//राही बन//

आराम और सुविधाओं से भरी बेरंग ज़िन्दगी जिएगा कब तक?
निकल बाहर और राही बन, रास्ते को बना अपना घर,
भाग उस मंज़िल की तरफ, जिसका पता ना मुझे है, ना तुझे
जा.. जी अपनी जिंदगी, क्यूँ की उम्र बाकी है बहुत कम..
ऐसी बेरंग ज़िन्दगी जिएगा कब तक?

One for the road
An empty stretch of road between Ujjain and Mandav, in Madhya Pradesh, India after almost 25-30 kms of non-existent roads.

I will admit! For me, travel had always something very tempting about it. My father, who is an avid traveller himself, sowed the seeds of love for travel. And when I was a kid, my mother (who is a History major) would tell me bed time stories about Xuanzang, Faxian, Ibn Battuta and Captain James Cook, and I would lie on the bed imagining myself as an explorer/traveller. Though I have not come too far from those bed-time-stories days, I think it has been good start, although late.

I have been able to cover only a small fraction of this magnificent land. For a starter, I have been breathless on Khardung La in the Himalayas, and have been dwarfed by the majestic mountains in Kedarnath, and have almost frozen in the waters of Gangotri, and have been mesmerised by the Ganga Aarti in Rishikesh. I have criss-crossed central India hopping from heritage sites to religious places, and have been wowed by Kailash temple in Ellora and paintings of Padmapani and Vajrapani in Ajanta, and have been transcended into another dimension while watching Bhashmaarti in Ujjain. I have been lazy in a Goan monsoon, and also have been awed by the magnificence of Hampi. I have crawled up and down in the coffee estates in the Western Ghats, and have also seen the calmness of the sea in Rameshwaram, and have been on the Vivekananda rock to see the three seas meet.

Wait! That’s not all. I have driven my beat Maruti 800 to places. I have ridden my Pulsar 200NS for thousands of kilometres. I have taken my Scorpio on multiple multi-thousand kilometre road trips, and have been on the roads for days together.

Ahaa… Wait! That’s not all, either. I have been stuck on the highway with a cyclone approaching. And as I spent my night in the car and the eye of the cylcone came really close, the howling gale almost blew the car away. And at least on two occasions I have been stranded on the road, surrounded by flood waters, and water levels slowly rising all around me. In such situations the natural choice boils down to either survival (an animal instinct) or humanity (that differentiates us from animals). In the small village I was stuck in on one occasion during the floods, there were at least two hundred more people stranded. And all of us were fed well by the villagers, without being charged a single penny. Without any idea how long the floods will last, wasn’t it brave of those villagers?

Had I been confined, I will not be having these wonderful experiences to share, correct? The travel experiences have shaped me into the kind of human I am at present.

Why I travel, explained in 3 P’s:

Places: Only words and pictures will not do justice to the places I have been to and the stories behind them. The befitting tribute to those places can only be paid by visiting and experiencing them first hand. How on earth can someone tell how it feels to be starved of oxygen at five and a half kilometres above mean sea level? Or, how it feels when water at sub-zero temperatures hits the calvaria? Or, how it feels being stranded in the eye of a cyclone and the gales are about to blow away your car?

People: The great explorers of the past were not dumb to have travelled the world and learn nothing. Humans learn best from experiences of other human beings. And what better way to meet new people other than travel? I have never seen more honest people than the Laddakhis. Being fed by villagers during the floods and for free was the best gesture any human to have ever showed me. I have had instances of total strangers coming and talking to me when I was on a ride to Odisha on my Pulsar 200NS and in the course of the conversation, telling me about places of interest nearby, or about the road that lay ahead. And, people are not always pleasant. I have also been conned many times during my travels. I call them “learning experiences”.

Passion: I am the happiest when I am on the roads, away from my desk, away from my flat. Only someone with love for travelling will understand this. Good news is, there is no way you will not fall in love with it after you start travelling. I mean, I wasn’t born with this love either. And those selfies at beautiful places are a bonus!

Few points of wisdom:

Something always goes wrong when one travels. It is the risks that make travelling even more enticing. Here are a few things that I keep in mind when I am travelling:

Time: When travelling, I always keep time in hand, and utilize it to the fullest extent. I divide my travelling days and set realistic targets for the same. Seeing places is a serious business, you see!

Lights (while self-driving): I have done a fair bit of driving/riding under the lights and have come to a conclusion that it is not worth it. It is a proven fact that human reflexes while driving are much less effective under artificial light. Then there is always the risk of unsocial elements, ghosts and unsocial-elements-dressed-as-ghosts at night. I hate ghosts and hence I try my best to avoid night driving. Pun intended!

Money: Not all places have ATMs. And post demonetisation, not all the ATMs dispense cash. I carry just enough to survive and overcome an eventuality and much less than an amount that will tempt someone to kill me. As a rule of thumb, I would start my day with Rs 5000, and replenish it back to that level at start of each day.

Maps and research: I carry a road atlas as a back up to the map on my phone. Most of the times, I do my route and stoppage planning beforehand. The most fun part of travel preparation is setting up an itinerary. I call it research!

When in doubt, I lie: If it is a self-driven road-trip, when asking for directions I always ask directions to the next big town on my route, and not to my destination. When the stranger I am speaking to does not seem right, or is too inquisitive, or both, I just cook up a story. Believe me, it is not a sin to lie when it comes down to safety. And I have a thing against serial killers!

Have fun: When something goes wrong, and something always goes wrong, I don’t get bogged down by the incident and look at the brighter side, instead. Remember, if you have no control on the outcome of a crisis, have a good time while having the crisis.

I also admit that I am yet to see the world, and have experienced just a fraction of what so many other people might have. Although late, I am glad to have started travelling. And travel I will!

Finally, let me repeat the wise words from John A. Shedd for you – “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags, and get out of the house. Go Now!

Credits: Poem at the top penned by your’s truly!

Note: Please get in touch if you have difficulty in reading Hindi, and would prefer an English translation of the poem instead.

In frame: A stretch of good road between Ujjain and Mandav. We stopped here to straighten our backs after 25-30kms on non-existent roads. Yes, that happens in a Scorpio too!

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

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Written by Amrit Panigrahy

Amrit is a freelance photographer and a storyteller.

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