There are occasions when I plan travel or a holiday more for the company than the destination. With these trips, I hope to go with the general flow of things, spend as much time as possible with my co-travellers, and not bother too much with the environs or location. But such trips are also fraught with the danger of total collapse—a key individual dropping out can cause further attrition of the travel party and cancellation of the entire plan.
We encountered just such a situation recently when my aunt announced she wanted to celebrate her 75th birthday in Bhopal. The entire extended family made plans to travel there. Our nuclear unit of three—my wife, daughter, and I—as usual, made bookings at the last minute. As luck would have it, soon after we bought our flight tickets and just a week before the trip, my aunt developed dengue fever. Slowly, everyone in the group bailed out. Having made last minute plans, we were stuck with the raw end of refunds.
Should we cancel and lose a lot of our ticket money? Should we rebook to a different place, pay high last-minute ticket prices, and have a break anyway so we don’t waste our days off from work? Or should we go to Bhopal as planned?
Then a few days before our scheduled departure, while debating what to do, a quote from Julius Caesar came to my mind:
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Motivated by Shakespeare, we decided to forge ahead with the trip on our own. Loaded with our own insularity, we discussed and expected the worst, convinced we were tempting fate by heading to a dacoit-infested area of the country. We harboured only a glimmer of hope, based on the Bard’s philosophy.
Landing bleary-eyed in Bhopal at 7 a.m. to the announcement of a bandh didn’t auger well for our expectations. We huddled into a taxi and drove to Sanchi Stupa expecting to be accosted by guides who we would have to haggle with to get tomes of useless information. Or, would we be surrounded by touts trying to part us and our money, we wondered.
To our surprise though, there was no one at the Sanchi Stupa. As we walked around, we imagined monks going through their daily rituals. A certain Zen-like calm seemed to overcome us and we decided that we would live through this trip in the present, with no expectations, negative or positive.
Later that day, we marvelled at the expansive and unique Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum. My daughter was as intrigued as we were by the tribal homes set up from all over the country.
We’d booked a room at a private homestay run by a wildlife enthusiast couple. Our room overlooked the lake and we had a chance to interact with tourists from around the world. Over an evening whisky the owner, Pramod Sharma, shared stories of the Satpura forest where we were headed next.
The next day, we enjoyed cycling along a lovely area of the lake with the zoo on one side and the water and birds on the other. We bumped into and took a selfie with a princess from Bhutan. We went on to explore the ancient rock paintings of Bhimbetka and spent three days of sheer bliss in the pristine environment of the Denwa Backwater reserve, across the river from the Satpura National Park. Our initial fears seemed so unfounded. We enjoyed walking safaris and uncrowded jeep drives across the park, experiencing everything the forest had to offer without any pressure to see a tiger. I think the three days in Satpura were more meaningful because we were without mobile network.
As we made our way back to the airport, we talked of how the unexpected travel had thrown up great surprises and beauty. How the destination had quickly proved to us that our biases were baseless. In fact, this trip created for us some of our most rewarding travel memories. With travel, it seems, every tide if taken at the flood, can lead to rich rewards.
Appeared in the May 2016 issue as “Taken by the Flood”.