Monday, March 31, 2014

The Magical Himalayan Odyssey - Expectations, Impact and Trade-offs

In the previous blog post, I tried answering one of the most common questions – Why did I take up this journey? Now, let me take a shot at answering the second most common question and possibly the tougher one to answer - What is the ultimate impact this travel break has had on me?

Before I started, was discussing with a good friend as to what is the expected outcome of this break and what if I fail to achieve it? I remember saying ‘at the least, am sure it is going to be a happy journey, if not anything else. At the other end, it might turn out to be a life changing experience’. Today, as I write this, have to admit that the outcome is actually somewhere in between, but more towards a life changing experience.

These 221 days were undoubtedly the happiest 221 days I ever had. Even if this was the only outcome, I would still say the journey was worth it. It might sound simple, but are there many things which are important than just being happy? Maybe not. Thanks to this journey, my standards for defining happiness have gone up. Also, often we tend to keep our expectations a bit lower, so it is easy to achieve and hard to be disappointed. But, this journey has given me the faith and the confidence required not to be afraid to push the bar for defining happiness.

No doubt it started off as a happy journey, but slowly transformed to something more deep and impactful. As I mentioned in the previous post, every aspect of this journey is directly or indirectly tied to one or the other little passions of mine. In effect, what I had was the chance to experience how it feels to pursue things one believes in. How it feels to be in places one connects to. How it feels to be surrounded by people one can admire and respect and who are in a better position to understand what you are trying to pursue. I have experienced a combination of one or more of these things earlier, but all the things coming together at once is a rare occurrence. In all likelihood, this is what made it a happy journey more than anything else. I would have heard a hundred times before that there is joy in pursuing what you believe in. But, what better way to understand it than to experience it. Given this situation, what would have felt like a major hindrance earlier just seemed like a minor challenge. Few examples:
  • Skid off the track on a trek? No problem, just dust yourself off and move on. If any member from the Goechala team is reading this, they will relate better.
  • Reach a town at 11 in the night without any arrangement for accommodation? Not to worry, something will turn out.
  • Work for almost 3 weeks at a stretch? Not an issue at all.  
  • Travel alone for 43 hours with Indian railways and reach your destination at 1 am in the morning, as against the expected 5 pm the previous evening? Not such a bad deal.
  • Get stuck in a town bordering two states because some random group has called for a bandh on the other side? These things keep happening.
The next biggest takeaway has to be meeting tens of interesting, inspiring and lovely human beings – Faith in humanity restored!!  I have to tell this, if I had an option, I could build a new world with the people I met as the family and friends in it. Not to say that the existing set of family and friends would be discarded, but the new ones will be welcome additions :)

To meet these sweet people and learn about their journeys was inspiring, to say the least. I got to learn quite a lot just by patiently listening to their experiences and observations. I am extremely fortunate that I had the chance to spend time with these people and also work with few of them. Each had a story to share and a valid viewpoint to present. They also had the patience to listen to me and correct me whenever I was wrong.

Looking back, I would rate these things as the biggest takeaways – Just being Happy, Doing what I believed in and meeting tens of interesting and inspiring human beings. I could list a few more fringe and unexpected benefits. But, I will save them to share with you people when we meet and not reveal everything in the blog :)

Now, let’s look at the trade-offs. We cannot ignore the trade-offs, whenever we make a conscious choice to get one thing, we are invariably losing on something else. So, this journey comes at a price, both literally and figuratively. The third most common question I have been asked is, how much did this journey cost? I generally refrain from giving a direct answer, not because I have not kept track of the expenses, but because I don’t want any of my friends to make the mistake of judging the worth of this journey by the money spent. If one needs to know the budget, so he/she could plan a similar break, I am more than happy to share the budget and maybe also help with few tricks have learnt along the way for low cost travel. Overall, I did not go fully low budget, for the simple reason that I did not have to. I am not a big fan of the romanticism associated with low budget travel. I can tell with confidence that the amount have spent and the amount have lost because of being away from work (which is substantially more than my expenditure) seems totally worth considering the experiences have gained. So, the first trade-off is the financial part. One cannot go on a travel break and still expect to get a message at the end of the month saying ‘XYZ rupees has been credited to your account’!!

The second trade-off is more individualistic. If one is lucky, you might have family who completely understand and appreciate your journey. This is one end of the spectrum. The other end is where they might feel ashamed of your move to quit work and go on a travel break. I would say, the reality is generally somewhere in between. As I said, it completely varies from one to another. So, be prepared for the reality, whatever it be in your case.

I was aware of these two trade-offs all through the journey. But, one thing I am realizing now is the effort needed to transition to the next phase. This is proving to be a bit more challenging than I anticipated. Am still working on the transition, so might be in a better position to talk more about this a couple of months down the line.

Well, that’s my quick summary of the expectations I had, the eventual impact and the inevitable trade-offs. Hope reading these experiences gives you some food for thought and helps you when you are planning/working on your travel break.

In the next post, will write a bit about my understanding of travel and the associated myths and realities.