Travel Beginnings: Four Stages of Learning to Live with Travel

Beginnings

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It happened in a deceivingly small corner of a menacingly large city. A looming realization that the designs I have imagined for my life rest on blurred lines and intoxicated dreams. Disappointment. Heartbreak. On a cold, concrete bench under a tree wrinkled with the cruel Shanghai weather. The oblique sunlight flirts with the grass. Giving it hopes of warmth. Giving me hopes of clarity.

Tea Rain

I find that clarity, a few days later, in a small teahouse somewhere on a hill north of Hangzhou. The rain hasn’t stopped for hours. I am left sheltered in the stony confines of the teahouse. The owner, a woman slow and bent, offers me a tiny cup of a nascent, red liquid. The steam leaps out and curves around my fingers. I take a sip. The first of many that will follow. We sit there, listening to the rain lashing through the hill. We don’t talk, or rather, we can’t talk. But, somehow, it doesn’t really bother either of us. She starts cleaning the intricate table she serves tea on. Slow, veteran movements unhurried by time. I watch her for a while, admiring the cadence in her movements. I think of desert roads and lakesides. And the smell of forest mornings.

The rain leaves us as the night creeps in. I can’t tell how long it has been. Time feels irrelevant in the steamy interiors of this place I will never forget. I collect my stuff and mumble a few greetings in my broken Mandarin. She manages to understand one and her face curves into an honest, untainted smile. A smile that unties a knot and holds a promise of possibilities. I decide, as I walk away, to live for such moments. For silent conversations and unbridled smiles. To live for beginnings. At the beginnings.

Realizations/Letting Go

“You don’t have to quit now. Wait for another six months and do what you feel like then,” my cousin, an admired elder in the family, preaches over the phone. I listen on. Patient. Incredulous. I can’t fathom this limbic aversion we have towards quitting. We treat it like a crime. “Quitting is an escape from responsibility,” my cousin continues, “you can write and take vacations while working as well. That’s what all of us do.” My patience starts evaporating. My pacing becomes urgent. I want to make him see beyond company names and salary figures. I don’t.

Movement

The Hyderabad night eases into the streets outside my hotel window. I feel an absolute disconnect with everything. It is time. I feel it. The dread of going back to corner tables and design sheets. The inviting ebb-and-flow of life on the road. Of cramped dorm beds and extended bus rides.

I am taken. Completely.

Later in the night, over dinner, I tell my boss about my plans. He doesn’t seem surprised. Maybe he saw it before I did. A colleague translates his thick Shanghaihua for me. He’s asking me if anything can be done to change my mind. I shake my head. He orders drinks.

Promises

The G40 snakes its way over murky lakes and patterned fields. The toll booth attendant, a young girl in a blue uniform and immaculate hair, has been stealing glances ever since I got here 30 minutes ago. I turn towards her just as she looks at me. There’s a hint of a smile. I nod. She looks away.

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The sky is painted dull even though it’s close to noon. My backpack lies close to the automated gates. I’m standing, holding a sign saying ‘Ride to Hefei’ in amateur Mandarin, right next to the toll booth. It’s the perfect spot, I’ve learnt. Another 20 minutes go by. Feeling tired and dejected, I sit down, wondering about the point of doing what I am doing. I find solace in Dylan and Didion. And peanut butter.

Just as I’m about to give up completely and ask for help, a battered minivan stops. The driver, a man in a construction hat, reads the sign I’m holding and then looks at me. My tired boots, crumpled shorts and yellow smile. “OK,” he says, flashing his brittle teeth. I jump in, promising myself to never give up on people. The first of many promises I’ll make.

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In the folded hills around Tashgurkan I promise myself to never question the reasons for wandering. In the sweeping grasslands of Langmusi I promise to learn to believe in faith. In the binding desert night in Dunhuang I promise to never lose faith in love. I promise a lot of things, to a lot of people. Promises I would never want to break.

Possibilities

The late night chaos at the Suvarnabhumi Airport surrounds me as I wait for my flight home. I am sifting through my notes, trying to relive the last few months. I don’t really feel like going home, but things and people gently tug at my heart. A friend who is getting engaged, a mother whose bones are giving up, a father who is slowing down, a girl who has waited a little too long. I’ve learnt to accept life’s many vagaries. The surprising twists-and-turns along the way. They are nothing different from a missed train or a crappy bed.

Window rays

I’m back in my room. The sunlight filters in through the blanketed window, forming mutating patterns on the floor. It’s another small corner in another large city. But the anxiety is gone. It’s replaced by a peculiar emotion. An emotion seeped in balance and possibilities.  My feet are on familiar ground; the air is heavy with memories. My backpack is slumped on the side. It’s going to be there for a while, but that doesn’t bother me. It’ll be picked up, dusted off, and packed at the right time. The nagging voice at the back of my head realizes this as well. There is no urgency. As long as the hands bleed ink and the feet consume roads unknown, I’ll be fine.

 

*To read about my travels, visit my Tripoto profile

 

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34 thoughts on “Travel Beginnings: Four Stages of Learning to Live with Travel

  1. Hi.

    I would like to share the story of a friend who travelled on his Royal Enfield across borders of India for two months.

    Do let me know the procedure.

    Also it will be great if I can talk to someone in this regard.

    cheers,
    Megha

    1. Hi Megha. can u pls give me more details on ur friend’s Enfield Indian Border trip. m planning to do it. need guidance .

      Regards
      Shivam

  2. excellently captured the thoughts and the feelings tht came and went .. and ys the plunge was the most difficult part .. at least for me tht would be the most difficult part
    regards

  3. I’m sure you have considered it and perhaps it’s what you envision for your future, yet I still feel compelled to leave you this message all the same. Please write a book. Share your experiences and your writing with the world. It’s extremely rare that the writing on a blog affects me so much. Maybe it’s because you’re echoing something I know to be true within myself.

  4. Man .. this is brilliant write up.
    “There is no urgency. As long as the hands bleed ink and the feet consume roads unknown, I’ll be fine.”
    Bud if you on facebook please add me would love to hear more of you. My id is virmanivikram@gmail.com.
    Cheers !!

  5. I am going to do something like this, i am really glad to see people with same thoughts i was wondering when i wanted to quit jobs and start traveling if I am being lazy to work or am i trying to run away from responsibilities this society expect people of my age, settle down with marriage and family giving away all my dreams of reaching out t o whole new world out there. but this post gave me answers certainly there is lot of thing you can learn in travel after all the life you haven’t lived as you like is not what you want to regret at the end of your days

  6. So you want to quit working and roam around?I am wondering what is wrong with what your cousin said! Who pays for your travel expenses. Even if you have saved some, what happens after you use up all those on your travel and stay? Will someone fund you forever. You would have to work and earn to keep travelling , right? What happens after you marry the girl who have waited too long? You want her to earn and fund your travel? Your writing is good, but the idea of leaving a job and just traveling sucks!!!!

  7. This is so exciting..the language conveys the exact emotions you went through. I too wish it could be little more longer. Love to be in your way of living. But the strings attached not letting to me to quit anything. But hope to do so after once responsibilities are over. Eagerly waiting for such moments in life.

  8. Beautiful, I could feel myself there sipping tea in Hangzhou, the calling of home and the feet on ground that feels different but looks the same.
    :)
    And beautiful photos too.

  9. Mayank a beautifully articulated write up man. i loved the way u expressed emotions thru ink. last but not the least. the last sentence of your write up really moved me.

  10. Loved the write up , the pictures and most of all the sense of freedom it titillated in spite of staying attached with the loved ones.

    Only if we could do it all – take care of our parents , find love , have a home to come back to and still travel without a worry in the world !!

    Mayank shrivastava – Guess you did get to do the same ! :)

  11. Loved your expression. I think it felt good that there are people who understands the small valuable moments of life. A question! Are you single? If you are, then we can take some adventures together!

  12. Hi Mayank. Very inspiring. All the best to your journeys across this planet. I am quitting in July this year and I have never been more excited. For sure, there are people who are asking me to stay in a job but there number is small as compared to the hoards of people around me who are happy and congratulating on my decision to leave job. As you said – It’ll be fine :)

    1. Your idea of travel to the planet is good. But not leaving the job. If earning is not there then how to fund the travel. Are you going to depend somebody for fund . Rediculous.

  13. Hi Mayank,

    I think this is one of the best pieces I have written in a long long time. Such beauty. It was like I was right there too.
    All the very best for the many more journeys that await.

  14. I guess you are lucky to have had the realization midway through a job. With a little bit of money in your pocket the ability to let go comes easier. I am hardly out of college, with no penny and stuck with this realization for years. I travel though, but never to my heart’s content. The little courage required to completely break free was always missing.

    Well, I am glad to have come across this article.

  15. So well written! Simple, but heavy with meaning :) Keep up the good work, my husband and me plan to live a traveling life too and we’re so excited about it! All the best. May you always keep the promises you made to yourself!

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