I was drowning in the dilemma of ‘should I or should I not?’ while I was sitting under the shade of a tree in the vast barren Spiti valley and waiting to test my luck. So here is how the story goes. It was 2 p.m. and I was sitting just outside Nako village with my backpack, besides the road that would have taken me to Kaza, if I had not missed my 12:30 bus. Voila! I did it again and I couldn’t believe my carelessness. I have an ever-growing list of missed flights, trains and buses and I just added one more incident to the list. My mother would be so proud.
But this time around, I couldn’t wait for the next bus to come as that would happen the next day and who has time to waste?
With so little time and so much of land to explore, I decided to try my luck at the controversial hitch-hiking.
I had a broken tape running inside my head which went on repeating 4 things:
“Get your ass up, go back to the village and find a bed.”
“Is it ethical of me to ask for a free ride?”
“What would people think of me?”
“Is this insanity even safe?”
As a result, I got up many times to put my thumb out and succumbed to self-doubt every time.
But, a feeble voice inside my heart said, it’s now or never.
So, I mustered all the courage I had inside me, stood up, took my thumb out as a car zoomed past me; I slapped my head and did not move. I saw another speeding car coming towards me and felt anxious. As the driver came closer, I could see a smile on his face as he passed me and I thought to myself, ‘stop making a fool out of yourself. Go back and get on a bus tomorrow.
I dropped my head and started walking back when I heard a car honked. I turned to see, the driver stopped, he was looking back, smiling at me. A flood of mixed emotions hit me hard and after 2 seconds of recovery, I jogged towards the car. As I peeped inside the window, he asked ‘where to?’.
‘As close to Kaza as possible?’ I asked hesitantly.
With a wide grin, he opened the door and I was suddenly the happiest man on the planet. Over the next two hours, he made a wonderful host to a nervous me and kept me engaged in conversations and some Trivia about travel which had me on the edge of my seat the entire time.
After I was dropped off at Tabo, I was beaming with positivity and decided to travel entire Spiti and Ladakh through hitch-hiking and that is exactly what I did. On my upcoming trips, I made it a point to hitch-hike as much as possible and it slowly becomes more like a constant way of travelling. The first step is always the most difficult one; hard but memorable, anxious but eventful. Eventually, I ended up travelling half of the country making friends from Rajasthan to Nagaland, Ladakh to Karnataka. Believe me, not a single regret.
I have had some unforgettable experiences over the years; some good some bad, but never a dull moment. I have been hosted by a truck driver; and once, I spent an entire day looking for a ride and had to walk my way to the nearest village and start afresh the next day. I spent a day in a luxury car while I was a pillion rider to a mad person and his Royal Enfield the very next day. I made some really good friends on the way and had to run away sometimes. I prefer hitch-hiking over other modes of transport not because it is efficient and cheap but to experience the journey to its very core; to meet and interact with new people and learn new things(I was amazed by the kind of information people have to give).
It is a strange feeling. To share tea, endless laughter, memories and life stories with people you know you will never meet again. A weird serendipity that you know comes with an expiration date. At times, the hosts leave a deep impression on your heart and you tend to absorb their kindness and opulence in your being.
Hitch-hiking has made me more confident and more receptive to new thoughts and culture. It has taught me that some risks are worth taking and some chances are worth taking because travelling is much more than window seat aspirations. So, get out on the road, lay that thumb bare or make a signboard that says ‘anywhere, but here.’