Most of you are probably tired of hearing about how I quit my job to move to the mountains. I’m not going to bore you with the same old talk again! The inspiration behind this post today, as Facebook memories has gently alerted me: I complete 1 year of living in Dharamsala, and 2 yrs since the day I first came here as a tourist. DOUBLE YAY!
I often receive emails and messages from curious readers, listing a hundred how’s and why’s about my new-found lifestyle.
Now about the why, I usually just avoid most of such messages, not because I don’t want to answer them, but because living in the mountains is more than anything I could explain with a 160 character limit. And like everything else in this world that’s worth its while, this lifestyle that looks all rosy and happy on the exterior, doesn’t come without its own set of challenges. However, today being the anniversary to my renewed happy state of being, I thought I should try to share why (for me) living in the mountains is no longer a matter of choice! At the risk of sounding pompous, I do hope this inspires at least someone to quit the rat race of the urban space for the allure of a simpler life!
What I’ve learned from my short blessed time in Dharamsala!
1. Your work is not your life!
Stop running. Stop thinking so much. Just stop. Make time for things that matter! I can’t emphasize this enough! When you’re raised in a metropolitan city like Mumbai, every decision of your life, whether intentional or not, is about that perfect career! And in order to achieve that, you’re always on the run – a race, where you always want to win! So brainwashed are we by this glorified everyday grind, we seldom realize how far behind we lost our peace of mind. In fact, even the slavery becomes a competition – who stayed back in office after working hours, what a hardworking person!
Living in the mountains away from the infrastructural luxuries of the city made me take that blind-fold off! Your work is just a part of your life, it doesn’t define you, IT ISN’T YOUR LIFE! Sure, you have a job, who doesn’t? But that’s not why, or what, you are about! The freedom we boast of in our city lives is the most superficial invention of mankind. We take pride in being free, while in reality – we are tied down at every step of the way to the very lifestyle we believe is a mark of our freedom. Next time you’re introducing yourself to a stranger, try not including your resume in it, and notice how that makes you feel about yourself.
2. Value conversations
My friends here are my mirror to reality, to life beyond the superficial. They don’t care about which client has signed my agency, or what I’m blogging about. How many followers I have on twitter, or how many likes do my posts get on instagram. Trust me, a few of them don’t even know what twitter/Instagram/facebook is, and I had to convince some to join Whatsapp.
It’s amazing to be around people who hang out with you for you. Conversations form the base of every relation here. People invite you over for chai, not because you’re someone special, but just because it’s a cold evening and aunty feels like talking. They’re as curious and fascinated about you as you are about them. Whether it’s strangers on the bus, or acquaintances at a café – people always have time to talk, and that’s a beautiful quality which is slowly dying in the cities!
3. Silence is beautiful
If first impressions really were last, I don’t think I could have survived life here! Noisy streets, traffic torture, loud music – you can’t take these away from any city. From there to complete, absolute, impenetrable silence of my humble abode tucked away in the middle of wilderness – that’s a transformation one can never prepare for.
In my initial few weeks, I found the silence so jarring, I would play music on my phone, all day long, even while I was sleeping, just to have something going on. 4 months later, I left a perfectly comfortable house, village actually, and shifted to a place far away even from tiniest influence of tourists – just because there was construction nearby and I couldn’t tolerate the noise of stones being hammered. That’s how addictive the company of silence can be, and once you’re smitten, there’s no turning back!
4. Nature is an addictive companion
I live in a mud house that has no brick or metal in its foundation (except in the washroom). A house that I have to mop with cow dung every fortnight to save it from falling apart! Our garbage is divided into wet and dry waste, the former is used as compost, latter is buried or burned (no other option). The water I drink comes from a mountain stream nearby. The milk comes from my neighbours cow. My meals almost always have home-grown veggies. The most regular visitors in my house are exotic moths, lizards, scorpions, rats – which also attract our neighbours cat – trust me, it’s a mad house! Getting my hands dirty in the farm is far more satisfying than any promotion / appreciation I have received in the past! My room is surrounded by so much greenery, someone smoking a cigarette would feel like air pollution. When my aunt from Bombay came to visit me last month, her first reaction was “why the hell are you living in this jungle?” I took that as a compliment and smiled the biggest smile! Living in such close proximity to different elements of nature is addictive, a habit that teaches you how much we complicate our lives in the city, a healthier, happier addiction!
5. Inspiration beats competition!
I always looked up to starlets and celebrities, my bosses and managers, my friends who were doing remarkably in their line of work. It was only when I moved here that I realized how shallow I was. I was taking inspiration from people I’d like to be one day, people I’d like to compete with – be that successful, that rich, that famous. When I moved here, I felt very proud of myself, I was breaking barriers, doing something no one in my circle had.
And here, I saw reverse migration is huge and it’s incredible! They might not be huge in numbers, but the ideas these city runaways are trying to sow, will truly be a path-breaking one day! There are local women who were earlier victims of domestic violence and are now winning national awards for slapping patriarchy in the face, techies setting up camps here to make local lives easier with renewable power and recycled materials, westerners starting day schools and mesh for kids of construction workers, youngsters setting up libraries in the remotest villages of Leh-Ladakh, one school at a time! I’ve had the honour of meeting such incredibly inspiring souls, devoted with all their heart to making a difference, bringing a change – not because they’re getting paid to do it!
However living in the hills, away from home has its own set of challenges like:
1. Pav bhaji and Kheema pav cravings – Dharamsala has no pav and even after 2 years, that’s one thing I can’t forgive or forget.
2. High-speed internet – Can’t do with, can’t do without. Fortunately or unfortunately, my work depends on the mercy of the internet Gods, and Devbhumi is quite weak in granted those signals!
3. Auto rickshaws – When you have to pay 150 bucks for a mere 2km distance, you know you miss your Bombay rickshaw walas!
4. Movies – Throw a girl from the Bollywood city, into a place that has no movie theatre. Not a single one! You have no idea how much that hurts.
5. Family & friends – All the challenges mentioned above might be super materialistic, but that’s because life in Mumbai feels just that now! Perhaps the only true connection I feel to the city now is my family & friends!
Nidhi is a traveler and entrepreneur who quit the rat race and settled for a quiet life in the mountains. We felt compelled to tell her story to inspire our generation to travel more and ‘discover’ themselves. You can read more awesome stories about her experiences here.
[Photos courtesy: Fatima Sana Sheikh & Nidhi from Untravel]