My daughter Sharanya and I look down at the Alaknanda river. “Let’s go,” I say and we begin the hard climb down an uneven, slippery section of the hillside. At one point, a Mango tree, felled by a storm the previous night, lies across the trail. We just edge around it and keep going.
Reaching the river, we settle down on one of the grey boulders strewn along the banks. The sky is a clear blue and we can still smell the earthy fragrance that follows a shower.
A younger Sharanya might have balked at the threat posed by the difficult descent, but she is now a teenager. Mindful of the fact that I might slip, I have left my camera in the hotel room. That’s when it strikes me: both of us have changed.
There was a time when I would have neither bothered about my safety nor gone anywhere without my camera.I am infamous in the family for forgetting my surroundings in the quest for a perfect picture – I have leaned precariously out of a moving train, perched on unsteady piles of rocks, and gotten too close to wild animals. Sharanya’s company has gradually made me more circumspect. It’s not just that she gets anxious when I put myself in danger. “I don’t like it when you are lost in your camera….waiting for the right light or things like that spoil your experience. It’s not necessary to capture every single thing that’s beautiful you know,” she once told me.
It’s when I recall this piece of wisdom that I put the camera down. I hold her hand as we go for silent walks on a forest trail or watch seawater rush into channels we’ve made on a sandy beach. Sharanya has made me realize that a part of my life is hers too and that sometimes, I need to move out of my own world to truly be with her. And Sharanya has learned to give me time to myself. She recognizes the need for me to take pictures and notes for my blog even on a family holiday and stops me only when I get too lost in the process.
My daughter and I have covered a lot of ground together – over 50 Indian towns and cities at last count. From being carried around on the first trip, Sharanya now hauls a suitcase with ease, and from running startled by the first waves to lick her tiny feet, she now walks right into the surf. We’ve discovered the thrill of parasailing in Tarkarli, zip lining in Mussoorie, and quad biking in Saputara, as also the simple pleasures of throwing rocks in Khardi and bird watching in Anegundi .
In Karnaprayag, we’ve decided to pick up pebbles from the river for her collection back home. “Mama, look at this,” Sharanya says, drawing my attention to a white wave-like design on a black stone. The morning sun’s rays light up her hair in a golden halo as she holds on to assorted pebbles with one hand, the other hand holding up the stone, still wet from the water. An art enthusiast, she’s quick to notice nature’s creations and has a habit of pointing them out to me – a habit I’m grateful for.
I walk towards her to take a look and am reminded of a time in Pachmarhi when Sharanya had collected her weight in stones. Some of that precious cargo had to be left behind simply because it was too heavy. Recently, when I asked Sharanya about her first travel memory, she spoke about that trip, “I collected a lot of pebbles and had to throw them because you people didn’t want to carry all of them.”
It brought home the difference between our worldviews. How wonderfully devoid of practicalities a child’s world can be! Her memories from that trip also turned out to be diametrically opposite to mine. While I remember having a refreshing bath under a waterfall and being amazed at sighting a python in the wild, Sharanya says, “bees were trying to sting my head. Then, we saw a python…I was a little scared, but Appa (father) said it had already eaten and that made me feel better.”
It reminded me of all the times I have coaxed her to try something new without understanding what’s making her anxious. But, I know that the cajoling has helped too. She’s less afraid now, more open to trying new experiences while traveling: To taking a ski lift with her legs dangling in the air; To riding a water scooter with water splashing in her face; To driving a mountain bike, even if slowly. She knows that travel, like life, is not just about staying safe but about exploring and finding the little things that give you joy. It’s about walking down a slippery path to collect pebbles from a river.
Has travel changed you? Feel free to share your comments below. You could even talk about a special memory from a trip.
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