Unlike most Indian 13-year-olds, my family did not question me when I first set off alone on an impromptu overnight train journey to Bangalore for no specific reason but the thrill of the ride.
Given what I knew of my mother’s own adventures as a youngster, it was hardly surprising. I always believed that my passion for travelling and the tendency to explore new places alone was an inheritance from the maternal side of my family. Travelling wasn’t new for us – we had done our fair share of roaming in trains, buses, cars and even boats. My mother, like me, was a seeker of the road ‘less travelled’; my father, as far as I could remember, was the conventional man fond of family trips – in other words, boring to my teenage self.
A couple of years later, on a cloudy evening, I sat in our home in Kerala drinking chai with my parents. They were discussing an upcoming work trip that my father had to make to Satara – at that time, there were no direct trains and flights were too expensive at such short notice.
Suddenly, Dad looked outside and exclaimed, “I should take the car!”
My mother was initially hesitant – it would be a long trip driving there and back through the Western Ghats. What if there were multiple flat tyres – or worse? Then she realised she had a stepney, and just like that, yours truly was assigned to a mandatory road trip with Dad.
Quite predictably, I did not quite appreciate the prospect of sitting in a car with my father for four days, listening to old Hindi and Malayalam songs, and I was vocal about it. I could have saved my breath, because when Mom asked for something, she definitely wasn’t asking.
We were set to leave early in the morning. I woke up at four and prayed to the gods to help me survive what I anticipated would be a boring trip. My father was waiting in our Innova – was I imagining it, or did he suddenly look different from last night? Years later, I look back and realise it was the traveller’s vibe I had glimpsed. We bid my mother adieu and as Dad drove the car out onto the road, he said, “Son, don’t forget to look out and cherish the diversity of the world.” I shrugged.
As we kept driving, I began to understand a little of what he meant – the hills changed colour; the sea got closer and then farther away; the people, language, cuisines all transformed. With it, my very perspective about travel shifted – I could feel myself becoming more curious, more wondrous of all that I had not seen before.
The first day’s halt was in Mangalore, as planned, after dinner at the iconic Indian Coffee House at Kasaragod. I half-expected my father to grumble about the eight-hour drive or my boring company. All he said was, “The first 80 kilometres tomorrow will be bumpy, so buckle up.”
That was the moment when I first saw another side to Dad, the man who zoned out into his own little bubble while travelling and related to the world in a completely different, vaguely familiar way.
The second morning, predictably, we had a bumpy start. But as we left the city and drove out onto NH66, the road improved. Everything had its own perfect place in Nature’s design – the beauty of the Konkan route, the weather, the sea breeze, the scent of sweaty fishermen, the temple songs and the Kannada slang that kept changing every 20 kilometres.
Equally magical was the silence inside the car, the silence of comfortable company. As we approached Ankola, my dad said something that immediately had me excited: “In ten minutes, we’ll take a right turn, and then we will travel through an elephant corridor.”
In the three hours that it took us to cross that corridor in the Anshi National Park, I don’t remember blinking. I still believe that that one stretch sparked a lifelong love of travelling inside me – the tribal people, the animals, the mud-and-water roads, the simple ways of living, and most of all, learning the essence and fuel of travel. The journey from Dharwad to Satara after that was covered in no time at all, but my heart was left way behind, with the elephants.
Whenever I look back to that trip, I vividly remember my excited 15-year-old self asking Dad to “go slower!” as I soaked it all in, and my Dad, smiling, going down to 60 kmph so that I wouldn’t miss anything.
I remember watching India transition – from red soils to black, from coconut to cotton, from Uzhunnu Vada to Vada Pav. More than anything, I remember our shared silence. Sitting in a car for hours without speaking, I learned for the first time how journeys have a language beyond words, that creates a new bond in old relationships.
Thanks to the winding roads, the car ride, and of course, Mom, I finally got to meet my Dad, the traveller, equally responsible for my wandering, wondering inheritance.
Elias Sebin is a commerce graduate with a love for chai, the mountains and walking impossible distances.
Featured image credit: Amit Rawat/Creative Commons