The start of this year, I made an announcement to my family that I was leaving for India.
“A backpacking trip”, I declared.
This was a part of my “Design Education”, to travel and explore the world beyond the Himalayan Mountains.
In 2016, I had made enough money plan this trip. I did my research, spoke with friends and packed all the necessary items.All this thought and planning was needed for my first “backpack” trip across India.
As a little girl, I would dream of one day travelling the world and exploring new places. In the last 4 years of my “Design Education Journey” – consciously choosing not to enter university and instead of learning experientially in the ‘real’ world…
In this school of life, my course is travel, my teachers are the people I meet and my classroom is the places I visit.
I started my travelled from the North East, took a train to Guwahati. From Guwahati, we started travelling to the Meghalaya.
In Meghalaya, I was fascinated by the “Living Tree Root” bridges of Nongriat.
It was incredible how the old tree roots formed the bridges, handmade from the aerial roots of Rubber Trees.
After bidding farewell to the beautiful Bridges, I said “Hello” to the hot beaches of Goa.
It was my first time on a beach; I could hear the ocean waves, smell the salty sand and see the sun over the horizon.
In the morning I would lie down for sunbathing and in the evening I collected sea shells.
Unwillingly I got on the train to Kerala, promising Goa that I’ll come back again someday.
In Kerala, I experienced heat like no other, hot and humid lethal combinations made me long for Thimphu’s mountain air!
We would drink plenty of Coconut water. So refreshing!
While on the topic of “missing home”, the thing I missed the most were chilies! A Bhutanese wherever we go, we will always be Bhutanese at heart! And being Bhutanese, we love our dried red chillies! Pickles! I missed Eazay so much!!!
It’s quite common for a backpacker to sleep in hostels instead of hotels. It’s cheaper and well maintained. Some hostels even provide local breakfast in the morning.
In Kerala, I stayed at Santa Maria Hostel in Fort Kochi, attended the art festivals and hiked up the tea gardens in Munnar.
While travelling I met so many inspiring people, one of them is Ribi. My driver.
Even though we spoke different languages, grew up in completely opposite culture and his faith: Christianity. We connected so well.
We talked about our families, our interests and Ribi taught me to speak basic Malayalam.
At the end of our journey, I wanted to give him a gift but I didn’t have anything. So, I gave him 1 rupee coin for good luck
He asked me with the limited English he knew, “When we meet again?”
I said, “When mother Mary wants!”
Also had the opportunity to attend an authentic South Indian wedding.The Big fat South Indian wedding.
It had been 2 months travelling and my body was beginning to get tired…So, I took some off in Chennai and attended a 10-day Vipassana meditation course.
Coming from a predominantly Buddhist country where we worship the Buddha, it was interesting to see how other countries “followed” the Buddha.
Taking some time off to just be and reflect on my journey was blissful.
Then I was back on the road!
I spend a major amount of time in Pune, Maharashtra.
Pune speaks Marathi and even though it’s similar to Hindi, the accent is uniquely strong.
In Pune, I met Mrs.Shalini.
Even though she was four times my age, her spirit is so vibrantly young!
Her son is a Couch Surf member and they hosted me for the past two nights.
Spending time with her… every moment was so precious!! She made sure that I ate well and fed me so much home food.
She’s been married to her husband for last 60 years! Her family members have fought in the Iraq war, Burma war and courageously protested for Free India movement from the British.
Hearing her stories, when she shared she smiles and her eyes look into the distance as though she can see the stories happening right before her eyes.
The thing that got me was when she shared about “Rama Raksha” which loosely means “Lord Rama protects”. So, whenever her family members, anyone, went to war..she would chant the “Rama Raksha”.
She said, because of her strong faith in god and in her Rama Raksha, they came home unharmed.
I have come to realise that moments like these are the main reason to “travel”.
Listening to stories.
Meeting new people.
Seeing what makes them happy and what they believe in.
I also got an opportunity to host a radio show with the local RJ in Pune and celebrate the Marathi New Year in Pune with new friends.
I was surrounded by strangers but good people with compassionate hearts.
Listening to the advice of fellow travellers, I decided to come down south to Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu.
For two months I lived in Auriville.
My accommodations were set up in a Bamboo hut.
It was the authentic South Indian rural experience.
The first night there, all the travellers staying at the guest house. We gathered in the kitchen and cooked up a big meal.
To see a German, Italian, Chinese, English, Indian, Brazilian and Bhutanese come together to break bread.it felt like an international event!
Somehow it didn’t matter which country each was from, we all shared delicious meal and laughter echoed throughout the remote dark forest.
I came to India with no expectations but just to explore. In a way to explore myself, I have been thinking a lot about my next steps in life. For now, my heart says I am exactly where I need to be.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”
- Saint Augustine.
About the Author:
This post is contributed by Sonam Yangden, a young Bhutanese girl who solo travelled for 7 months to experientially educate herself.