By Megh Roy
The prospect of lone travelling is thrilling and threatening at the same time, especially for young female travellers. I was planning to jump off my bed one February morning, having tossed and turned over in compounded distress the night before. To go or not go, hasn’t that always been the eternal dilemma?
Having packed essentials, my wallet and the indispensable cell phone, I slung my rucksack across my shoulders. The phantoms of my past had long pinned me down but the weightlessness of my bag and the road ahead of me offered the much-needed hope of rejuvenation. I had too much on my mind lately. A solo trip seemed like an excellent way to relax and retrospect.
I had consciously chosen to avoid the more commercial biking adventures in Manali or the common experience of ‘let us get high with strangers’ in some remote woods in Kasol. But thought of fishing about in a spiritual euphoria with some exquisite desi bhang and hunting the desert called peda was more alluring to me than these other ‘thrilling adventures’. Uttar Pradesh is a state that promises spiritual enlightenment for pilgrims and family holiday enthusiasts. I however, had cold feet about at the thought of approaching a not so friendly environment for a lone girl.
After three hours of all hell breaking loose on an exhilarating train ride, I finally reached Vrindavan. You will understand what I mean if you have ever struggled through a bevy of confused passengers, tourists, mothers and ‘thela gadis’ (a kind of goods cart used in Indian railway stations) only to hop on an even more crowded train coach. Exhaustion and excitement surged through my body in equal amounts.
Vrindavan is a jostling town with decorated trekker cars, crafty plastic flowers and other artificial decors dangling from its iron frames. The seat cushions in these cars get particular attention from its owner, who is set to make you feel the best of ‘Atithi Devo Bhabha’. However, if you are a lone female runaway trying to squeeze in between the voluptuous thighs of men, and attempting to achieve a considerable amount of space for yourself, the jagged rug cushions do not succeed at making you comfortable. The ever so google-eyed infamous men made me cautious and fearless at the same time. That is when I started missing my pepper spray.
Anyways, the town has its own enticing aura. Even in the scorching heat the ever so happy and humble Indian cows lifting their bride-like-eyes in the middle of the roads are bound to enchant you. In that ever so elusive search for peace I found my way to the Krishna-Balaram mandir. The prabhus allowed me to engage in kirtan. This form of musical recital involving several instruments and particularly cymbals, calms the pulsating brain of those seated in a deep meditation.
With dusk came the serenity I had been chasing. The vast expanse of a clear sky lit by ample stars and the gentle breeze ambled along with my thoughts. I sat there unable to move, there was battle raging inside of me, yet there was contentment. I do not know how, but I was happy for sure. However, I needed a place to stay. And that is when with some luck and a friend’s humble influence I got a reliable lodge to settle down for the night.
Although determined to return the next morning, I knew there was still one place I had to visit. Having always had an affinity for riverbanks I found my self at the one-stop liberating destination-the Vishram ghat.
Ever sat on a wet cemented riverbank, with a strange conventional smell of melting ghee, marigold, and incense? Or felt a sublime silence hanging like cigarette smoke around you with an occasional screeching of the macaques? Here it is. As exact as this. Nothing mundane, nothing too extravagant. Only a few colourful boats with fluttering flags rowing across the tranquil water. My tired mind settled to a standstill. Here, I wanted nothing more. Here, I knew I had strived and failed, but once I lost my way and I found myself. On my return though, I made sure to grab bhang from a legit shop.
The shopkeeper glanced through his censorious spectacles and began to measure me by feet and inches. He gave me a sardonic smile. Before I could react, he came up with a gentle concern, “madam aap to bacchi ho, itna eka`hi baar mein maat lena”( Madam, you are young. Do not consume it in one go.)