Notes from the road – edition 20: Dharamshala and 20 weeks of travel
This week I finally left Rishikesh. A very large part of my heart and soul will always be there, but six weeks in one place had me feeling seriously restless and dissatisfied.
On Monday night Lu and I boarded our overnight bus to Dharamshala. We arrived on Tuesday morning to what appeared to be a sleepy mountain town. Rain clouds shrouded the surroundings and we could feel a storm on the air. After the intense heat and dryness of Rishikesh, this was a blessed relief, and I relished in the feeling of not constantly dripping with sweat.
I managed to fall sick, again, and so spent Wednesday in bed. Luckily it was only a 24-hour bug and I was out exploring on Thursday again.
Bhagsu Waterfall is one of the beautiful waterfalls in the area, and I scrambled and climbed my way to the very top, away from the easily accessible main tourist area, to enjoy some peace and quiet by myself.
My first impression of Dharamshala, Bhagsu, and Dharamkot, the three main areas here, were of sleepy little mountain towns were nothing much happens and time slows right down. To an extent I was right, time melds together here, the days following each other without any real indication of their passing. It’s a beautiful place to slow down and implement habits and practices like I spoke about last week.
As with most towns like this though, it has a lively side that I was lucky enough to be introduced to fairly quickly. It seems to be a haven for musicians, writers, dancers, and artists of all kinds. There’s regular live music, which I love, and all kinds of workshops, classes, and mindfulness/meditation things to engage in.
It’s a place bursting with talent and positive energy, never a bad combination.
20 straight weeks of travel
When I set out on this adventure of mine in February of this year, I had a lot of expectations. I thought I knew how it was going to work out. I was willing to adapt, but I had a pretty clear image of what I wanted to be doing and how I wanted to do it.
The universe must surely have had a good giggle at that. With big endeavours like this, rarely do things go the way we planned, and my travels have been no exception. In a fantastic way, I’ve experienced things I never thought I would, grown in ways I didn’t know were possible, made incredible new friends from all over, and generally had a bloody good time.
I’m far from an expert, but I thought I’d share a few lessons I’ve learned along the way for those who might be considering their own one-way ticket adventure. I’ll probably turn this into a separate blog post when I get back to a regular blog writing schedule, but for now here’s a few nuggets of wisdom I’ve picked up along the way.
It took me a while to learn this one, and it’s something I still grapple with from time to time. But in my opinion, slowing down is the best thing you can do when travelling long term. The excitement of a new destination can easily take you in its grip. You want to see and do everything a place has to offer and you want to do it right now. But in so doing, you don’t really see anything. Yes, you went and saw that waterfall, that temple, that historic site, but did you take time to enjoy yourself while you were there, or did you just snap an Instagram banger and then head to the next destination?
Stop. Take a breath, or ten. Slow down. Take the time to appreciate where you are, what you’re doing, who you’re with, and the incredible fact that you’re living the dream you’ve dreamt for the last however long (several years in my case).
Money vs experience
Ahh, this old chestnut. When I left on my trip, I had a budget in place, I thought I would be able to stretch my hard-earned savings for a fairly reasonable amount of time while still enjoying myself each and every day. It ties into my previous point, but in trying to do too much too quickly, I ended up blowing a pretty big hole in my pocket very quickly. It’s one of those macro versus micro things. You have to balance taking part in experiences with taking time to chill out and have days that aren’t as exciting as others.
I don’t necessarily regret the way I went about my first three months of travel. I experienced a whole lot and had so much fun, but it means now that I’m in a bit of a tight spot with money while I wait to get my tax return before heading to my next destination.
Friends you’ll probably never see again
Hostel culture is a wonderful thing at times. It’s very easy to make friends, and you’ll probably have the time of your life with these strangers. All too often though, these great nights out or adventure days are a one off. You go your separate ways having followed each other on social media, but you both lead your own lives and you’re from different continents.
It’s a sensation you have to get quickly accustomed to. The connection you have with people that you’ll likely never see again, as much as you would like to.
Dirt and discomfort
In three weeks of travelling Sri Lanka I only washed my clothes twice. I smelt, probably quite badly, and I was very often uncomfortable. But that is a reality of long-term backpacking that you really just have to get used to. You won’t always have access to a laundry, a bucket, or whatever you use to wash your clothes.
As much as backpacking is a great way to meet new people, there are often occasions where you spent great swaths of time on your own. It’s in these moments where the opportunity for self-growth occurs most frequently and naturally. These moments can be scary but developing a love and appreciation for the self is paramount to leading a happy life, and so they must be embraced. Journal, get off social media, meditate, do something that forces you to be present and aware of your loneliness. The longer you ignore it, the more it festers and turns into something rather unpleasant.
I’ve touched on this before, but I started my journey with a lot of expectation and pressure on myself. Long-term travel is a great way to learn to leave expectation out of the equation. Every day is completely unique, with completely new experiences, and you quickly realise that if you continue to bring expectation to the table, the days will start to sour.
Leave expectation at home, you’ve jammed enough into your backpack as it is.
That’s it from me folks, until next week, Happy voyaging!