A Backpacking adventure with my Toddler

22nd Jan 2017
Photo of A Backpacking adventure with my Toddler 1/1 by Nehal Shah

22nd Jan’17- 29th Jan’17 {Mumbai-Amritsar-Dharamshala(Dharamkot-Rakkar)-Mumbai}

Every Few Months, I could feel the Mountains Calling..I have always been a ‘Mountain Girl’at heart. The Best of my travel memories have been in the Himalayas & till date can talk about them as if I have returned just today.

With So many Personal & Professional Commitments (Am on a sabbatical since September), My love for an adventure was restricted to Fantasizing, dreaming & reading travel blogs. Therefore Once I took a Sabbatical I secretly wished to finally head to the Mountains & relive by earlier travel memories...BE A TRAVELLER!

An Opportunity presented itself when I received a random message from a friend wanting to plan an impromptu shoestring budget backpacking trip to the Mountains. The only thing decided was the Time frame i.e Feb End for a week. I could not miss out on this ..wanting to experience the thrill,adventure, fun of curating travel plans,etc. I immediately responded positively without thinking much & we were a group of 4 travel buddies ( Never traveled together before)now with just the desire to get away but no confirmed plan.

Finally We all decided on Dharamshala & started chalking out the travel plans. We were currently in the 2nd week of Feb . We starting exploring the Train & Home stay options there staying true to the spirit of Backpacking & experiencing the Rustic life in the Mountains. We were aware the Climatic conditions were unpredictable but that did not dampen our excitement. We were all set to ‘ Take it as it comes’.

Post the Excitement Phase, I started getting thoughts of how I would go without Dev ( My Son-Will turn 4 in Feb for 7 days.I also was feeling guilty if it right to deprive him of this adventure, wouldn’t it be a great exposure for him ?At the same time I had thoughts that he is still small, will he be able to take it- the unpredictable climate, the homestays, new terrains,etc.Will i be pushing him into difficult situations which he might not be ready for..Is it right to do that? Also the Food & health aspect was a big concern for me. Multiple Doubts lingered my mind while the travel plans were discussed.. I decided to follow My Mother’s Instinct to finally make up my mind.

I had tremendous support from my husband in whatever I chose to do-Go with or without him. I thought of chatting up with my toddler about the trip & get his thoughts on it( Trust me! They do understand a lot & have a mind of their own contrary to our belief that they are kids & do not understand important issues).

The Discussion went on something like this...Dev, Mamma is planning a backpacking trip to Dharamshala, You know where it is? Himachal Paradesh. Do you want to go to see the Snow capped Mountains..the Mighty Himalayas? I also told him it is going to be very very cold..maybe snow fall & we will be staying in village homes, helping them & playing with children, having food with them. They will also take us on treks & hikes, show their village to us. I supplemented our discussion with a few images on my phone so he understands better....Do you want to Come?

Dev’s immediate response was..YES YES Mamma i want to come. For a reality check I re-iterated that it is going to be difficult, will you be strong & enjoy all the new things you experience? Also, stated the point of Long train journeys & still his Excitement was the Same. I kept bringing this up for the next 2-3 days trying to gauge his reactions & response but his Answer was always positive.

I Finally decided that the Mommy & Son will embark on this adventure together. I wanted Dev to Know that his mom trusted him, I wanted to build his confidence & will power, Give him a chance rather than not trust him . I was truly inspired by his desire to take up this adventure..I only wanted to be with him & support him hereon! I did not have the heart to break his heart, will power & confidence only because of my fears....

The Travel plan looked something like below(22nd Jan’17 to 29th Jan’17)

Day 1- Depart for Amritsar via the Golden Temple Express

Day-3- Reach Amritsar in the morning, Visit the Golden Temple-Enjoy the Langar & Depart for Dharamshala(Dharamkot).

Day 4 & 5- Exlplore Dharamshala

Day 6- Go to Rakkar(Village) in the Morning with an overnight stay

Day 7- Depart to the Pathankot station & Take the Swaraj Express back to Bonbay

Day 8- Reach Mumbai

*The Homestay options, Transport etc. Was decided basis our connections with the Locals like taking help from friends who have already travelled there, Nimisha had already visited Dharamshala a few months back & was practically like our local guide.

Day 1 & 2( Mumbai to Amritsar- 2 nights in Train via Golden Temple Express)

Our Train was scheduled around 8:30 & around 6pm my son got fever.He had a bit of cough & cold since 2-3 days but suddenly he got fever.I was again in a dilemma..For me my son’s health was of utmost priority & was no ways going to compromise on that. I spoke to my husband & he suggested I speak to my family doctor, I spoke & got some SOS Medicine names as a backup. I was still contemplating cancelling my trip but in spite of fever my son showed immense enthusiasm for the trip. He was all ready to start the journey. After a lot of Thought, I decided to go ahead with the plan keeping in mind that the Train will serve as a rest time for him with no fluctuation in climatic conditions. I had decided that i will take a call on proceeding to Dharamshala once we reach Amritsar depending on his health.I was mentally prepared to take a flight back home if he did not recover.

I will not deny that I started the journey with a lot on tension but went along with the positivity & faith that all was going to be ok. The First night in the train was peaceful but I would check his temperature every 4 hours. I kept him hydrated & gave his fever medication at regular intervals. Whenever I would tell my son that if the fever does not go we will go back home, my son would immediately reply saying “ Mamma I am going to be ok”. He would even eat saying he wants to be strong. I truly wanted to believe in him & was hoping all went well. Luckily, The Morning we reached Amritsar, My son had no fever..Just a bit of Cold. Truly- Hope & Will Power Works wonders...Especially when it comes for a 4 yr old!

Day 3- Amritsar to Dharamshala(Dharamkot)

The Day started with the visit to the Golden Temple. It felt heavenly & a perfect Moment of Gratitude for me- For my son’s health, his will power & strength. My friends were a constant motivation & support all along the trip. Nilesh would willing carry Dev whenever he was tired.

Dev bonded so well with them & it worked wonders for me during the trip.Dev did not stick to me all the time & even allowed me some ME time when he was busy playing with them.

Post Golden Temple we proceeded to Dharamshala via a tourist Car. The Journey was beautiful..we stopped near a village school to meet & greet the children, Pluck some oranges,etc. The Weather was much colder & we were all covered in woollens. We reached our Home stay is Dharamkot & were welcomed by a lovely Host Family (Husband-Wife & 3 Children).

Day 4- Dharamkot

Day was spent in a Village Walk, visiting the museum & the Himalayan yoga institute & Paying our respects at Dalai Lama Temple(Kala Chakra Temple) .We also interacted with a few locals & enjoyed their stories. Dev was not very comfortable with Steep Walks & hikes, I did not push him ..I would take the local taxi/Rickshaw when he conveyed his desire to not walk a lot. For us Travel was more about the overall Experience that pushing his limits. He would then enjoy everything else which would not have happened if we expected him to excel in walking like us adults. We prayed & practised Meditation in the Kala Chakra Temple together which is one of the most cherished moments of our trip. At the end of the day we relished Vegetable Soup &Chow mein at a local cafe.

Day 5-Dharamkot

It was pouring heavily & the Winds were fierce. We ate yummy Aaloo Paratha cooked by the host at the homestay & spent time indoors playing some games & chatting up. My friends chose to head out for some time but I chose to stay put & spend time with the Homestay family. Dev got really friendly with the Kids there , infact I dropped him in their house for a couple of hours & got some Me time. I joined them later & we had some great discussions with the family about their lives in the mountains. When it stopped raining, The Boys taught Dev how to climb on tress & ended up in countless races around the house.Later we all huddled up for a hot cup of tea/Milk near the fire lit up to keep all of us warm.Once our friends returned we heard their stories about the trail, had dinner.

Day 6- Dharamkot to Rakkar( A Small Village)

We had received so much of love from the Host family at Dharmkot that it was a bit difficult to bid them goodbye. With Mixed feelings & a promise to come back we departed to Rakkar( About Half Hour). We were going to stay again at a Homestay( Suggested by a Local) & when we reached the destination we only could regret that ‘ Why were we here only for 1 Night”.

Rakkar is a small village – Straight out of a Village Story. One Home was one amongst 4-5 Houses located near a small stream. The families had their own little farm, cattle, Shed’s around their houses.It looked as if we were part of a book. Dev was equally fascinated by the set up & went off to explore the Place without any inhibitions. He ran off to the Villager who was working in his farm- He wanted to help him & I only encouraged him to do that. He fed the goats, helped pick up dried leaves; Picked up sticks on his head & felt like a winner. Helped the villager women by washing clothes in the stream, visited the cowshed & seemed like he completely belonged there. The Villagers were so lovey & were equally fascinated to take him around everywhere.

Lunch was set up with our host family & we were elated to experience a rustic lunch set up. We went up to their kitchen, they poured water for washing hands in their traditional sink & later made us sit near their Chula(traditional gas). The Women of the house( Head Covered in pallos) served us Dal,Rice,Roti & the taste was heavenly. We all over ate including Dev.

Dev mingled beautifully with the Granddad & Grandma of the House- Tried to learn knitting, Helped clean rice, Cuddled & played with them. There was again a Child in the House( About 5-6yrs) & Dev had a great time playing with him. Infact Me & Dev went to drop him to his tuitions where he proudly showed us the Village hot spots & the Park. We promised him we will wait for him at the park while he finished his tuitions & then got back with him to our HOME.

Due to Bad Weather there was no electricity in Rakkar which seemed a bit difficult in the beginning but then the Candle light, fire place & loving company provided all the required warmth & comfort to us.

Day 6- Rakkar to Mumbai( Swaraj Express from Pathankot station)

It was time to say goodbye to our quaint little Village. With a Promise to come back we started our journey to Pathankot station. On the Way we stopped over to eat the local momos.

The Train journey as always was spent in remembering the lovely moments we had all spent together & were glowing in the satisfaction of creating unforgettable memories. By End of the Trip I had found my New Best Friend...My 4 year old Son-Dev.yes...we shared,bonded,laughed, supported, survived new & difficult situations together & above all created countless unforgettable memories.Isnt this what friendship is all about?

Apart from the Above I made a promise to myself that I will make Travel a part of my son’s life .I will trust him & support him in becoming a person he is destined to be through experience.