Respite in nature

This long weekend, I did something I hadn’t attempted before. I went hiking up a trail to reach a lake, at 1072 ft above sea level. The short hike of 1.5 hours, took me almost 4 hours. Up and down the mountains, scurrying from one to the other, picking our way around trails washed away by landslides, trying not to fall into the abyss as we gingerly attempt to find strong footholds, I watched the locals in pure awe as they went up and down, sure footed, nearly sprinting through the trail. We were left in their trail dust and I kept falling further behind from the group. My head was buzzing, my heart had felt like it would burst through any moment. In those moments, I felt the effect of nearly two decades of smoking, more acutely then I had ever felt before. Towards the end, very close to our destination, I stood on a ledge, unable to take one more step, unwilling to tumble into the abyss, I leaned on my stick as I tried to make up my mind on whether I wanted to throw up or lie down in a place I could not even stand properly. I almost gave up right there.

And I remembered  then – it’s darkest right before the sun rises. In the midst of the chaos of life, we become blinded to it’s blessings. 

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Once we reached the village and soaked ourselves in the lake, I could feel myself relaxing and settling into my new surroundings. We went to bed early only to wake up 3 hours later. The village was quiet, all lights were off and yet it was bathed in silver moonlight. I took a walk through the valley, admiring the full moon, a sky full of stars, the cleanliness and quiet of village life. My group asked me the next day if I had been afraid.

And I realized something else – I am wary of people, not nature or anything that is part of it. 

Boga Lake, Bandarban.

Boga Lake, Bandarban.

I stayed put the next day while a major part of the group hiked up higher to the 5th highest peak in Bangladesh. I went for a walk through the village, photographing children, watching people at work, admiring the serene beauty of my surroundings. I couldn’t help but notice that the children of the village were wary of us, outsiders. We had descended on them like locusts. Large groups had arrived that morning, we were loud, obnoxious and littered everywhere. A clean village turned dirty within a minutes. The local shop keepers watched us from a distance, cleaning up their parcel of land as soon as groups moved on. We had drifted so far from nature, from any sense of belonging that we had no problem polluting our environment wherever we went.

And I knew the reason I am wary of people – we are unaware, unconscious, inconsiderate of anything other than our need to consume and our greed for more. 

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As I walked on, a lady on a loom caught my eye, we smiled at each other and I joined her on her veranda. It was mid-day by then and already quite hot and humid, a few minutes after I joined her, she muttered something and got off her loom and went inside. I sat on the veranda wondering if I had somehow offended or disturbed her with my presence. For the few minutes that I was left alone, I debated slinking back to where I came from, ashamed of what I considered to be an intrusion. But she returned with a drink of water and a bunch of bananas. It was probably what she had at hand to offer, as she indicated that I should eat and drink, I settled down again into enjoying our mutual company. A few minutes later, she took the loom apart and wrapped it up and once again I wondered if I should leave. But an elderly lady came by and helped her set up another loom, this time with bright yarns of green and red, she was going to weave another shawl. I sat on the floor, part of her scene, trying to stay out of her way as I watched their hands deftly set up the yarns in place. The repeated motion was soothing, the dedication and attention to detail felt like meditation.

They chatted quietly between themselves and smiled at me while pointing for me to have more water or banana. A man passing by joined us and she repeated the same ritual, went inside to get him a drink of water and more bananas. He could speak my language, so we struck up a conversation. The ladies were curious and had quite a few questions – we traded answers back and forth, smiling, giggling as we shared our lives in languages we do not speak. Her neighbors joined us and five more kids. The man left, he was going to walk back to his village and it would take him the rest of the day, she offered him more bananas to take for the way. I sat there for nearly an hour longer, the ladies around me talking, the kids playing, slowly relaxing in my presence. When they first arrived, they stayed out of reach, as they relaxed and lost themselves in play, they inched closer, until they started initiating games with me.

I had not remembered to ask permission to take photographs when the man was there, so I kept my camera closed. Recording the moment in memory. A group of ladies and their children, enjoying a lazy afternoon, working, weaving, catching up with each other and watching over their kids. An hour later, I decided to make my way back to the house I was staying at, as I waved goodbye, the kids waved back and the ladies smiled.

On the way back, I stopped to admire two kids playing, I took a picture of them, one turned around immediately and said ‘no’. I apologized as I showed them the picture. The other one had been playing on the veranda, she said ‘yes, more picture’, so I took a couple more. Each time I snapped a pic and showed them, they giggled.

And I learnt once again – We are all strangers in a strange land, until we stop, smile and acknowledge each other’s presence. Hospitality is a state of mind, not material status. Trust must be gained and respect offered if we are to coexist in peace and tranquility with each other.

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As I returned back to the home we were staying in, the lady of the house offered us lunch. I am not a big fan of vegetables but that fresh vegetarian meal was so delicious that I took three more helpings. She was obviously pleased that we were enjoying her meal and we lingered afterwards chatting, drinking tea, trading more questions back and forth. Her husband came by and teasingly asked us whether we think that his sweetheart is more beautiful then him, she said something to him in their own language and they lovingly teased each other before he turned around to tell us that he too had been very handsome in his young years. The couple has 3 children, two of whom are studying here in my city, the youngest is living with them in the village. They run the home-stay during tourist season to make extra money while the rest of the year is spent in agriculture, running their little shop and handicraft sale. They have tried to diversify their income base to give their children an easier life then what they had.

People and their resilience continue to surprise me. For them the market is a day’s walk away, for others it can take up to 2 days. The village people rarely get sick, but they think it’s partly because they have no doctor in the village and  the closest health complex would take a day to reach on foot. I think it has more to do with their environment. Ingredients are fresh, they drink water from the mountain springs, the air is clean and they have close to zero carbon emission. It’s one of the purest, cleanest places I have been to in this country. They have an innate sense of belonging in nature, a respect for nature that is missing in most of us city folk. Their bond with each other and their community strong, everyone looking after each other.

And I realized that our dissonance lies in our disconnection – from each other, from nature, from having lost our sense of community or belonging. In the cities, we don’t know our neighbors, we are so busy rushing from one task to another, we rarely stop to check on the people around us. In our greed for more, we hustle and we forget to slow down, to enjoy the moments that make up our day, with the people we share our hours with. Our children no longer has childhood of free play and easy camaraderie with fellow playmates. It’s scheduled and supervised as we control every moment of their lives.

I used to travel and find pieces of my soul in far flung places. This time when I traveled, I learnt to shed the excess baggage of expectations, vanity, ego.

I learnt to ask for help as I gasped my way through mountain trails.

I learnt to pace myself and respect my ability to get things done in my own time.

I learnt the meaning of “wabi-sabi” through witnessing it first hand among the tribe we lived with.

I settled into the art of letting go of expectations of how things should be and instead admire what is.

I learnt that digital detox is not about being off from network but resisting the urge & expectation to be hitched to a digital leash.

Posted on September 29, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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