Nehal Shah founder of Mumbai-based Hearth & Soil, a nature and activity club for parents who want their children to discover the simple joys of being one with nature, recants her thrilling experience scaling new heights, with a four-year-old in tow
VISUAL DEVANG PANCHAL
BITTEN BY THE TRAVEL BUG
Before Dev came along, I could feel the mountains calling every few months. I’d just have to pack a few things and I’d be on my way. In fact, some of my best memories have been from my Himalayan travels, and friends say I talk about them as if I have only just made my way back home. But, life does happen and the arrival of a child does change things a whole lot. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you do have to change your perspective and priorities.
Dev recently turned four. This meant that for four long years, I was an armchair traveller, basking in those beautiful memories of snow-capped scenic views and breathing in the crisp fresh air of Himachal Pradesh. And while my life at home has been an entirely new adventure, those mountain calls never ceased to taunt me.
When my travel buddies made an impromptu plan to hit the road, and make new memories, I jumped at the opportunity, almost refl exively. But then, I was rudely brought back to reality when Dev came running to me with one of his many fascinating stories, and guilt crept in. How on Earth would I be able to spend a week away from this little devil? That’s when I decided that perhaps, I would set out on an adventure with my son. I had tremendous support from my husband, and even if I chose to leave Dev home, his support didn’t waver for even a second. But I knew I’d miss Dev too much, so that decided it for me. This meant that I had to prepare Dev for the long journey ahead. After all, he was still only four, and too young to make uch a long journey. Or perhaps, my overprotective mommy instincts made me feel that way, but I had to make sure he was ready.
My talk with Dev went something like this: “Dev, mumma is planning a backpacking trip to Dharamshala. Do you know where it is? It’s in Himachal Paradesh. Would you like to see the mighty snow-capped Himalayas?” During the course of our many conversations about our trip, I also told him it is going to be very very cold and that we would, perhaps, encounter snow fall. Since ours was a shoestring budget, I didn’t want to lie to him about where we would be staying. I chose to be open and honest about staying in village homes, helping the locals, and told Dev that he would be playing with the village children and sharing mealtime with them. I explained to him that transport was going to be a problem and that we’d be on foot a lot. I explained that we would explore the area through hikes and treks, and of course, supplemented our discussion with a few images I had on my phone. After talking about the place, I finally asked him if he would like to join me.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t surprised that he was excited to be part of this adventure. After all, he does get his curiosity from me. But, I was still sceptical because he is young, so I reiterated the fact that it was going to be a long, cold and difficult journey. But nothing could change his mind. Dev was sold on the idea! In a way, I’m glad I didn’t try to dissuade him. It’s important that children know their parents trust them with certain things. I believe it helps build confidence and even teaches them to be responsible. And so, after we had booked our tickets, packed our bags and were mentally prepared, we set out on our little adventure.
THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED
We were scheduled to leave at 8.30 pm on the Mumbai to Amritsar-bound train via Golden Temple Express, a two-night journey, when Dev suddenly came down with a fever that evening. I didn’t want to go ahead with our plan because Dev’s health was my utmost priority, but he showed immense enthusiasm despite the fever. And I couldn’t break his heart. So, after consulting my husband and family doctor, we got the go-ahead. Soon, we were on our way. Dev was peaceful in the train, and didn’t create any fuss. I did keep him hydrated and checked his temperature every four hours, but he was determined to get better. In fact, he’d keep telling me he was going to be okay every time I mentioned we’d go home if things didn’t get better. He made sure he ate all his meals and didn’t refuse any food given to him. I was inspired by his sheer will to get stronger. By the time we reached Amritsar, Dev was a whole lot better, save for a slight cold.
Since we had a bit of time before our tourist vehical was ready to take us to Dharamkot, we spent the day visiting the Golden Temple. The fact was, I was immensely grateful that Dev was all better, healthy and determined, paying a visit was an inevitability. Soon, we were on our way. Since it was a rather long journey, we did make a few pit stops to make the most of the majesty that lay in front of us. First, we stopped to pluck some oranges and a few delicious bites while were were at it. Our next stop to stretch our legs was at a small village school. Dev was only too excited to have company in his own age group, and was only too excited to play a little. And as we kept ascending, it got colder, and it meant we were all covered up. Finally, we reached our destination, and were welcomed by our warm host family—a husband, wife and their three children.