IMG_0885 It was that thoughtful moment that triggered a quest for adventure in me, the moment I scrolled down the article ‘10 things to do instead of getting married in your 20s’. To ‘Take a solo trip’ was inevitably the number one in the list and now I know why. It was a call to take risks and make memories. After all, memories are all that are left for us to cherish in life. I thought about it for a while and decided to plan something crazy with my elder sister Sangeetha and her longtime friend Sameera. Why not turn the solo trip into a wild ladies-only tour, I pondered. It was absolutely worth a try. The three of us sat down together and jotted down all the possible places worthy of exploration. Considering our deep dedication to work, a short five day tour was what we aimed. The soothing pictures of the snow-capped Indian Himalayas enthralled each of us equally. Soon we learned that the Indian Himalayan Region is a range that spanned ten states of India namely, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarkhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura as well as the hill regions of the two states- Assam and West Bengal. Without much contemplation we could easily choose J & K as our destination.

We had toured a lot before, but what made this one special was that there was no one to plan for us— neither parents nor a guide (all thanks to our idea of not hinging on to a tour package where everything is pre-planned). We did everything to make it a complete adventure. Sameera handled accommodation while we browsed through must-visit spots. We found time in between hectic work to plan the tour. Suddenly, one day the unfortunate news of the J&K floods emerged as a deterrent with the power to cease all our dreams. As an immediate effect our parents turned skeptical overnight about our trip. J&K quickly vanished from our minds because we respected our families and terrorizing them was not our intention. But hope is always believed to be a good thing and we hung to it with full determination and continued browsing for places.

Nainital- the city of Lakes arrested our attention abruptly. No sooner had we confirmed Nainital than our whatsapp group titled ‘We Three’ (earlier ‘Mission Kashmir’) flooded with images and adventures of the place. Unlike earlier, we didn’t have much time to plan things other than our flight timings to and fro. We planned to set off to Cochin from Calicut at 4 P.M. on the 16th of September by Sameera’s car, stay over there that night and depart to Delhi on 17th morning from Nedumbassery International Airport. We had absolutely no idea what after that.  Our parents believed we were on a tour package which is believed to be the safest way to tour. White lies are not a bad idea completely. We didn’t want our adventure to be like the one at the Disney land with seat belts— 100% risk free.

“This is the final boarding call for passengers Sameera, Sangeetha and Sruthi booked on Flight 386 to Delhi. Please proceed to Gate 8 immediately”. With half-eaten sandwiches we gaped at each other in utter alarm for a moment at the airport food zone. “The final checks are being completed and the captain will order for the door of the aircraft to close in approximately five minutes time. I repeat. This is the final call for Sameera, Sruthi and Sangeetha. Thank you”. At once the crowd around us recognized the three girls— that was the style in which we stormed to the gates. We flew very soon.

The Delhi Metros

We had the fortune to travel by the Delhi metros quite a number of times during the course of our journey, sometimes with an entire compartment for ourselves and some other times with no room to breathe. It was our choice to push ourselves a little further beyond our comfort zones. People in the metros were one-of-a-kind, especially women. A man staring at women was ordinary, but a woman staring at men and other women, at least for us, was extra-ordinary. We got used to those killing stares quickly and started staring back even more quickly. Our observation is as follows: There are two kinds of women in Delhi. One, who looks too much into the mirror and the other who has hardly seen a mirror. We heartily placed ourselves in between the two extremes where we comfortably rejoiced. Though we were far away from our homeland, the pride of being a Malayali was close to our hearts, Thanks to the metros for reminding us of our roots.

Nainital

Nainital is Uttarakhand’s Waynad— an exquisite hill station in the Kumaon foothills of the outer Himalyas, privileged with as many as 60 lakes. Setting out early, we made the first day at Nainital as eventful as possible, covering the ropeway, botanical garden, waterfalls, lake-view from mountain peaks and the most enchanting Himalayan Darshan. Though the Himalayan view spread a smile on our faces, deep-seated in our souls was an unfulfilled dream to explore the Himalayas— to touch it. However, we returned happily hoping that we will make it to the Himalayas some day. The second half of the day treated us with the view of four magnificent lakes— Nainital, Bhimtal (a small island surrounded by crystal blue water), Sattal (group of seven lakes nested together) and Naikuchiatal (nine-cornered lake). Kayaking at the Naikuchiatal, opposite the setting sun was a rejuvenating experience. While Bhimtal heightened our senses with its tranquility, Nainital amused us with its natural architecture that resembled an eye (Naina, hence the name), literally putting us in a trance. While going to bed under thick blankets, our vision of the next day’s program in Nainital was as misty as the atmosphere there.

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Nainital

Nainital- view from the ropeway

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A team

The Magical Bhimtal

The Magical Bhimtal

3 Ducks!

3 Ducks it seems!

Trekking— we finalized in the morning. A lot of male/female voices discouraged our decision to climb the China peak which is more than 12 kms to and fro. But we managed to stay deaf and dumb to the opinions and headed for what was later going to be the most priceless hours of our lives. It was one hell of an experience. Initially, men with horses flanked our paths hoping that we would hitch a ride. The disappointment on their faces as we passed them haughtily thrilled us furthermore, enhancing the gusto.

There was not a single soul in the dense forest other than the three of us. And that part made it more adventurous. We strode along the ebbs and flows of the wild, paused to grab snacks from the rucksack, awed at the intermittent panoramic view of the Himalayas and posed for a couple of self-timer clicks which would later help us explain to others how beautiful our journey was.

Himalayan Darshan

Himalayan Darshan

As we stood gazing at the scenery across the mountains, a boy passed by, carrying a heavy bicycle on his shoulders. His short footsteps reflected a sense of patience and calmness, unlike ours. After clicking our photographs setting the Himalayas in the background, we hurried uphill hoping to meet the boy. But there was no trace of him anywhere. Considering his sluggish footsteps we expected to see him. On rushing a little more we spotted his bicycle leaned onto a rock. He was also seen nearby. Pankaj introduced himself as working for some tourism organization where trekking was his job. His duty was to hunt for tourist spots and understand their possibilities on a larger scale. We envied him for a moment and then clicked a picture with him. As the four of us began climbing further, he stopped and said he will meet us on the top, and continued walking with us. ‘Senseless guy’, i whispered because we were in the same line, trekking together. But in no time he had reached far ahead of us and we could no more see him. We couldn’t catch his speed. Now we clearly knew who was ‘senseless’. On the way up, we tried to take short cuts by trying to climb steeper slopes. It was too risky that had we lost a step we would have fallen down into the depths of the mountains.

Past an hour when we reached the mountain top, Pankaj was preparing to return. There was a hut by the Nainital forest department at the mountain peak where we sipped a cup of tea, gazing at the vast Himalayan range. After resting for a while, we devoured the paneer paratha we had packed for lunch. The journey down the hill was not as easy as we thought it would be. Descent was as hard (or even harder) than ascent- Again a huge lesson for life, memorized forever in our hearts.

That's Pankaj!

That’s Pankaj!

Our path was dazed by the passing fog. In the course of time, the forest turned mysterious and slightly threatening. We took longer steps to escape the haunting beauty of the woods. At some point in time, we silently hoped to see a thread of light, and of course, another human being, for, there was no one in sight in the darkening forest. We sunk downslope in the terrifying atmosphere,   for more than an hour. Time lapsed. My sister sprinted through the woods on the sight of a local car parked on the road. It symbolized our craving to see people and mingle with our fellow beings. No wonder they say human beings are social beings and we apparently need each other to live with a smile. Our path had entwined with another where we saw children departing home from schools. Love and light! A sense of belonging swept us off our feet. However, we were lost. We sensed that we had walked down an extra 5 kilometers. Since it was not in our imagination to climb those 5 kilometers, we thumbed a ride up the hill. The driver was excessively pleased to ride three gorgeous women for free. We gave him my father’s contact number (instead of mine) on his humble request and waved the harmless gentleman a goodbye.

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IMG_1175 “It is the power of my never ending prayers that saved you from all dangers”- said Amma over the phone. I easily sensed how much money she must have invested in nearby temples for our sake.

Having visited wealthy zoos inside and outside India, Nainital Zoo didn’t hold much of an interest in us. However, we went there considering the strong recommendation by the owner of Ankur Plaza (The very person who de-motivated girls trekking) where we stayed. “We are no more kids!”- We screamed in our heads. After the soul-stirring trekking experience, we looked down at the zoo with a tinge of pride.

Seen in the promenade

Seen on the promenade

After shopping in the streets of Nainital for a while, we glanced at the Nainital lake, ringed by hills, for one last time before our departure. Our tour was almost coming to an end. All that was left now was the journey back to Kerala. But just as most films have a tail-end, our journey too had one— Ms. Uma Garud, evidently over 60 years, with whom we were destined to sleep over that night in Delhi. Old is gold. So is an old soul— perhaps higher than gold. She welcomed us home with a warm heart, told us stories about the Delhi she has now known for years, and above all, streamed our attention to a bunch of resplendent peacock feathers. She picked one from the bunch and asked us to look at the design, harmony, shading, colour-sense and proportion of each streak in the feather and how various streaks joined to form intricate patterns of universal beauty— how one becomes a part of the whole. We had seen a lot of peacock feathers before, but never as closely as Ms. Uma’s. It was magical, stunning. The few hours with her was enough for a life time. We posed for a picture together and said good-bye.

Lovely Uma Devi

Lovely Uma Garud

Nature's intricate creation

Nature’s intricate creation

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The journey back home was a peaceful one. We spoke less. May be the silence suggested introspection. May be we were planning our next journey- A journey which is like jumping off a cliff without a  safety net.

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Just Jump Folks!

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