I travel alone to the hills because it’s how I want to experience the world for now. It’s not as though I am one with the sand and the sky or anything fancy like that. I just feel interconnected to the sum of their moving parts. It also lends itself more to discoveries, life-changing or merely chimerical. The more people I am surrounded with – the less likely I am to feel the pulse of the environment. And it’s not just because how loud and obnoxious they can be.
Exploring a town, a village or the woodlands is an exercise in self-centeredness. I couldn’t be more self-absorbed. If one travels with like-minded folks, it can be a delightful experience. A sharing of primordial sensibilities and digestible proportions of love and laughter.
However, with the wrong individuals, travelling can be stressful. A nuisance like no other.
I find it exhausting, at times, to deal with human inhibitions. No matter where some are, they can’t go through the hour without complaining about something or the other. They are so used to the stench of traffic that they cannot deal with silence. And they have trust issues with people who belong to lower income brackets. Insects, reptiles and wild cattle too. It’s only a matter of time before they disassociate themselves from the location.
Whenever I have wandered alone in the plains and hills of southern India, I have felt lighter. More fluid and confident in movement. I was able to sense and understand things that I wouldn’t if I had someone with me.
The warmth of sitting on a crumbling wooden stool, tonguing the warm flesh of passion fruit. Seeing dusk undress with songs of Shrikes and Barbets on the playlist. Spending an entire evening in front of a cottage with potted plants by a windowsill. Watching nature’s little subplots evolve on tiny blades of grass.
And the joys of running into kindred strangers.
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of connecting with a few wonderful people because I took the decision to travel by myself.
Senthil Kumar was the first one. In 2012, I met him in Kodaikanal. He is a yoga practitioner and a talented multi-instrumentalist. A native of Kanchipuram, he had left a regimented lifestyle to find harmony in the hills.
He teaches yoga and farms vegetables to make a living for himself. And he jams with hill-dwelling musicians from all over the world to set his soul on fire.
I ran into Senthil at an Israeli café in Vattakanal, having followed a Crested Serpent Eagle. He was afoot with a Didgeridoo – a traditional Aboriginal wind instrument – slung over his shoulder. He saw me scooting across a pine forest – gazing upwards and stopped for a conversation.
We went to the cafe and ran through several cups of fresh coffee and a mound of rolled tobacco. We spoke about socialist propagandas and just how brilliant King Crimson was. He was also curious to find out how far we had regressed, as a society, back in the city. And I wanted to hear him talk about life in the hills.
Just before I left, I asked him if I could record a video of him playing the instrument. He agreed, with a generous smile. So, we went inside an adjoining forest filled with peach trees and Malabar Whistling Thrushes. The matinee mist was just drifting in from the mouths of nearby mountains.
Soon, thunderous music filled my lungs. It poured out of the skies. Ran up the trees. Skirted through acres of moss on giant rocks.
There was music everywhere.
Let it flow into your lungs too.
(Photographs: Gavi, Munnar, Valparai & Kodaikanal)