On Getting lost

A tourist wanting to visit Harihareshwar in Konkan asked me, “Excuse me, can you please tell us where Harihareshwar is?” I said, “Well, take the1st right, then the 2nd  left and then head straight.” The tourist said, “Thank you.” I nodded, the tourist vehicle drove off in one direction and I in the other. After a while, I stopped and asked a passerby in exactly the same manner in which the  tourist had asked, “Excuse me, can you please tell me where Alibagh is?”

It seemed that I was constantly lost during the entire trip—which was not surprising because I was a tourist, and for the tourists it is not just an occupational hazard but a moral obligation to be lost. Because how else can you claim to have truly experienced a place unless you literally lose yourself in it?

I had started from Harnai coast and Mumbai was a final destination. I left at eleven after visiting a nearby temple. The initial few kilometers were easy; there were few vehicles on the road and a few potholes. After riding for a while, I entered a coastal village, Anjarala. It was afternoon and the village was quiet. A typical coastal village with old mud houses, coconut and arecanut trees. I clicked a few pictures, watched the village surroundings and continued without asking people for directions.

Then the ride got slightly less interesting. The afternoon sun was right above my head—though flaming hot it did not bother me due to the gentle breeze and the view of the sea. I was maintaining a constant speed and occasionally scanning the undulating landscape. The next I passed two coastal villages, Kelashi and Aada, with its towering temples, a magical symphony set in stone and its maze of narrow lanes with ancient houses leaning toward each other as if whispering gossip.

After a while of riding in hot and humid conditions (it was midday, remember), I took a break. I rested for half an hour ate something and set-off on  the next part of my journey. Within 15 minutes of the ride I climbed a steeper slope—a famous ghat which one has to pass on the way to Mumbai. Easy enough rides, a few potholes, some small rocks and turns less difficult than I imagined. I haven’t done a lot of riding in ghats, so I was being super-careful with my riding technique. The ghat was tough at one point, but I managed quite well. Then I passed a few cozy villages—Rajpuri, Ranvali and Velas, until I  reached a too-perfect-to-be-real kind of landscape from where I took my bullet across a river on a 30 minute ferry ride. I kept asking people for directions just to check if I was on the right track. At one point, I stopped, took some pictures and when I tried re-starting, the bike refused to start. Damn! What will happen if the bike does not start? But before I could delve further into the situation, the bullet started thumping. The journey after this was not so exciting. The road was bad, the heat was unbearable, the feeling of hunger had vanished and butt was sore—after a while the only thought on my mind was getting back home. Later in the day, I took very few stops and by the night I reached my destination.

The most interesting thing of the trip was that wherever I went, I found myself lost, asking people for directions. And of course the people I asked couldn’t tell me anything that I wanted to know. Not because they were unfriendly or unhelpful people — but I was asking people who themselves knew nothing about the place or directions!

It happens all the time: people inevitably and invariably end-up losing themselves when they visit a new place. The reason for this of course is that by being tourists you don’t know the roads, landmarks and any directions to your final destinations—yes this does not happen when you are visiting a place with a guided tour, but otherwise you end-up losing your way no matter how much you plan.

When you think of it, in a way all of us are lost and not just when we are away on holiday and engaged in tourist-like activities — but all the time, wherever we are. Because it’s likely that you, and almost everyone you know, though physically present at a place, are lost in some continuum of space and time.

For example, while writing this post from NCF’s guest house my mind is racing with all sorts of thoughts—of my work, my thesis, the deadlines I have to meet and of the Lakshadweep islands—a next destination on my wish list. Blame my mind which keeps skipping and turning at odd bends, and I don’t seem to be able to do much about it.

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For that matter everyone is lost from the present moment. And this is true not just for myself and yourself, but of us as a whole. For isn’t everything an illusion, on which we are all riding like on a giant roller-costar, chasing the mirage of things that do not exist, and of things that do .

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About Vardhan Patankar

I pursue reef and marine mammal related research with a critical eye and a fine-tuned appreciation for weirdness. I am particularly fascinated by marine life that exists within coral reefs, but observes life outside the reefs with just as much wonder and amazement.
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