Travelling To Uttarakhand Without A Return Ticket #bestof2018

Tripoto
26th Jan 2018

Himalayan Farm Project

Photo of Travelling To Uttarakhand Without A Return Ticket #bestof2018 by Akshita J

When the mountains beckon, you cannot reason with or ignore it. After not travelling anywhere in 2017, the travel bug in me was itching to escape. So I packed a bag, booked a one-way ticket and left Mumbai on the 26th of January 2018, establishing a new constitution for myself; one in which the only law was to follow my heart.

FARMING - SOWING SEEDS OF GROWTH

I reached my first stop at 5 AM. A 3km trek awaited me to reach the Himalayan Farm Project in Do Gaon, Nainital. A 3km trek that seemed like 30km. I realised how weak I was! Stumbling in the darkness, and stopping nearly every 10 mins, I finally reached the farm.

The board a few hundred meters below the farm's gate

Photo of Himalayan Farm, Nainital, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

Part of the farm

Photo of Himalayan Farm, Nainital, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

As I spent my days digging, sowing seeds and watering the farm, I began to notice a shift in my body and mind as well. All of this was new to me. Never having lived like this before, I became more aware of myself. I learnt to enjoy the silence of Nature, I learnt to be okay with my emotions and to transfer it all to the Earth, I learnt to take responsibility, I learnt to trust others more easily. I learnt to surrender to serendipity.

What was initially supposed to be a two weeks stay, extended to four! Over the course of that month, I met many other volunteers from all over the world. Each with a unique story to tell. One of whom decided to travel further with me for a week.

Everyday I'm diggin' beds

Photo of Travelling To Uttarakhand Without A Return Ticket #bestof2018 by Akshita J

Watering vegetable beds and flowers

Photo of Travelling To Uttarakhand Without A Return Ticket #bestof2018 by Akshita J

With my hosts, Pankaj and Vlatka

Photo of Travelling To Uttarakhand Without A Return Ticket #bestof2018 by Akshita J

FINDING KINDNESS AND HIDDEN WATERFALLS

Lisa, a German teenager, and I left the farm and after a long journey, which involved hiking, hitchhiking, multiple buses and a taxi, reached Mangalta, a tiny village hidden from the eyes of tourists. We spent our days walking and hiking, and our nights eating meals under the stars and sharing stories. One such day, we ended up hiking to another village (essentially 4 houses on a mountain) and got invited by a kind lady for a cup of chai. Being a non-chai drinker, I refused initially, but upon further pressing, I gave in. That day my love for sugarless tea in a stranger's house in the mountains was hatched. Just as we finished our tea, the men of the house returned for lunch and insisted we eat something before leaving. Not wanting to take from their limited resources, we relentlessly refused. Until they offered us dahi. Lisa and my eyes lit up like the full moon on a starless night. We polished two whole bowls each before heading out.

The next day, we walked to a secluded waterfall. Being the only people there, we decided to take a dip in the cold, clear water. Actually, we already decided that once I slipped into the stream halfway to the falls and got drenched waist down.

Hostel by the river

Photo of Post Office Mangalta, Almora - Berinag Road, Berinag, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

Lisa outside the house that fed us

Photo of Post Office Mangalta, Almora - Berinag Road, Berinag, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

View from outside the house that fed us

Photo of Post Office Mangalta, Almora - Berinag Road, Berinag, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

Finding freedom under the falls

Photo of Post Office Mangalta, Almora - Berinag Road, Berinag, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

CELEBRATING HOLI AND FINDING A SECOND HOME

Lisa and I headed to Kasar Devi on the suggestion of our hostel owner at Mangalta. By now, Uttarakhand was doused in the trance of Holi.

On the main day, all the villagers gathered and went from house to house with a dhol and sang Kumaoni folk songs. For someone who absolutely despises Holi, it was a refreshing change and I actually let people put just a little bit of gulaal on my face.

What was most interesting about that place, though, was the fact that everybody I met there was there for the 2nd, 3rd or umpteenth time. Each one said, "there is something so special about this place that I can't help returning". And I realised how true that was when I returned for the second time during the same trip.

Lisa's face matching the colour of her top

Photo of Kasar Devi Temple, Almora Rd, Khatyari, Almora, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

Lisa and I on the roof of our guesthouse

Photo of Kasar Devi Temple, Almora Rd, Khatyari, Almora, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

View from the roof of our guesthouse

Photo of Kasar Devi Temple, Almora Rd, Khatyari, Almora, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

PAINTING A VILLAGE

From there Lisa and I headed our own ways. I went on to spend the next 10 days in the last inhabited village, Khati, enroute Pindari glacier as a volunteer for an art project. The task was to paint the village with life lessons and stories from the villagers. As I spent those days without network, I made a more genuine connection with people around me. Nothing else that I've done in my life has given me more satisfaction. I built some lifelong friendships and memories.

Khati from a distance before the project

Photo of Khati, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

First wall I ever painted

Photo of Khati, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

Khati halfway through the project

Photo of Khati, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

Heartfelt smile as I painted one of my most favourite walls

Photo of Khati, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

Admiring the work I'd just finished (actually thinking whether the mistakes I made were too prominent)

Photo of Khati, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

Painting as the little one kept pleading, "Didi, ab meri baari (Didi, now my turn)"

Photo of Khati, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

Half of the Wise Wall Warriors

Photo of Khati, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

Returning Home

I headed back to Kasar Devi for my last few days, before my dad threatened to disown me if I didn't return. This time, I discovered a new love for music as I spent each evening at Baba Cake, which got its name from the Baba who runs the place and his wife who bakes the most delicious cakes! Jam sessions ensued as people from different cultures got together with the universal language of music.

I spent my last day having chai at a stranger's home with Moku singing his original song as the sun set behind the mountains in the backdrop.

And I left my home and returned to Mumbai.

Moku and Jonny jamming

Photo of Kasar Devi Temple, Almora Rd, Khatyari, Almora, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

Playing carrom at Baba Cake

Photo of Kasar Devi Temple, Almora Rd, Khatyari, Almora, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J

Moku singing his original song

Photo of Kasar Devi Temple, Almora Rd, Khatyari, Almora, Uttarakhand, India by Akshita J
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