December is upon us, and this morning I awoke, wondering if there would be a better time to document my experiences of 2016 than this day. Is there ever a better time than today? Like many of us, I am a fan of tomorrow. Diet? Tomorrow. Travel? Tomorrow. Self improvement? Why today? The schedule for the day that follows is just as barren! I love ya, tomorrow, you’re only a day away.
This year, more so than the 30 previous in my life, feels somewhat worthy of ennobling. It has been a little different in many ways, almost every moment of it has seen me more present and more involved in just living than ever before, and I’m petrified that I’m going to forget every detail as the days go by so let’s jump straight in at the bit where I did the thing so many of us dream of doing but never really get around to.
I’d been having one of those years. The early months of 2016 had been a sort of gloopy trickle of bad luck and disappointment. Some of these ill feelings I had likely encouraged, some I didn’t deserve, some I tried to stave off and some I wholly facilitated. March came around. It’s early in the year to be thinking “this year is terrible”, but, then it is also quarter of the year been and gone. Another winter is on the way out, another summer on the horizon. All I could see as I looked forward were my days falling away in much the same way as they had always done, a miasma of mostly comfortable routine, of work, of study, of commuting and small talk. I was restless. I was unhappy. Truly glum. Stuck.
Routine had been and always is, thankfully, punctuated with wonderful friends, with beautiful days, joy, happiness, laughter. Whether shared or alone, I do partake in these blissful days often, I really do. Around this time though, Spring 2016, these joyful days felt as though they had been getting further and further apart, the time between smiling felt almost eternal. There were little adventures to the city, late nights with the dearest friends discussing life and love, delicious food with delicious people, walks in the fields, library days…but all the while, like most people I expect, I had this bubbling sensation in my gut that…well, maybe time is running out? Maybe I am wasting my life? Maybe I could or should be doing something more than I do, things that I wanted to do, for myself or for others? My mood, accompanying the English weather with its frivolous disregard for my wellbeing, had spiralled into a consuming hopelessness and self-doubt. My days were increasingly an exercise in complaining and self-pity. I was looking up from my indulgent pit feeling like the sides of the rut were unconquerable. The world I spent hours gazing at from my kitchen window seemed bland and unforgiving, turning unequivocally, not at all heeding my longing for it to just pause for one brief moment to allow me to catch my breath.
“I just need some time” I thought. Every single day.
“But time is relative” I would retort. (Battling my own thoughts daily was just another surefire sign that it was time for a change or a rest). “Time’s a concept I impose on myself, we impose on ourselves as humans”. I had a dream one night that time was a tangerine, every day I peeled it and gave the segments to those around me in the morning, I squeezed it, juiced it, and before breakfast time, I’m left with just the pith and the rind of my own tangerine, which someone wants to grate for a cake.
I often feel I don’t have enough of time, and yet I tell myself it is abundant. There are many days left in which I can fall in love, I can call my mother, I can get a real job, I can see the world…
Many days. I have plenty of time. Don’t I? Hmm.
“Time is a funny thing. Time is a very peculiar item. You see, when you’re young, you’re a kid, you’ve got time. You got nothing but time. Throw away a couple of years here, a couple of years there, it doesn’t matter, you know. The older you get, you say “Jesus, how much I got? I got 35 summers left.” Think about it. 35 summers….”.
With my ever-decreasing number of summers in mind, the overwhelming urge to escape everything and everyone I know finally took hold, and I just let it happen. After several years of suppressing the urge to run away, of flitting between jobs, people and studying, trying to fill the gap in my soul with gin, late nights and pursuing aspirations that weren’t actually my own, I booked a one-way flight.
I’d been looking at train tickets, to travel from Oxfordshire to Cumbria to visit my loved ones, train tickets to take me about 250 miles north. As always, I resent the expense. At over £100 for a return, I often find myself delaying my visits home, I certainly don’t visit as often as I’d like. £100 is a lot of money. I found myself looking to see if it would be cheaper to fly to Manchester, and whilst browsing domestic flights on Skyscanner I playfully clicked the option to show me flights from London to “Everywhere”. How far I could fly for £100? Certainly to Europe and back, probably two or three times. Turkey, Tunisia, oh Dubai, only £160! Thailand? £280 one way.. I’ve already been there. New Delhi. £270. All that way. To India. I’d daydreamed of India many a time. Of bustling cities, of beaches and markets, of rickshaws and street food, of Bollywood, of camel safaris, snake charmers and overcrowded trains.
So, it happened. A couple of clicks and it was booked. Thursday 1st September 2016, one way from Birmingham to New Delhi. I submitted my payment and awaited an email to confirm my ticket. I’d given myself 6 months or so to save up some money for what would undoubtedly be the trip of a lifetime. On the morning of the flight, I awoke, a bag of nerves, packed, repacked… I hopped in a taxi after some emotional phone calls and boarded my flight, having nowhere specific to go, no-one awaiting me, no need to be anywhere at all for the coming 12 weeks.
Over a series of posts in the next few months or so, I’ll try to convey a little of how it all unfolded, from biking in the Kullu Valley, waking up in the Himalayas, hunting for a grave of a long-lost relative in Dalhousie, to cremation at the burning ghats in Varanasi, tears at the Taj Mahal, cocktails, cows and crows on beaches of Goa and the tea plantations of Munnar, and everything in between. Perhaps you’ll read my tales, perhaps you won’t. If I’ve learned anything from my travel experiences, this time around and in the past, it’s that I travel for me and I tell stories for me, no-one else.
It sure is fun if someone else comes along for the ride, though.