I visited Manali in August this year en route to an expedition to a mountain called Kanamo (5974m) in Spiti. The day I spent in the town seemed idealistic and my heart seemed instantly set on staying here for a bit. On my way back home from the expedition, as we sped away from the Beas River, I just couldn’t help but feel like I was heading away from home and not toward it. So, come October, I quit my job in digital advertising in Delhi, packed my bags and bought myself a bus ticket to Manali.
I came in search of peace, freedom (from things I was required to do rather than what I wanted to do), and love. I was hoping to get away from a regular, structured life, replete with predefined mealtimes and family time. I needed to be on my own in the beautiful mountain town and just be, write, eat when I felt like it, walk when I felt the need, wherever the road took me. Friends of mine were already living here, running their adventure sports company. I have to sublet their employees’ NYC Sublets whilst she was away.
When I got here, circumstances were such that I had to share another friend’s two-bedroom apartment where he was staying with his dog, San Te. I wasn’t happy with the idea. I needed to be alone. I did get a week alone initially, after which my friend returned home with his beloved Boxer. By this time, I was settled into the spare room and had made it familiar. So, I thought I’d stay on for a few more days. Before I knew it, I was part of a small family.
San-Te in curious mode
The first time she hopped into my bed.
(Celebrating San-Te’s 3rd birthday. Kunal on the right)
Waking up to a beautiful brown boxer wagging its tiny stub of a tail with utmost excitement every morning is by far one of the most amazing things that’s ever happened to me. And, now that my stay here is nearing its end, I can’t help but be grateful for these few weeks spent with two men (my housemate, Kunal and Ankit, who lives in the apartment across ours – to be honest it feels like one big house instead of two) and a dog. San Te has taught me the meaning of unconditional love like no other could have. How she still responds to me even after I’ve done something she didn’t appreciate (like leave her alone at home to make a run to the market): how dogs find it in themselves to love us so is something extraordinary.
(A dramatic afternoon view from our balcony)
(An equally dramatic evening)
(Wispy clouds seen at around noon from our terrace)
The mountains that we see from our little house in the middle of an apple orchard too have taught me to love: with their changing moods each day, I’ve learnt to love each of their moods, I’ve learnt to love them wholly. They induce this amazing sense of pleasance in me each day. Being around them, seeing them each morning and afternoon and evening has changed me in a way that I don’t quite understand at the moment. I just feel calmer and happier as a person.
(Kunal, left, Ankit, right – before starting out on a weekend trek to the nearby Palchaani meadow)
Additionally, the two wonderful housemates I’ve grown extremely fond of – if not anything else, they’ve taught me how to cook a mean mushroom curry! There’s something about how this little family of ours functions: how we seem to have each other’s backs even though we’re only staying together for a few weeks, how there’s never a dull moment around each other, how there’s never nothing to talk about, how there’s never been an unpleasant moment since we met the day I arrived at 7:30 in the morning. It all started with our shared love for good coffee I think and has grown exponentially since.
I don’t quite think I make sense of what has transpired here in the last few weeks: it’s been nothing out of the ordinary yet extraordinary. Perhaps someday in the near future the lessons I’ve learnt here will make sense. Until then, there are a few stray thoughts.
Freedom isn’t what I thought it was. I’m beginning to realise I’m not such a big fan of it. I want the structure, the regularity: its what I know, its who I am. The stereotypes of being tied down – they’re not so bad. Freedom, whatever it means… what does it mean? I don’t think I know. All I know is… mealtimes and the other structures my families incorporate into our collective lives make the voices in my head go quiet and that’s the part I don’t like. But instead of running away from the structure I need to make space for myself in some other way.
Haruki Murakami comes to the rescue with ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’. He creates a void for himself when he’s running. Not that he has an agenda or a list of things to think about when he’s running. I don’t either. I can just be – when I’m running or walking. This place is good for that kind of thing. The leaves are a beautiful shade of fall right now. They’re at their most beautiful ever. So, I don’t get bored of the little walking tracks around where I live. This way I don’t need to run away from routines, from family life. I don’t feel the need to live completely alone all the time.
I don’t know if it makes sense but I think I am finally home, within myself.
Shruti Sharma likes to: write, make videos, talk a lot, create, sing, play drums, dance, go into the wild, climb rocks and therefore she is. She hopes to write a book one day and currently does some freelance work in digital advertising.