It all happened because of the small girl. She was at the hand pump, washing her face. We were visiting the museum at Sirpur. And that is when I met the real nomads!
There were a lot of people camping in its grounds. I started kidding around with the children, soon they wanted a photo. That was the ice breaker, the kids started talking to me and the adults followed suit.
Suddenly the man sitting in the middle announced to me in Hindi, “we are from a place near Nasik and we are coming from Jagganath Puri and we would go to Shirdi in Maharashtra.” That caught my attention like anything, for the ground was full of children and women. There was an elderly couple and their belongings were scattered all over the place. Fire was lit in at least two places. It was soon obvious to me that they were spending the night in the open.
They told me that when they are on the road, they put all their belongings in the jugad (motorized cart) they have. Children also travel in the same cart. Elderly might take a bus for a while but generally they walk all through the way! Now that sounded like traveling in true nomadic style and suddenly I felt like such loser!
They ask for a camping ground once they reach a new place. Then they go around the town asking for bhiksha (food, probably money too) and that is how they are supposed to fund their travel!
They are actually farmers in their village in Maharashtra, so they are not without means. They take such a religious journey once in every 5-6 years and for that duration they live like nomads.
The ladies offered me tea and allowed me to take selfies with them! One of the bloggers, Gaurav, tried to talk to the ladies and he got no reply! Next day, he had a chat with men and I am waiting to read his account.
It was one of those occasions when I didn’t even have a candy with me to offer to the kids. It did not feel appropriate to offer them money for tea or for kids. I felt very bad that I had nothing to give them in return for their hospitality!
Late at night at the Hiuen Tsang Resort I woke up at night in my room. I was finding it cold and I put on another sweater before I curled up tightly in the blanket. I thought of those small faces, sleeping out in the open. Then I drifted back to sleep again.
There are some conversations that stay with you no matter how old they become. Such conversations can happen anywhere but more often than not they happen on the road. Or maybe I am more attentive to them while traveling. So here are some of the conversations from the road that refuse to fade away from memory.
5. India Taught me Patience: I was talking to a young lad from the USA while we were trekking in Triund in 2009. He had been on the road for more than 6 months in India. He had seen much more of my country than I ever hope to see. I asked him if there he felt any difference after traveling for such a long time in India? He told me India taught him patience. In India a bus would arrive when it wanted to and he could do nothing about it! Initially he would fret a lot over it but gradually he became more patient. He learned to let go.
4. How Much Do You Talk: It was the same Triund trek where I met a couple who got married at a local temple on the hill. They trekked to reach the temple with a pandit (priest). They decided to get married like this because they met on a trek. I was having a conversation with the bridegroom. The conversation gradually turned to travel. Both of us thought there was no one around. Suddenly a voice materialized out of a sleeping bag and told me, “How much do you talk kach kach kach. And you emphasize everything equally, no distinction between what is important and what is not!” I think I am still the same, only that voice out of the sleeping bag didn’t know that it was travel that made me talk. Meet me in the city and see how much do I really talk!
3. I Have 13 Wives: When we met our forest ranger Erick in South Africa one of the first things he said to us was- I have 13 wives! None of us took him seriously but a senior editor of a big Indian newspaper told him, “so what is the name of the 7th wife?” We all started laughing but for a while he really watched us, waiting for us to fall for it. It left me wondering whether there were some people who would actually fall for it!
2: Food Conversations with Self: I was visiting a hotel where I knew the food was lavish and they love to feed you. Now most of my trips happen amid chaos and I caught myself thinking like this, “oh my god the food is so lavish at this resort and they really believe in stuffing you. What am I to do?” And then I was really amused, I mean when did I develop such an attitude to food? Here was some good food waiting for me and I was thinking of it as a problem! Never again, I promise, no wonder what the weighing machine tells me!
1. Aap ke Paas Bahut Dhaan Hoga (You Must be Rich): One of our friends stayed at a dharamshala (usually a religious shelter where you can stay for free) in Rajasthan. So someone asked him what was he doing there? When he explained that he was a tourist the guy remarked- aap ke paas bahut dhan hoga (you must be rich). He could hardly comprehend that someone could visit a place without any purpose.
That story often reminds me of how privileged we are and how much for granted we take it! But even after knowing it when it comes to travel the only apt expression is- हजारों ख्वाहिशें ऐसी कि हर ख्वाहिश पे दम निकले बहुत निकले मेरे अरमाँ, लेकिन फिर भी कम निकले …
You get used to your surroundings, levels of honesty, bargaining etc according to where you live. For us, living in the National Capital Region of India, it was business as usual to be skeptical of anything and everything. It was in this light that the conversations we had in with people of Ladakh were eye opening.
What I enjoyed most in Ladakh was the conversations with the locals, when it happened. My husband was buying a second hand ‘down’ jacket. He asked the shopkeeper, “Mein kaise maan lun ki ye down hai?” (How do I believe you it is actually down). The shopkeeper’s reply still rings in my ears. He said, “Mere paas kuch he aur din hai fir upar jana hai, mein aapko dokha kyon dunga?” (I have only a few days left here then I have to go from this world, why I will cheat you). Can’t remember when I heard such a conversation in my daily life!
The name of our young driver on the trip from Leh to the Pangong Lake was a Toni (In the picture above, with goggles). He has a colorful personality and he drove the jeep like a rally driver. I wonder why nobody thinks of training these chaps for F1, no seriously. But behind the colorful personality is an extremely composed mind.
He was telling me he takes the jeep from Leh to Manali and they have to come back empty, because from there Himanchal Pradesh drivers come full (and they go back empty from Leh). So I asked him why doesn’t he gets some passengers and take the money, on the way back (tourists know that JK number vehicles will take them for less if they are somehow approached). He said, “Jeep wala naa bhi dekhe tou kya, uparwala tou dekhta hai” (Even though the jeep owner may not know, but the One sitting above can see). I was completely taken aback.
Now that I am back to my usual grind, I thought I should write this down, before I forget.