Il Viaggio Pittoresco
The morning fog cascaded calmly across the Himalayan topography. After the thirteen hour bus ride from Delhi, I wondered whether these images were real, or a mirage manifest by half anticipation, half exhaustion. Beside the bus, the misty haze seemed to move in pace and cadence with the bald men in red robes–or was it the monks keeping stride with the mist? As the bus crawled over the next hill, a colorful Buddhist temple stood ahead in stark contrast with the gray foreground. On second glance, the temple sat rather, in stillness, save for the soft billowing of prayer flags. Descending from the bus, I am in the middle of a dirt depot. I maneuver with the other traveler’s toting towering packs and locals hauling sacks of goods as we all propagate down the single winding trail. No one appears rushed because there is no hurry.
The path connects the simple homesteads filling the level crevices of the valley’s peripheri. Along the way, people exchange quiet conversation in Hindi and Tibetan and sometimes English–with a British accent–or Hebrew or Italian or Spanish; German, too. I spot the weathered wooden sign that Brian mentioned in his E-mail. He had arrived a day earlier and made a visit to the Internet cafe in order to articulate more nuanced directions to our lodging in Baghsu. I check off Brian’s informal landmarks: “at the pile of gravel take a right down the footpath, when you see the small orange and yellow shrine take the fork left, pass the cow and you will see a painted stone identifying the Trimurti Garden Lodge, follow the path for another 100 yards to the stones steps…”
For me, it had already been 2 months of traveling. I ‘hired’ a car and drove through the verdant countryside of Ireland, then a short weekend in France, trains through Prague and Amsterdam; Then I flew to Croatia and took the ferry to eastern Italy where I spent long dinners with family I had not seen in 10 years. Fresh garden tomatoes and steamed Adriatic muscles–both collected earlier that day–spooned over penne al dente. I could not believe such simple ingredients could deliver such rich flavors. But, then again, doesn’t everything taste better when you are surrounded by the love of family? Despite the language barrier, there was little to disrupt the intimacy and warmth of the meal on the garden patio of Giorgia’s small condominium overlooking the fields of sunflower and lavender, all illuminated by that ‘golden hour.’
A pre-trip blast on Facebook had precipitated impromptu meet-ups with old friends and acquaintances who were making moves through Europe at the same time. I had a refreshingly nostalgic dinner with Iva in Trastevere, reminiscing about that summer abroad while we enjoyed gelato outside the Pantheon. A group of guys from my high school soccer team met me in Dublin where we settled into a pub. Our familiar banter caught the attention of the bartender as we related stories of playing in Europe during the Summer of 2003. (Incidentally, the only non-victory during our run at the Holland Cup was a first stage tie against a team from County Cork; “You’ll Never Beat The IRISH!”) Next, Pete and Beardo met me in Amsterdam and we did our best to stay civil, but the odds were stacked against us. We biked Holland’s countryside as if we were back in med school executing one of our epic, post-exam, 25 mi. bike rides to Three Floyd’s Brewery.
Now, as I stomped down the unmoved trail of Baghsu, I feel the excitement mounting. I am about to embark on the final leg of my trip with two childhood friends. Friends since 13, we’ve prided ourselves on being able to ‘feel infinite’ while together, under every circumstance, without the need of intoxicants or large social scenes. But will our dynamic hold up years later on the other side of the globe? We have no exact plans except to meet up and head west, perhaps through Bali, Thailand, and then down to Australia. The three week journey home to the US will take us across the international date line on the Summer Solstice–we have been debating if that would qualify as the longest day of the year in the world. I proposed that the only way it could be longer is if we did all that while browsing aimlessly through an IKEA.
I walk up the steps of the garden lodge through a thicket of Bamboo and see Brian on a bench with a glass of Chai at his side, smoking a cigarette, leg-crossed and hunched over a book. Alec is wearing his Chuck’s, jean shorts, wayfarers, bandana, and a Rolling Stones sleeveless-T; he stands arms akimbo gazing contemplatively up the mountain ridge. For a second, I flash-back to our summer sleepovers at Alec’s house (his parents had a generous curfew plus he lived close to most girls from our grade). The long dog days (and nights) riding bikes around the neighborhood with no destination in sight. Fifteen years later, it feels like we are up to the same old stuff. I sigh and smile at the scene. Despite the uncertainty of our trek ahead, I realize our real destination is being right here, right now, together.