Monday, December 05, 2016

Prologue: A Bhutanese Love Affair

The bus took a sharp turn uphill and the most astonishing sight greeted our eyes. A sea of white clouds encompassed the landscape, a small red dot- the sun- was glowing in all its glory, setting every second, going down the horizon. It was our last sunset in Bhutan. The trip was coming to an end.
Seven days ago, 15 strangers from across India met at Bagdogra Airport for a trip to the Land of the Thunder Dragon- the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan.

The trip, for me, was long-planned. After the failed Wimbledon trip, a trip to a foreign destination was way above anything else on my to-do list. Add to it, my curiosity about our trip leader – TL- Neeraj, one person who has highly inspired me for close to 3 years now, and his trips- What makes his trips so special that people say goodbyes with tears in their eyes and then write such amazing testimonials? I had wondered for long.

Every sight you look at, looks like a picture postcard out of the beautiful country. Bhutan, November 2016

After some amazing Himalayan views from my window seat, my flight arrived 35 minutes before time at Bagdogra one Sunday morning in November.


“Meet at the restaurant on the first floor of the airport without exiting,” Neeraj aka Captain Nero had instructed us.

One after the other, all the trippers arrived. People from Delhi, Mumbai, Shillong, Chennai and Pune- everyone with one common goal- that of making the most of their one-week vacation. Vyshakh, Neeraj’s assistant (and my roomie for the course of the entire trip), met us there. The captain arrived a little later.

Our luggage loaded on the Innovas, we were headed for the border town of Phuentsholing, a 4-hour drive from Bagdogra. Unknown to us then, the Innova had to play a much bigger role in the story, a week later.

As the car passed through national parks and long stretches of forests, we sat there talking, getting to know each other. We played games, we sang songs, ‘Contact’ began. A little after dusk, we reached the Indian border town of Jaigaon, and Nero told us ‘Bhutan is just round the corner now’. My excitement increased. The Innova entered the Bhutan gate and within moments we were in a different country. A beautiful one at that. I was ecstatic.

The next few days saw the 15 of us take long bus journeys that never felt very long. We played dumb charades, Contact, and a host of filmy Bollywood games, almost all coming from the enthusiastic mind of our TL. We spoke about Harry Potter and assigned Game of Thrones character names to each tripper (I am not Littlefinger!). We sang songs and cursed the DJ whenever we hated one he/she played. We had met just hours ago, but it already felt like we had known each other for years.

There was an itinerary to be followed. But it didn’t stop us from stopping the bus at innumerable locations whenever we saw something interesting. We stopped at waterfalls and following the lead of our TL, climbed up through the freezing waters. We ran down mountains through thorns instead of taking laid-out roads to reach hanging bridges. We stopped on the way to the highest point in Thimphu and performed the Mannequin Challenge there, right in the middle of the road. We competed in archery, Bhutan’s national sport, and didn’t let the ladies easily get a good picture of themselves in the Bhutanese attire. We played Hindi songs in a Bhutanese restaurant and hung out of the doors of our bus while it sped uphill. We spotted yaks and pine trees and rhododendrons and stood in freezing water of the Paro Chu river taking the 'Who stands the longest' challenge. We spotted snow and played like innocent 12-year olds, throwing snow on each other, fighting like crazy. Yes, it was all absolutely crazy. And that’s probably what made all the difference.

Climbing up a waterfall on our way to Thimphu, Bhutan, November 2016

After many unsuccesfully timed attempts, we got it right! Thimphu, Bhutan, November 2016

The surprise snow spotting made us the happiest that day. Chele La, Bhutan, November 2016

'We won't let you click a good picture!' Pema Gift House, Paro, Bhutan, November 2016
Post dinner every night, we would all assemble in a room, and the night games began. Bluff and UNO were very easily replaced by Mafia- another game that Nero introduced us to. And what an addictive effect it had on us! There was dancing to the craziest songs, singing around a bonfire, and a lot more.

This would be followed by conversations- one thing I probably value more than anything else- to get to know each other better, to learn new stories, to bond together. Somewhere during this time our ‘Ask a question’ game also began. One person asks a question and everyone answers individually. This simple game went on to reveal a lot about what we felt about the trip, about life and about each other. This simple question-answer game was to change a lot of things before the trip came to an end.

***

As we reached the Tashichho Dzong in Thimphu, it was already dusk and the entry had been closed. Nero gathered us and started telling stories of the place. Although it had been just 2 days since we all met, I had somehow forgotten that he was to perform duties as our guide too and that included telling us about the places we were visiting. His audience, who he had been quick to make good friends with, stood there transfixed with the stories of the land, the king, the people and how happy the country is.



This being end of November, the temperature in Paro was definitely chilled at night. As we made our way to Chele La, one of the highest passes in Bhutan, a most unexpected surprise greeted us. There was snow on the road! We stopped by an almost frozen waterfall for some snow-spotting moments.

“Should we go up the snow covered rocks? Isn’t it risky?” I asked noticing how the ice was cracking and how my shoes couldn’t maintain friction.

“Makemytrip ke trip pe aaye ho ya Neeraj Narayanan ke?” came the befitting and immediate response. (Are you on a trip with a travel agency or with Neeraj?)

We did climb through the snow and go up the slippery rocks. What is life without a little risk after all?

***

“Don’t you ever feel like you are missing out on a lot of things, living a fantasy life away from reality, away from your friends and close-ones for so long?” I asked Neeraj one evening noticing how he stays away from his phone completely when on a trip. And also because at the end of any trip, I feel lost when goodbyes are bade.

“It is the real conversations with people I am with right now that matters to me the most. It is about living in the present moment. And I love what I am doing,” he told me quite simply.

As the entire group would stay awake playing games and talking until 4 AM everyday, he would be an integral if not the most important part of it. He would never go to sleep before the last one of us left. When everyone would think of taking caution, he would go ahead and persuade everyone to live life at the edge. Which normal tour guide does that? No one, unless he is your very good friend and is emotionally invested in you and the trip.

“After attaching so much emotion to each of your groups, a new set of people every second week, don’t you find it difficult to detach and re-attach?”

He didn’t give me any satisfactory answer to this but what he did say was this: “Each of my trips is as much about the emotions as it is about the people and places.”

I now probably had the answer to the question about this guy that had brought me on the trip at the first place.

I wondered how I had missed this tiny but important aspect about his trips even after following him for so long. Here was a man who quit his job 3 years ago to run with the bulls in Spain and never returned to a desk job after that. He was living a life of his own calling, travelling around the world, confidently doing what he loves the most and being happy with the real moments. After Steve Jobs, probably it is this guy who has been able to inspire me with his work and life for so long.

‘But I think with your emotional investment you also do a very selfless and difficult job that hardly anyone can replicate,’ I told him at farewell.

With #ThisGuy Neeraj aka Captain Nero at Chele La, Bhutan, November 2016

***

“Will you be writing about this trip?” Neeraj had asked me on one of our evening walks in Thimphu when we had first discussed our mutual love for writing and storytelling.

“Most definitely.”

“What about it?”

“It will be something special, I don’t know yet. It’s a thought that occurs at a random moment and you just know right then that this is what the special moment is that you want to write about,” I had said.

On our way back to Phuentsholing, on the very last day of the trip, the bus took a sharp turn uphill and the most astonishing sight greeted our eyes. A sea of white clouds encompassed the landscape, a small red dot- the sun- was glowing in all its glory, setting every second, going down the horizon.

The best moments in life are perhaps always unplanned and unexpected, never part of any itinerary, and take you by maximum surprise at moments you are least expecting them.

I sat there silently gazing out of the bus window, smiling. For the 15 of us, it was the last sunset in Bhutan. The trip was coming to an end. An end full of emotions, an end that was unexpected, an end with too many connected bonds. It was a literal end to the trip because the itinerary had been fulfilled, at the same time it was the beginning of a lot of friendships, a lot of conversations and a lot more moments together.

The iconic stairs at Nivanna Resort, Paro where all farewell photos have been taken across
Neeraj's 9 trips to the country. Bhutan, November 2016

We had, after all, met in a country which measures its growth with the happiness of its people and not by the growth of the economy. A country where the King flies Economy class because he knows his people are poor. A country dependent on its neighbours for economic growth, but holding a beautiful and rich heritage to its pride. A country with so much goodness, you wouldn’t want to ever spoil the mood.

It had indeed been a Bhutanese love affair.

Surprisingly 6 of us never took the flight back to our home cities from Bagdogra the next morning. The Innovas we were in played a major role. But then, that’s for another day’s story.


More stories from my Bhutan trip are to follow here in the coming days. You can follow Neeraj’s stories on his blog and details of his highly recommended upcoming trips on his facebook page: This Guy’s On His Own trip

Now read:
10 Reasons to Never Visit Bhutan
Bhutan: The Trek to Tiger’s Nest ‘Taktsang’ Monastery
The Post Office in Thimphu, Bhutan


Join On second thoughts on FacebookTwitter and Instagram for more travel inspiration.

18 comments :

  1. Woah!That's like one of your most elaborate posts in a long time and your emotions are very tangible here... It's nice to read such honest recollections of a trip to remember for life. Makes you want to get up and get going as well..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Let's just say I got enough free time to write after a really long time, a luxury I had been missing for over a year.

      Don't just think, get up and get going. The world out there is too beautiful ;)

      Delete
  2. You always keep the readers glued to the end! Kudos to a well written long post!! Loved reading it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What was the Mafia game you guys played? I am curious to know about that!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was wondering how to explain it in short and Google came in handy.
      http://m.wikihow.com/Play-Mafia

      We played a simpler and no-cards version of this. It was addictive beyond control and no night ended without everyone playing atleast one game! 😃

      Delete
  4. Re-lived our amazing days together.. thank you so much Antarik..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Only if I had known how selfless you are, not revealing your name even after leaving a comment, I would have come to you and said thank you personally :D

      Delete
  5. An excellent post! I backpacked in Bhutan solo last year. It's totally a different experience to travel in a group. Your write up made me nostalgic about Bhutan. It's a beautiful country!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It sure is. Thank you Reshma :)
      Backpacked solo? Where all did you go?

      Delete
  6. Woah! Amazing. I can feel the chill, the breeze as i read but then I am sitting in an AC room.. Kidding ;)
    Now I wanna make Bhutan happen sooner than later :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You definitely should Stuti. And it's relatively very easy. Don't waste time :)

      Delete
  7. Excellent. Unique. Heart warming. I can't remember adjectives to describe you posts. Travel magazines will love to publish such articles. I am overwhelmed by the way you delineate things. Create your own brand and soar high. Best of luck.

    ReplyDelete
  8. How did I miss this post? Glad that I visited again. Good one. Infact it tempts me to pack and leave. :)

    ReplyDelete

Copyright © on second thoughts... | Powered by Blogger
Design by SimpleWpThemes | Blogger Theme by NewBloggerThemes.com