I was eleven years old. Still a mommy's boy. It was the month of April, and summer vacations had just begun. Back then, we weren't hooked onto smartphones, we didn't have one. Summers back then were to be downstairs, or anywhere outside the house, playing.
The summer routine in my building was to wake up at 6:55 AM, brushing your teeth, and rush downstairs to our large playground- full of light alluvial soil, patches of grass growing here and there. The oldies in our society even scattered some grains in one corner of the ground. The grass was essentially due to this- when pigeons missed out on a few of the grain pellets.
We played cricket at this beautiful early morning hour. Birds cheering for us in the background, a cool, gentle breeze with gold hues on every face. It was perfect. Oh, and the best part, the world was at peace. Mumbai was at peace. Cricket went on till 9, after which, we would head back for breakfast, only to be back at 10. We would play cricket again for a while, but then we'd task ourselves to mangoes. The raw, sour, green ones (better than the ripe, orange ones). Our building had three mango trees. Our task was to aim the balls we used for cricket at these unripe mangoes. After a successful hunt, we would send them to someone's house, who would give it back after seasoning them with the essential mirchi-namak combo. Ah, it was delightful. The juicy, sour mangoes, with the chilli and salt, would quirk up our face, and we would love it.
Whilst I was savouring the oomph of these mangoes downstairs with my hunting buddies, my mother received a call from one of my school friends' mother, the details of which I'd learn post my mango feast, when I'd be back home for lunch.
While I was savouring the taste of mangoes- ripe, orange, sweet ones this time, with rotis, for lunch, my mother told me about how she had received a certain call. With mangoes giving me an orange makeup around my lips, I asked her, "What did she say?" My mother told me about how my friend, let's call him Arjun for the sake of simplicity, was going on a summer camp to a place in the north called Rishikesh. I was eleven, I had never heard of this place (little did I know this was the favourite place for camping enthusiasts in India to be at). When asked, my mother said it's near Mussoorie. At that time, I was keener on finishing my lunch and going back to play- since afternoons were monopoly sessions, and I loved this board game. I gave her a vague answer and said I'm getting late for my top priority monopoly meeting.
When I came back home at 5, just to have some quick snacks, and then be downstairs to play again, my mother told me that we need to give Arjun a confirmation that day itself. My mother went over the details of this camp, telling me it would be a ten-day camp. Ten days away from home, during my precious summers no less, seemed like an excruciating ordeal. But then again, I'd be spending my time with my best friend, so I agreed and left to play in a hurry.
Cut to the day of the departure, our journey was via train till Delhi, and then by bus. My extra-caring mother had packed more warm clothes than I could ever wear- claiming it would be super cold, and more food than it would be needed to feed the whole summer camp group.
Now, in the entire train, everyone was a stranger to me, except my friend, Arjun, but my seat was in a different compartment. Being eleven years old, a shy, introverted kid, I didn't talk much to anyone, until dinner, when I was able to seek permission to go visit my friend. The train ride after that was less boring.
We reached Delhi in the morning and were then escorted to our bus that would take us to this unknown camp in the hills of Rishikesh. The ride there was full of games that would cheer up everyone in the age group of 9 to 16. Most kids were fast asleep though. I was gazing out the window, enjoying the lush, green hills and curvy roads.
The campsite was stunningly beautiful, 20-30 tents were set up in this compound, which was a hilly area, and beyond that, trees and hills, and anything green that you could imagine. The weather was to die for, with soothing hillside aroma everywhere. This verdant campsite was probably the main reason I love travelling so much today. I had never seen anything like it.
It was beyond me how quick the ten days went by. We did a whole bunch of activities- the essential trekking, rafting, rock climbing, rappelling, ziplining, and almost every adventure activity a kid could do. But what made all these activities worthwhile was the scenery. Living at a campsite for 10 days at such a tender age, being surrounded by hills and valleys, that was more peaceful than the 7 am cricket sessions back home, and to end the day with dinner around a campfire, listening to stories by the camp-guide, who had lived at that very campsite for years, and in Rishikesh, all his life, it was hard to not fall in love with that place. Listening to his stories was the reason I love listening to the life stories of other people too. That camp shaped me into everything I am today, to be honest. My love for travelling and stories is owed to Rishikesh.
Rishikesh was truly something else. Now that I've grown up and I know how popular this destination is, I truly understand why, and I was lucky to have been there at such a young age, particularly because that camp shaped me for what I am today. It made me fall in love, fall in love with travelling. What's ironic is that I wasn't sure about going to this camp in the first place. Nobody can truly describe what's so great about travelling, but everyone who loves to travel has that one place in their life that made them fall in love with travelling. Rishikesh is that place for me, it made me love travelling.