– an adventure that has had its own nightmares and fairytales but all in all it has landed me up in Manali. It has landed me safely back home. Also, I am a chai addict.

2. When did you realize you wanted to travel for a living?

When my mom chucked me out and I didn’t want to stay with friends. As grave as it sounds, every fairytale begins with a nightmare. So if your life has turned into a nightmare, simply know that the next turn is your big adventure and slowly you could start building your fairytale.

3. If you had to pick one place as the most beautiful that you have seen, which one would it be?

I fell in love with music that flows out of every lane of Old Manali when I visited first, sometime back in 2015. Everything else was just a hit and try, ohh–how–do–I–move–to–Manali– sort of a story.

4. You travelled for almost a year around India. Hitchhiking, staying with locals, gaining travel experiences. Tell us about that experience. 

Magic! Pure magic! This is when I threw myself to the world and the world carried me home. All I had was a backpack full of hope and a camera.

This is the trip when I realised that there is no monster outside, people are full of love and stories, all places are safe to travel, it’s okay to walk with yourself and that such journeys are all we need to reconnect with ourselves.

5. Why did you decide to move to the mountains?

Love has no reason. Moving to the mountains, too had none.

6. How did you go about finding your house in the mountains?

When there are no property dealers, faith becomes your best bet. So you keep walking and asking folks around if they know of a place that feels like home. Patience and long walks, accompanied by helpful bhaijis always help.

7. Living in the mountains is something a lot of us fantasize about. But it has its share of problems and reality checks. What are some of the problems you have faced while living in the mountains. What advice would you give to people who would like to quit their jobs and cities and come live in the mountains?

Don’t! I mean, don’t just move. Know that you want it with all your heart. Mountain life can be real slow and boring. There are days when nothing really happens, just snow or rains mostly. You’ll have a lot of time to invest in yourself, introspect, heal and change. This is the time of your life but you’ll need to be patient with yourself and the harsh life.

Alert: there is no Swiggy or Zomato.

8. Three travellers/adventurers that inspire you.

Everyone has their own journey.

We are all travellers inspiring each other. All on epic journeys, there’s so much to learn from everyone.

9. Tell us about a memorable moment from your travels

I am writing a book about that, buy that!

But here’s one I can’t ever get over.

I’d like to call it handshake story.

This is from the Agumbe, Karnataka journal, where I met a poet called Raghuvendra

It was one of those mornings, when you’ve woken up before the sun and you know that you’ll meet the first ray of sunlight at a beautiful place. Regardless of myself, the fresh breeze and the early morning Agumbe sprinting by the car, was beautiful and more than worth to wake up for. We abruptly stop at a mud house with two chicken on a leisurely morning walk.

“This is it,” announces my host, Shashank.

THIS: looked like home. The four walls of this mud house looked like an honest man’s adobe. Creepers covered the wooden gate of the main entrance, the adobe was fenced with thin wooden garden fence. Mud pots and a bucket of water was placed at the side of the garden.

I pause to wonder, is this the same country? Do people who put one step out of a porsche to spit on the road and people who live in houses like these, live in the same country? Always just a few miles away.

I turn around smiling, to ask Shashank if we go by the river first. It was a tad too early to become guests.

So here we are Shashank and I sitting next by the river, with our feet dipped in water.

We turned around to find Raghuvendra, a different abled poet, walking towards us.

We meet. As I am shaking hands with Raghuvendra, Shashank is filling him up with my Kanyakumari to Kashmir journey. Raghuvendra replied in Kannada. His words reach me as translated by Shashank–

“As I am not able to travel as much other people when I shake hands with someone who travels a lot, I feel that I have shook hands with everyone who Ambika or any other traveller has met or shook hands with.”

This coming from someone who cannot walk much is a perspective that stays with you, bookmarked in the journey, forever.

10. Tell us somethings you love besides travel and writing! 

Baking! The idea of what I sprinkle in a pan is going to get into your blood stream and bring life to every cell is so enchanting.

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