Mountain Lessons For The Daily Grind

How a backpack of joyful memories can lighten the load.  
Waterfall Family Travel
A short trip can be the perfect break. Photo: Andre Morris

Lunchtime conversation in the office is always interesting. Recently, our art director Diviya was telling us about a friend who works in his family business even though he hates it. His heart lies in doing other things, but he’s forced by family pressures to do what’s expected of him, to toe the line and work in an environment where respect means saying nothing. His story is not an isolated one; it’s the story of countless young people in India. However, there is one small difference. To keep his sanity, every few months, this young man takes off on a trip that extends anywhere between a few days to a few weeks. He lives for these trips, travelling solo in India or abroad. It is his escape, but more than that, it’s his way of enhancing his life, of meeting new people he connects with, of experiencing new things. We all travel for different reasons and, for some, it’s a velvet escape point—a way of making reality more bearable.

Although I’m in a job I love, I can see how travel serves to make the rat race more manageable, the stresses and strains of the real world more acceptable. On almost every trip I take, I find I come back with at least one special memory or moment that I unconsciously store away in a memory bank. It’s usually something quite simple or fleeting: hiking to a waterfall with my daughter, sitting under an apple tree, the call of a barking deer in the jungle at night. Sometimes a new experience might replace an older one. In this way, I’ve accumulated a small backpack full of joyful moments that I reach into whenever I’m struggling with a situation, person, or emotion. Sometimes, when I’m drowning in work, or when everything around me seems completely overwhelming or is driving me crazy, I try to close my eyes and escape to one of the moments stored in my backpack.

The learning and memories from travel have a way of balancing the scales in my daily life. For instance, my years of trekking in the mountains have taught me that even when I’m physically wiped out and feel like I cannot walk another step, I can still manage that last steep incline. Even when my aching muscles have announced they cannot move any further, I’ve learned to overcome physical exhaustion to get to where I need to be. It is eventually a lesson of mind over matter. A lesson I often dip into in daily life.

A few days ago, I came home from work completely exhausted. I didn’t want to eat dinner or interact with anyone; I just wanted to sleep. But the Christmas holidays were on, and my nine-year-old daughter had been waiting for me to return home. She was eager for us to do something together after dinner and she’d planned for me to help her bake octopus-shaped chocolate cookies. My initial reaction was to say no. But when I saw the look of disappointment on her face I revised my answer. I put myself on a mountain, on a steep incline, with no choice but to overcome fatigue and continue the journey upward. As the aroma of baking cookies filled the house I felt energized, a simple happiness gained from reaching the top of the hill.

As the new year dawns, one of the most important things I will do for myself is find time to get away from the everyday crunch of deadlines and decisions. Whether it’s one-day trips or week-long vacations, I promise myself several breaks. They are the perfect buffer against the daily grind.

Appeared in the January 2016 issue as “Backpack Of Memories”.


    Niloufer Venkatraman ’s idea of unwinding is to put on boots and meander through wilderness or the bylanes of a city, and to instill in her daughter a love for the outdoors. As Editor-In-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India her gig involves more of pummelling stories into shape than actually travelling.

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