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I had to unexpectedly travel to Laos on work at a time when I was unwell, but the peace and beauty of Vang Vieng helped me heal.
I vividly remember, both my parents and my school teachers enlightened me about how man moved from one place to another for diverse reasons. Food, shelter, companionship and safety were primary concerns that prompted movement. This was in the early age as one may assume. My grandparents told me curious stories about interdependence and the power of sharing thereby emphasizing the need to know more, understand better and learn-unlearn in the process.
Change is clearly a constant. Travel in today’s time and age is an integral part of multitude of people’s lives. People are endeavouring endlessly to indulge in the luxury and comfort of travel which brings particularly a host of benefits to the unwilling, unbelieving as much to the hungry, creative and free-spirited souls. Travel trains conceited creatures to stay grounded and be overwhelmed by the beauty and largeness of nature, soothes distressed hearts, and most definitely inspires everyone limitlessly. Travel heals.
Travel has never been as easy as it is now. With the click of a mouse or with just a call it is possible to draft an itinerary for any kind of an amazing trip customized to suit the needs and wants of an individual. There is a sea of websites, dedicated personnel, and companies working tirelessly to reap in the opportunities that the travel and tourism industry has to offer. What with all the offers, special additions, off beat experiences and cultural extravaganza, we as customers are truly and sincerely spoilt for choice. The demand and supply is significantly high and the posterity definitely looks brighter too.
Travel is indeed a solution to many questions in one’s life.
My work gives me frequent travel opportunities. It has always made sense to meet potential business partners in person. Rapport building is so powerful and effortless in person except that it should be feasible and well planned.
Professional acquaintances turned into friends, rendezvous with locals and fellow travellers and mere observations of a city that has just woken up or is about to sleep or perhaps lost in the routine, all of it leaves a profound impact on a traveller’s mind and heart. I have absolutely loved watching people (people that I don’t know) go about their way on a normal day at an ordinary hour. Truly this is the ultimate discovery time. Discovery time for all the secrets and charms the city unleashes.
There is little doubt I thoroughly enjoy traveling with my family more than anything, however there is no denying my enthusiasm to do solo travel time to time. It has made me a more mature, open, stronger and a better person to say the least. Traveling alone is a perfect time to reflect on untouched upon points in life, to introspect, and most interestingly, attend. Attend to the unfamiliar surroundings and even at times familiar territories to find new definitions and meaning to it.
Given the kind of hectic schedules and preoccupied lives that we lead, it is but agreeable to incorporate time-off at regular intervals for bonding with loved ones and with oneself. Right from the meticulous planning to executing and living each moment of a journey unravels varied shades of one’s character and quite skillfully alleviates stress. A childlike enthusiasm engulfs me prior to boarding every one of my flight/bus/train and it’s funny how I can’t do much about being this wide eyed girl imagining a never-seen-before land and all the possible experiences in store. My family knows how I can never be “totally prepared” for travel and never get “tired and used to” travel. The more I move around the more there is to see, believe and savor. I become a more humble and grounded person with every new experience.
One of my most memorable journeys happened in the year 2014 in the month of August. I had just returned from 4-month long stay in the UK and I was intending to be home for at least a month before the next venture. A very important and critical presentation requirement changed my plans. For the first time I was not particularly happy about travelling so soon after I arrived. My attempts to alter the date or the person failed. I gave in. To add to the already gloomy mood, I fell ill with diarrhoea. I remember my parents and sister were so concerned and afraid. I was on medication and felt hopelessly tired. My doctor too accompanied me up until the airport, just in case.
Until I landed in the Wattay International Airport in Vientiane I could not believe I was actually on my way to this week long trip (shortest trip of all my travels) in Laos. Lao People’s democratic republic is a south East Asian country neighboring Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China. Vientiane is the capital; however, I travelled with 5 other colleagues to Vang Vieng which is where all the workshops were to be conducted. The scenic drive was more than worth. Especially after such a warm welcome by the local colleagues at the Vientiane office premises.
As soon as I landed in the place, I felt a sense of calm. It was a pleasant surprise how I had only gotten better through the flight journey. My parents, my sister and my doctor was very happy for me and relieved that all was well. My family was so relieved and excited to know how I was elated to have accepted this journey which I almost until the last moment put on hold.
I have personally travelled alone to scores of cities and countries, and of course I take immense pride showing off the pictures from around the world’s famous attractions. But beyond the obvious lies the real learning. Learning that happens by virtue of conversations with people, learning that occurs in the least expected manner, say in silence, learning that motivates me to go back to certain places for answers in my life and learning by getting closer to nature and hence to my own self.
Vang Vieng is a small town with a natural laid back feel. Of course there are vibrant party places and there is very happening night life inviting tourists from all over the world. The evening I arrived I chose to go for a walk from the resort to the nearby restaurants and found the bustling scene getting better with the passing of time. It is an adventure destination for rock climbing, tubing, hiking, kayaking, cave exploration, swimming in the blue lagoons and the all-time favorite cycling. But the fact that Vang Vieng was surrounded by stunning mountains and caves set in the midst of picturesque spots and paddy fields gave it a very rustic and real feel. I connected to the place almost instantly.
Nearly zero network connectivity at the resort accommodation in Vang Vieng made it impossible to have calls beyond half an hour. For the 1 week that I stayed there I spoke to my family every day (like always) to tell them how the official trip seemed to have turned into a rejuvenation of sorts. There was no much communication that I indulged in, forget even being online! When I sat down for a cup of coffee in the morning in the balcony, the misty mountains made me belong to the place and I felt a strong surge of emotion that I had the place entirely for myself.
Silence is a powerful teacher. In silence, my eyes opened to great many lessons.
I realized how I should stop worrying about things I cannot change in my life; I reminisced about all the gifts bestowed upon me – the lovely people, opportunities, possibilities and comforts; I quickly asked myself why I was procrastinating so much about pursuing some of my favorite hobbies, and being unbelievably busy and lost in the demanding work cycle; I pondered if and how I would like to change the negative emotions such as fear, anger, hatred into tons of positive energy just by shifting my framework.
Life in Vieng Vang was a personality development of sorts for me. There was nothing particularly new. Yet there was all the time and a special kind of motivation to pause and smell the roses. To creatively and wisely categorize productive and destructive spaces of my life and define what I truly wanted.
Vang Vieng influence dawned upon me uncalled for. There was no classroom setting and a real teacher. The place, the nature itself was learning in motion. Oh yes! My parents often mentioned how good things happen unexpectedly.
The resort was a quiet place nestled among rock formations and beautiful scenery. The training room was inside a houseboat and the presentations lasted for about 4 hours every day on 3 days.
The locals are such a fantastic bunch who took such great care of a foreigner. From talking about their place and its history, to discussing Indian culture and tradition, to helping me enjoy the ‘vegetarian part’ of the Laotian dishes to slowly shedding off their inhibitions and asking me to speak a little slower in English.
The 3 days that we spent together as team stayed with us long after it was over. We had not just gone through a business presentation together but had become companions for life. There was laughter in the sessions, there was experience sharing and storytelling, and there was special kind of relationship building unfolding similarities in personalities and cultures. All this happened as the houseboat moved slowly and unnoticed.
Soon after the assigned official work, the locals were very kind to arrange for me to go to Tham Phu Kham Cave with an escort. The best part is, I went with a local person and we obviously did not have a common language. Bits and pieces of English and the local language and we managed to have a wonderful trek up to the reclining Buddha.
I realised how words really played a very less role in communicating. In this case the 2 of us hardly spoke but pulled off a trip with immense amount of joy and satisfaction. No, we did not use a phone to assist us. There was colorful body language using which my friend not only showed me around the cave, temples, and other local attractions but also introduced me to some of his friends and a local family on the way to the cave. The family kids were overjoyed to treat a foreigner and served me pineapple and papaya. The fruits quenched my thirst and I recalled how my mother always said that food tastes better when there is love in cooking it.
As I sat back after a fulfilling day, I kept wondering how simple moments and kindness make all the difference in life. Even today, the way I was looked after and made happy by those wonderful people inspires me to do the same to others.
The next morning when I expressed keenness to join a meditation session with the monks at one of the temples, my colleagues-turned-friends did not hesitate one bit. We left to the temple early in the morning and participated in the alms giving ceremony followed by observing a meditation session.
Soon after, I had a chance conversation with few of the monks by doing the customary bowing down and smiling. Less than an hour in that temple and I knew I was moved. The ambiance had touched my soul. Ever since, I have always taken to mediation and breathing at high points and not so happy days of my life. My dad is my best company to meditate every morning. Not only do we experience a sense of peace but also fondly remember the eventful day from my stay in Vieng Vang.
The 1-week was over in a blink of an eye. The amalgamation of the peoples’ love, life lessons, and a rare insight into my world of awareness makes the Laos trip so much more than just another business trip. I had hesitated to go for it due to inevitable reasons but as I landed back home at Bangalore International airport I knew I will want to go back to Laos someday. For more answers, soul searching and better insight. And I hope to meet all of my friends.
Images source: Sindhura Reddy
Header image source: pixabay
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I am Sindhura. I am so happy to be sharing this space with so many
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