It happens every once in a while. You decide to get away from work for a few days in the middle of a busy work month, knowing that the next few months will only be busier and you’re finally learning to make time for play no matter the work. You surprise yourself by agreeing to go for a holiday with someone you barely know, simply because it feels right, because you’re usually the pickiest when it comes to travel companions.
You log on to book train tickets and see that there are exactly two confirmed seats available for your journey. The very reasonably priced camp-accomodation you had booked turns out to have made a booking error, so you get upgraded to a fancy jungle cottage nearby, all meals paid by the travel company that messed up. The hotel manager warns you that your train has been known to be delayed by upto 3 hours quite regularly, but the day you board it, it actually arrives 20 minutes early (your travel-companion shakes his head: “Uff, yeh aaj kal ki trainen! No respect for tradition!”).
You arrive at this jungle cottage with this acquaintance-turning-friend, and a few hours later, you find yourself sitting by a river, sharing stories and fears that only your closest friends have ever otherwise heard about, letting him hug you, letting yourself cry. You say that the river brings this out in you, this quiet ability to share anything because you feel so safe sitting next to flowing water.
You continue to surprise yourself. You ride an elephant after decades and love the view of the treetops so much that you forget to look for animals in the undergrowth. You go on safaris and realise you’re one of those weird tourists who loves the thrill of seeing fresh tiger prints almost more than the possibility of seeing a tiger. You don’t see any tigers, but you carry back in your heart the incredible silence of the jungle in those minutes when the engine was turned off and your guide was listening for the deer’s alarm call.
Your travel companion has by now grown into a trusted friend. You remember that he is a geographer by training, and learn that he is a scout by passion, and you let him lead you on a trek along the river that the locals say you’ll never be able to navigate (usually, you trust locals). You walk along embankments of rock and wire, somehow managing not to step into the wire mesh, a little dizzy from the eye strain. You manage somehow not to double over in laughter when your friend uses his adorable French-accented Hindi to tell a security guard who’s trying to stop you “yeh tere malik ke baap ki nadi nahin hai!” (later, your friend will insist he was insulting the malik, not the guard, and you _will_ double over in laughter, sure that the security guard missed that nuance). You jump across rocks in the shallow water and navigate an island and a jungle without panic. You surprise yourself by being able to ask for help when you cannot see well enough to jump a wide rift or navigate a narrow concrete ledge; you never used to be able to admit you could not see well enough.
At night, the two of you sit around a bonfire, eating delicious meals, and talking. Nothing feels out of bounds, not politics, not faith, not family, not loves, not heartbreaks, not wildest dreams, not deepest regrets. You amaze yourselves by how much and how seamlessly you can talk despite the regular interruptions by over-enthusiastic hotel staff who insist on standing right at hand and carrying chairs to wherever in the lawns you happen to stop for an instant. You learn to share yourselves with an openness that stuns you both. You learn to hold each other safe in your stories, in your griefs. You spend years together in three days.
On the train ride home, you tear up suddenly. He tells you everything will be okay, and you smile and tell him you know that; everything already is okay. The tears are simply the necessary grief of leaving something magical behind, and they pass. You remark how much of a difference a few days can make — how different the two of you are, returning, than the two who went on this holiday only three days ago. He says quietly, “That was a long time ago.”
You hug each other goodbye in the middle of a jam-packed station, as you prepare to go back to daily life in Delhi and as he prepares to leave the country for months. You feel no need for labels or explanations or protracted goodbyes. You end as you began, two people with very different lives, off on an adventure — but this time, with pockets full of new words, stories, campfires, hugs, and memories that you know you’ll periodically pick out and admire and say a quick prayer of gratitude for.
It happens every once in a while. Travel goes completely right.