I’ve traveled a lot. Both in India, and around the world. Not just on ‘business’, but also for leisure.
Most of the time, there’s a pattern we follow. Make a list of things to do, sights to see, places to visit. Check them off the list, one by one. At the end, the trip is judged upon how many items were achieved, and how good or bad each one was, as an experience.
Well, our recent trip to the mountains of Sikkim and Darjeeling was different.
From the lush green plains of Siliguri, we drove down muddy, cool streets lined by tall trees into the forested remoteness of Lataguri in the Dooars. And from there, we motored up winding, oft-crumbling and pot-holed hill roads to reach the lofty heights of the mighty Himalayan range.
If Pelling is a magnificent mountain resort commanding a view of the mighty Mt.Kanchenjunga, and Gangtok is the worthy capital of a state more popularly known around the world as the ‘Switzerland of Asia’, the route from one to the other is a delight to the senses… and a crown worthier than its wearer.
Sensational and spectacular scenery greets you everywhere you turn in Sikkim. It’s the only place I’ve been to where you could aimlessly point your camera in any direction, click, and end up with a snapshot that could be a picture postcard or pin-up calendar.
Distances (as the crow flies) mean little in this tiny border state, tucked away in the north-eastern extreme of India, wedged between Bhutan and Nepal, China and Bangladesh. We had been pleasantly meandering around all morning, only to have our driver point, late in the afternoon, to a mountain across the valley to say, “That’s Pelling, where we left this morning!”
What’s even more amazing is that we hardly realized it had been so long, engrossed as we were in feasting our eyes on some of the most remarkable natural beauty we’ve had the pleasure of enjoying, and relaxing in temperate weather that’s impossible to mimic in the South during summer, even with modern air-conditioning technology!
And as we rounded the bend, setting out on the road to Gangtok, that my daughter seated in the back asked the question:
“Where are we going next?”
In that magic instant before I replied, the real answer flashed into my head with startling clarity.
“It simply doesn’t matter. Because everywhere, it’s so lovely! The journey is the destination.”
And as the car grinded up the steep slopes only to coast back down the next bumpy incline, around and around the mountain-sides in the long journey to our next stop, another line of thought entered my mind, competing for attention with the mist-shrouded peaks of distant Himalayan ranges and closer by, the roaring, frothy waters of the Rimbhi and Teesta rivers, the terraced farms growing rice and tea, the occasional evidence of frail humanity’s attempt to harness a small portion of the massive energy of nature.
It was this.
Isn’t our journey through life itself like this?
We set ourselves ‘destinations’ and ‘stops’. Make ourselves lists to ‘check off’, and goals to ‘reach’. But all too often, in the mindless quest to get there, we miss enjoying many lovely things along the way.
Like health. And relationships. People and places, events and experiences, interactions and intimacies.
Small things. And sometimes even big ones.
A child’s performance in a dance program. A sunset. A bird singing on the tree outside your window. Suffering humanity caught in a cataclysm halfway across the world. A stranger’s smile on the bus. A playful dog’s antics. All become grist to our ‘Stuff to Ignore’ mill, as we focus on ‘getting where we must’.
But must we?
Isn’t the journey really the destination?