Having spent most of my salary already on eating out, shopping and doing all that I had to do to bust my stress levels while I was working, I now realised with a rude shock that I had very little left in my bank account.
The next question was should I save this money or take the first road out of the city and explore what life had in store for me.
I opted for the latter option and one fine day set out for Lucknow, the land of the Nawabs.
Read a detailed account of my Lucknow trip published by Makemytrip at this link: http://www.makemytrip.com/travel-guides/india/travel_stories-lucknow
After spending a month at Lucknow, I wondered where to go next. I had not come with a fixed route in mind and had kept my mind open to suggessions and tips from travellers and locals. It was a rickshaw driver who suggested that I should cross the border into Nepal instead of going to Himachal Pradesh which was on top of my list then. One look at the map and I decided it made a lot of sense. Lucknow was just an overnight journey from Gorakhpur, from where I could get to the Sunauli border and then into the mountain kingdom of Nepal. Ok, now I was really excited…
I went to the local bus stand and booked myself on a rickety overnight bus that fortunately delivered me to Gorakhpur in one piece. After a long wait, I was headed to Sunauli in a crowded mini bus. I had for company local farmers and a bunch of American hippies who regaled all of us with songs as the bus meandered through meadows and fields. This was the life that I had always yearned for and I was so glad I was on this crowded bus having fun and not stuck in a cubicle.
Crossing the Indo Nepal border was literally a breeze. Not even my passport was checked.
I found a travel agency tucked in a lane in Sunauli where I booked a trip to Kathmandu, Pokhra and Chitwan for a real good deal.
The bus to Kathmandu was even more crowded than the one I had just been on. To my surprise after seating all the passengers, a wooden seat was set out in the aisle where more people sat. The remaining people stood in whatever nook and cranny remained.
The road up to Kathmandu was long and mountainous. Soon, we had left the Terai (low lying) area behind and the cool mountain air rejuvenated me completely.
I spent the next few days in Kathmandu and around exploring the Pashupatinath temple, the exquisite Durbar square, Patan and Bhaktapur. Also took a trip to the quaint hill station of Nagarkot.
One day when I was at Thamel, the downtown at Kathmandu, I noticed that several travel agents were selling tours to Tibet. My heart soared high and I wondered …’What if….?’
I quickly took stock of my finances and found I had just enough to make it. Of course this meant that I had to really struggle once I was back in Mumbai and had to start from scratch. But the thought of Tibet, of seeing the Everest and the Potala palace was way too tempting to think of what was in store for me once I was in Mumbai.
I managed to strike a great deal with a travel agent and booked myself on a journey that little did I know, was about to change my life forever.
Since I had some time before the tour started, I went to a small, offbeat place called Namo Buddha. It was a beautiful little hamlet that consisted of a small village that basically centred around a small stupa and monastery. From dawn to dusk, people would circumbulate the stupa, spinning the prayer wheels and chanting ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’. In that little corner of the world, I found tremendous power and peace.
That night, the motel owner informed me that no vehicles would ply the next day because there was a Maoist strike. I was aghast as my trip to Tibet was to take off in 2 days and I had to be in Kathmandu next day come what may.
Early next morning, I packed my backpack and started walking to a place called ‘Panauti’, from where I was most likely to get a bus that would take me to Kathmandu. I walked the whole day through fields, meadows and numerous picturesque villages and finally reached Panauti in the evening. It was a lovely little temple town set near a river and had a fantastic location. But, I was worried to discover that there were hardly any hotels there and the ones that were there were totally full. I stopped in the courtyard of a temple for a while where I saw a foreigner teaching some kids. Seeing me wandering around, the lady walked up to me and asked if I needed any help. When she heard about my predicament, she asked me to stay at her institute for the night. She was staying with some volunteers from different countries at a neighbouring institute and could offer me a sleeping bag for the night. I was really surprised and moved by this offer of hospitality from a complete stranger. That evening I had a blast with my new found friends. We went out in the night to the fields where a barbecue dinner was being organised as a farewell party for one of the teachers. It was great fun and liberating to be out under the starry skies, singing, dancing and feeling absolutely alive and without a care in the whole wide world.
Next day fortunately I was able to get on to a bus that got me to Kathmandu from where I was to start my exciting road trip to the land of high passes – Tibet.
Read a detailed account of my trip through Tibet published by Outlook Traveller at
Tibet left a lasting impression on my mind and made me realise that I was born to be on the roads and explore new places.
After returning to Kathmandu, I proceeded to Pokhara famed for the Annapurna ranges and the Macchupuchare (which unfortunately eluded me because of an early onslaught of monsoon clouds). Pokhara is a laid back town, ideal for travellers who want to do nothing but relax and rejuvenate. I spent a few days there boating at the Fewa lake, sipping on endless cups of chai and trying to put the last couple of months into perspective.
Post Pokhara the roads took me to Chitwan National Park. I was back in the terai again after being in the mountains for a long time and realised that it was the peak of summer already. The forest resort I stayed in was lovely, despite the fact that I was greeted by a giant spider on my toilet seat on Day 1. Over the next two days I went into the forests on foot and on elephant back to get up, close and personal with the wildlife. Also visited an elephant breeding centre where I got to feed greedy, baby elephants. The local tribals (Tharus) were warm people and I was lucky to see their fascinating dances and cultural performances.
Some travellers had suggested that I should visit Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha before leaving Nepal. I figured I was not too far from Lumbini anyway and decided to head there next. Read a detailed account of my trip to Lumbini, published by Hindustan Times at http://mindbuddhanews.blogspot.com/2008/05/oasis-of-calm-at-lumbini.html
The last step of my sojourn was to get back to Sunauli – Gorakhpur – Lucknow – Mumbai.
After an almost epic journey, I was back to ground zero, quite penniless but far richer in experiences and memories that would never fade.