When you travel, you meet different people from around the world and learn so many little things from them. In a way my trip began even before reaching Guwahati. On the flight I met a civil engineer born in Tawang – Pankaj Das. A man of wisdom with reverence, he spoke about his life in Tawang, about books, politics and more while I told him about my life, years of travelling & blogging. He was so passionate to explain things that in the middle of our conversation he removed a pen and paper from his bag to describe the cash flow quadrant. He recommended me a few books to read and, in the end, showed me pictures of his family-his wife and his thirteen-year-old daughter. He wished that his daughter gets to meet me someday. This was the start of my Tawang trip.
Before the trip, I was worried about one thing the most; there were 3 childhood friends coming from Kolkata and a couple coming from Delhi. I was concerned if the three friends and the couple would even gel with the group. Surprisingly they did, and they were the ones who made the trip what it was. These people stuck with the group throughout. Girls were in majority on the trip and many traveling solo for the first time. Some of them had never seen snow. I wanted it to be special for them. Traveling is more than just seeing places, it’s about creating these little moments that stay with us forever.
At the Guwahati airport, while I waited for other trippers to arrive, I kept thinking on how to keep the group engaged. I have seen my captain, Neeraj Narayanan making people feel comfortable even after getting them out of their comfort zone and that’s exactly what I wanted to do. I consciously kept making efforts to ensure that everyone was opening up and talking to each other. It wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be. Mostly because I had a crazy enthusiastic bunch. From conversations with homemade theplas by Lata to introduction round at the lunch table to stopping randomly for coconuts to antakshari with disco lights in the tempo traveler, the first day didn’t feel like first day at all.
From there on we bonded like a family. Whether it was me waking everyone up in the morning, or Khushboo and Lata serving breakfast with motherly care, or watching Ayushi hold the milk glass with both her hands like a little child or Piyush Dalmiya being so particular about smallest of things, it felt like home.
From the start I put on a brave face, yet from time to time I felt nervous. I would seldom recall what my captain had told me – “Tum Aaraam se Kar loge”. I would find strength in his confidence and faith in me. Another sense of reassurance came from a late-night discussion where each tripper was mentioning something inspirational about the others. When I heard people tell me – “The moment I saw your running post of 3:30 am, I knew I was in the right hands” or “Everything Neeraj told me about you, you’ve lived up to it and beyond”, it made me humble and speechless.
You know, there is this quote that goes “Everyone should be rich and famous, because you should know that is not what it takes to be happy”. Traveling, over the years, has taught me to appreciate so many big or small things in life. One such thing is how warm and loving people are. From Noor in Dirang saying yes to anything and everything we asked; to Tsomu bidding us goodbye by offering a white scarf, the warmth and love was overwhelming. Yet I also experienced intermittent cold behavior from our driver and 1-2 trippers which further enriched my learning.
The sheer amount of emotions one feels as a trip leader is unbelievable. Be it Lata crying her heart out on 2nd day of the trip itself or Swayam leaving us in the middle or Suyash being there for me for the smallest of things, it all made me emotional in many ways. While I’ll remember so many moments, one of the most exhilarating experiences was the Jung falls. I cannot exaggerate enough on the amount of peace and happiness we felt just by closing our eyes and feeling the refreshing cool splashes of water on our face.
For a major part of my life, I had dreamt of leading trips for my captain. People come with This Guy’s On his own trip for not just visiting places but for an experience. I’d wished the Tawang trip to be similar and that’s exactly how it turned out to be. 9 days of staying up late and playing games, listening to Rafi and Kishore Kumar during long rides, getting excited for Parle G with chai at local chai stalls, stopping in the middle of nowhere and dancing to Aankh Maare, deep conversations, hugs that conveyed more than words, sharing stories, laughter, tears and smiles. It was 9 days full of love and warmth.
On the final day as we prepared to say goodbyes, seeing Lata and Khushboo teary eyed reminded me of my captain. The way he gets people out of their comfort zone yet makes them feel comfortable, the way he makes them dance out in open, the way he would strike late-night conversations through games and the way people would bid emotional goodbyes on his trips. Seeing similar things happen on mine brought me a sense of achievement and happiness which is hard to communicate.
From the time I got to know about my first tripper, Krutika Rathod, till today where I still read messages of people missing each other in the group, I will cherish all of it for a lifetime.
These 9 days in Arunachal will always be close to my heart.
Until next time.