Two months ago I had gone to Bhutan with This Guy’s On His Own Trip’s Neeraj Narayanan. The trip had been a crazy beginning of things and probably will remain etched in my memories forever. This time three of us- Jyoti, Lavanya and I- from the Bhutan and Darjeeling gang were joining him for the Republic Day long weekend’s Hampi-Dandeli-Gokarna group trip. 18 people, 4 days, 3 destinations, a roadtrip and a lot of crazy adventures.
Running in the middle of the highway
My bus for Hampi was scheduled to leave at 5.40 PM from Goregaon on the eve of Republic Day. Having taken a lot of outstation buses in the last one year, I was standing at the exact spot where the buses stop on the highway. Tracking the bus the entire time on GPS, a few minutes after the scheduled time I saw the bus approaching. Instead of stopping, it continued its journey over the Aarey flyover, unfazed, without caring that it was increasing my heartbeat with every moment and bringing in anxious ‘I missed my bus’ thoughts. I stood dazed wondering how this could be happening for real.
|The group at the ruins of Hampi. Photo: Ishpreet|
In the next 30 seconds, the emergency helpline calmly informed me over phone that the bus would stop on the other end of the flyover and I should hurry to catch it. As the afternoon sun blared in all its glory and one after the other auto-rickshaws turned down my request citing the just one-kilometre distance, I helplessly ran in the middle of the highway amidst the traffic, my suitcase in tow, sweating profusely and telling the conductor to wait for me. As I neared the bus a grin spread across my face- Not because I wasn’t missing the bus after all, but because I knew a crazy trip had just begun. It was a sign of things yet to come.
Hampi and its too many boulders
As we woke up in the bus the next morning, instead of having arrived in Hampi, our bus had broken down and we were stranded 200 kms away from our destination. Talk of crazy things happening. It was 8 of us from the group in the bus. While Yogita took on the dare and shouted ‘Mafia’ in the middle of the night as the entire bus slept, Komal slept way too well throughout the 16 hour journey, Ishpreet and Abhishek thought we were weird and I had the same first impression about them (On afterthoughts, they are the cutest couple I have met. Also I am saying this so she features me in one of her upcoming popular videos. You have to check them out. The speed at which her subscribers are growing is insane).
Neeraj had no clue Jyoti was joining for the trip- it had been an elaborate setup- and his reaction, as usual, was poker-faced. Lavanya had no clue Jyoti and I were joining for the trip- she just stood motionless in awe when she saw us at the hotel reception. Talk about elaborate plans to surprise people you didn’t even know two months back!
With our arrival delayed by 4 hours, half the sightseeing plans at Hampi had to be chucked away. Nothing was going to dampen the spirits though. It was a pleasantly hot day and we saw the major ruins of the old capital city. I realized I didn’t remember a thing about the place from my visit 15 years ago.
But then, Hampi isn’t just about the temples and the ruins. We crossed the Tungabhadra river jumping from rock to rock, while some of us slipped and fell in the water and others captured the moments on camera. We arrived in the hippie side of Hampi and learnt bouldering, climbing huge and dangerous rocks with no equipment but our hands and feet for grip. After all the adrenaline rush, our group of 18 then spent the evening sitting at a café by the river, playing getting-to-know-each-other games and the bonds of friendship just being sown.
|Scaling Heights, Bouldering in Hampi|
|Kuch kuch upar, kuch kuch niche. Photo: Ishpreet|
About bus journeys, intense games, birthday surprises and a lot of water
The next three days saw us taking long bus journeys. From Hampi to the Dandeli Sanctuary and then to Gokarna. As I had expected from my previous experience of Neeraj’s trip, these long journeys were the most active times and were spent playing a plethora of games, shouting names, long conversations, putting people in the spotlight for all stupid reasons and the aisle converted into a dance bar (with dancing laser lights). Vidhya stole the limelight here with her surprise performance. Reshma and Shriya joined us in the middle of the trip at random locations, surprising more people, and expecting we would consider them part of the group. We didn’t have an option, did we? They did manage to become an intrinsic part of the remaining trip somehow. :P
There were hours of water polo sessions in the under-chlorination swimming pool even after the resort authorities made all attempts to get us out of the water, Mani and Abhishek did their best to teach me the basics of swimming but I panicked even at just the 4-feet depth, wading through the water wasn’t easy but our team managed to score a lot of goals in the most hilarious of manners. There were people being toppled from kayaks, their confidence of handling the mean device being laughed at within moments, others were falling off the Burma bridge crossing, still others were thrown into the water when they were least expecting it (I wasn’t even wearing a life jacket that time!) Craziness had taken over and everyone in those moments was probably enjoying the time to the fullest, not caring about what’s there back home, back at work when the Monday morning would arrive.
In the 4 days, we probably slept for a total of 12 hours. We didn’t feel for a moment that we missed out on sleep. It in fact was the other way round- what if we miss out on something if we fall asleep? Sure, Karuna wasn’t thinking of it that ways at all- calmly sleeping during the absolutely intense mafia games every single night- when everyone else sat cuddled in blankets trying to decipher who the mighty mafia is and even when we let Aditi become God who was superbly bad at Maths (like the 1-10 counting types) although we were not in the mood to play the game.
|Kayaking in still water is toooooo easy! Dandeli|
|Arriving at the Om Beach, Gokarna|
We celebrated Rachita’s birthday a day in advance. Kriti had got a cake from the only bakery in Gokarna. At midnight, when the entire resort was in darkness, all of us got together in one room to surprise her. The cake was set in the middle of the room and Rachita was woken up with the pretext that there is a power issue in the resort and that she must move to the other room while the authorities fixed it in her room. After a few minutes of well-rehearsed acting from Kriti (that included ‘There are cats’ as the answer to Rachita’s query ‘Why we can’t sit outside by the pool?’) while everyone controlled their laughter sitting in the dark room, Rachita asks something none of us expected ‘If there is no power, how come the AC and fans are working?’ The entire room burst out laughing as the lights were switched on and the cake cut.
While Lavanya, Geetika and Soumya bid adieu on the Sunday evening, Abhishek and Ishpreet stayed back, canceling their tickets, for one more night together with the group. We hardly knew each other at the start of the trip but if there was something bothering us all on the last day at Gokarna, it was the fact that we will have to go back to our respective cities the next morning.
Chronicle of Thalassa - The extended trip to Goa
Neeraj had told me about his plan for an extended trip to Goa with Mani and Sayali and whoever wanted to join and so I hadn’t booked my return tickets. As we arrived in Goa, the state bore a desolate look with enhanced security, thanks to the assembly elections coming up the next Saturday. Everything was closed by 9 in the night. Our days were spent having some of the choicest of sea food (after we woke up post mid-day), sitting by the beach, some back-breaking moments and some random questions with long conversations.
On the last evening, the remaining 8 of us hired a Thar and went out to see Goa. We arrived at the Thalassa beach with a crate of beer and cold drinks and chips and sat on the sand a little distance away from the waves. For almost 7 hours we sat there inventing and playing stupid games and having fun conversations. As the shacks closed and the music went off, the discussions became more intense and deeper.
I had been quiet throughout the weeklong trip, quieter than my usual self. I had realized it even before people started asking me if something was bothering me. Remaining quiet and not being able to figure out the reason was what was bothering me. Probably it was because of meeting the overwhelming number of new people at the same time on the trip or probably because I knew a few people already and hence the absolute freedom of being with strangers wasn’t there. Or perhaps it was because I had a plethora of things running in my mind at the same time and was not able to put two and two together, unable to make sense of life and its ways.
But then there are times when you feel absolutely comfortable talking to a group of strangers, confessing your admiration for them, sharing the deepest of your secrets, and moments and thoughts, because probably even if you met just few days ago for the first time, you bonded and connected with them for the similar levels of stupidity, anxiety and emotions. Probably their seemingly random and casual actions gave you the strength to deal with certain things in life. Probably their love for long and deep conversations gave you a friend who would listen to you when you most needed them. Probably the experience they came with would guide you through life’s bigger challenges.
Under the starry sky at the Thalassa Beach that night, as the tide increased every minute, it was the most beautiful time we spent with each other, the only people on the entire beach. Strangers had once again become friends, the traveler in them uniting the hearts... The longing for the trip to never end simply continued...
|The group reaches the shacks of Goa|
|After the chronicle of Thalassa, we realised we had not had food. It was 3 AM.|
As I hugged everyone and bid goodbye the next day, the taxi driver was smiling. On the way to the railway station he asked me, “School friends or college friends?” I simply laughed wondering how I would explain to him the crazy bonding I now had with people who I didn’t even know when I was running in the middle of the highway to catch the bus to Hampi a week ago.