Hey Universe, is This My Epiphany?

Why we remember some places more vividly than others, and what this could mean.  
Sometimes, our travels stay with us for reasons we cannot immediately comprehend. Illustration: Gaurav Ogale
Sometimes, our travels stay with us for reasons we cannot immediately comprehend. Illustration: Gaurav Ogale

I bring back many things each time I travel—ticket stubs, maps, snow globes, and more memories than my brain can hold. They’re all precious—and occasionally hilarious—but some of these recollections stand out more than others. They are brighter, bolder, more visceral, as if they are recorded in high-definition. They are also, I realise, accompanied by an unusual feeling. Like an almost-epiphany that’s been niggling at me for some time now.

The first time I felt this way was in New York a few years ago, where I went to a concert at the Yankee Stadium by myself. I tried to convince myself that the night would be great even though I was going solo but the words “loser” and “OhMyGodWhyAmIDoingThis” played on loop in my head as I rode the subway to the arena. Self-conscious level: Maximum.

When I got there, I started chatting with the girls sitting next to me, then the opening act started, and before I knew it, we were dancing in the aisles and harmonising to the chorus of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River”. Somewhere between “Pusher Love Girl” and “Empire State of Mind”, I had this out-of-body moment, as if an alarm went off in my head reminding me to absorb the details of this experience. At the time I couldn’t be bothered because Alicia Keys had just come on.

It happened last year too, when I went on my first safari to Ranthambore with my dad. Our guide was telling us about the national park’s forests, as our jeep followed a small stream that flowed quietly among the trees of banyan and jamun. A hush fell over us, and for the next half hour, my dad and I communicated wordlessly with each other. I’d draw his attention to a luminous yellow bird in a nearby tree with my eyes and he would gesture with his head at an emerald-coloured bug that was scurrying along on a leaf next to me. Despite the excitement, I could still feel the same gnawing tug I felt at the music concert.

I finally figured out why this year, when I was on holiday with a few of my friends in the Andamans. At the time, I had my toes in the warm waters of the most beautiful beach I’d ever seen: the crescent-shaped Radhanagar beach, flanked by thick forests and a blue sea so bright, it hurt the eyes. Like many beaches in the Andamans, Radhanagar is in the business of stopping you in your tracks but that Thursday in January was particularly stunning.

As the day drew to a close, the sky took on shades of orange, pink and bruised grey. The sea was blanketed in ominous clouds, save for a small gap, through which a few blazing rays of sunshine beamed, setting the nearby hills on fire.

I was lazing in the warm shallow waters as my friends tried body boarding (and wiping out admirably). Nearby, a little girl squealed in delight as her dad walked her deeper into the incoming waves, and for a few minutes a dog came by and gave me company. And that’s when I felt it: It was like something was anchoring me to the ground, as if the Universe was telling me that this place was important to me for some reason.

These the-planets-have-aligned-to-bring-me-here moments occurred at times and places when I was discovering new things about the world and myself. In Radhanagar, I’d spent the week getting my beginner’s diving license and acquainting myself with the magnificent underwater world. It was like I’d unlocked a new level in a video game. Perhaps, this is why my brain created a mental marker for me that evening at the beach, which was the culmination of that trip. To remind me that stepping out of my boundaries had brought me here.

In Ranthambore, I had entered a forest for the first time. Immersing myself in its giant, humming ecosystem, that was more complex than anything I could wrap my brain around, humbled me. It made me realise how much I still had to learn about the planet, a feeling that was reiterated in the Andamans.

And as for the concert, that was my first truly solo outing. I’d been to the movies alone but that night of dancing and singing with strangers taught me how much fun it can be to experience something just for me. Each of these experiences opened new doors for me and showed me new worlds. They shaped and continue to shape how I travel.

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    Kamakshi Ayyar is Features Writer on National Geographic Traveller India's web team. She's partial to places by the sea and desserts in all forms. When she isn't raving about food, she's usually rambling on about the latest cosmic mysteries. She tweets as @kamakshi138.

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