Five lands give name to my home in India for three weeks, Panchgani. These flat planes are set out to look across to mountain tops, a fairground in a valley, forests. My home land is that of friends. We spend our nights taking cars off road to the edge of cliff tops to drink beer, and look at the stars, the darkness, sink into the abyss of which our feet dangle.
I ride the bus here. Like most long journeys in India, they are set in he darkness of the night. Sitting and waiting on the streets of Mumbai with all my belongs forming an impromptu seat, I am reminded of my unique life choices. I am to take a sleeper bus for 8 hours in India, to meet strangers, to stay with them and to cast myself into the thoroughly unknown experience of a place I have to keep checking the name of on my phone.
That first morning with hooded eyes from light travel sleep, I am in awe of the beauty and the kindness of those around me. The ‘strangers’ I had conjured in my mind welcome me into their family fold, instantly and within a few hours I am sat eating a home cooked breakfast overlooking a valley shrouded with sunlight. Every fear I had falls down like a pin struck with a ball, as I become overwhelmed with the beauty that surrounds me, the bounty of nature and the abundance that welcomes me after trusting my instincts over my fear.
Over the next three weeks I find a routine, I find a home. When travelling, I often feel like a leaf in the breeze, always on the move, never putting down roots. Living in Panchgani grounds me. I wake to the sound of birds, the light falling upon the floor of my room. I never restrict it by closing the curtains, instead I pull them back so that as I wake my eyes first fall upon the swaying trees outside. I sit with my eyes closed. Basking in the sunlight, seeing the glow, feeling the warmth on my face. I pluck the strings of my ukulele, getting into the rhythm enough to barely utter a few words while keeping up with the notes.
Every weekday I work from the NOCT studio. Set in nature, I collaborate with other designers that are just inspired as me at finding the ‘solution’, to creating something both beautiful, functional and something that the world has never seen before. I am inspired that they brainstorm what they want to do in the world and then make it happen. That they delight in the beauty of a flower opening and then launch a festival based on the celebration. These are the people that ignite my passion and push me to create larger than just me.
One weekend we venture into a clearing to stay for the night. We miss-time the sunset and find ourselves searching in the light of torches for a place to set up our tents, for fire wood and to carefully place our feet as to avoid wildlife and the nearby crater. We are told by locals that the night previous a wild leopard had walked the same ground and in awe and in fear, my eyes continue to drift into the darkness for the entirety of the night. I joke that when we each need the bathroom, we will be ‘picked off’ one-by-one. I am not really joking however and with the energy of excitement of the creatures surrounding me and the tinge of fear, I sing louder to the songs, I take joy in surrounded by laughter, by the faces surrounding me, lite up with the glow of our fire. We sleep in a collective tent, the ground beneath us, the fear long lost with the sharing of drinks and of on-set tiredness. I wake to find friends wrapped in blankets, feeling the warmth from the left-over glowing embers.
The time to board another bus into the unknown comes around again and in the darkness of night I am once again waiting to get to my next destination.
I keep waiting, lights get dimmed and the people I can count dwindles to one hand. For the first time in a long time I suddenly feel very alone. My fears remind me how far away from home I am. The darkness becomes darker than I once remember it being. My eyes follow each passing vehicle waiting for the bus that feels like waiting for safety. It isn’t. As I am lead to the bus I realise there is not a seat for me, and swiftly the recognition is met with a man removed from his bed (to stay underneath the bunk bed-like situation) to allow me room. It is down the end of the bus, a place that feels me with dread and feeds my imagination, dark thoughts. I sleep with my pen knife in one hand and my phone in the other. Sleep doesn’t come easy as I am less than lulled by slumber than exhausted by fear. My nerves left to soften every hour closer to sunrise. By the time I feel the bus stop, I wake from a dream of lying in the back of a yellow 70’s VW, filled with paisley fabric and feeling proud to be communicating in Norwegian. It is a peaceful dream that fills my travellers heart with deep joy, yet I realise that we are leaving my bus stop and immediately jump back into action as I scramble from my bed, run down the bus with the ends of my scarf trailing behind me and ask them to stop. I gather my things and suddenly I am on the streets of Goa.
To be continued.