Saturday, July 1, 2017

A trip that taught me to not judge

One can learn a lot just by travelling. It is probably the only activity that offers lessons on life skills, which no person or book can provide us.

The most prominent things I learned from my recent journey to Uttarakhand was: Do not judge people. Do not carry preconceived notions about people. Do not put people in slots. Do not form opinions about people. 

Trekking up to Tungnath [LINK] temple with my friends, was a life changing experience in many ways - we realised that we are ageing, we need more cardio exercise and that we need to travel more and trek more.

Advised by the hotel owner, we had carried our picnic along with us to Tungnath. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find a few tea shops running from small kiosks intermittently placed throughout the trekking pathway. 

On our way back, we stopped at one such tea stall. It was a small tin shed with walls made of odd shaped pieces of slate. In this region of Uttarakhand, slate is the most common construction material.

It was around 10:00 am and it seemed like the shop owner had just began his day. He was busy in lighting his chulha (the earthen stove in which wood is burnt) creating a lot of smoke inside. Although there were some chairs and tables outside the shed, we decided to sit inside, nexts to the shop keeper, so that we could feel the warmth of the fire as well as strike a conversation with him. Next to his stove, were the bundles of mattresses stored in a corner. We made ourselves comfortable on those mattresses.  

Sujan preparing breakfast for the guests in his hotel
We closely observed him doing his chores with a mysterious smile etched on his face. Whilst preparing tea for us, he promised breakfast to a group of 4-5 boys.

His demeanor was intriguing. Going back to carrying prejudices, we asked him his name. "Sujan Singh," his voice was too polite and soft, albeit his eyes were sharp. He caught us struggling to comprehend. 



Swiftly, he turned and took out a card stacked amidst various other items piled on a wooden shelf behind the stove. He humbly handed over his business card to us. 

Hotel Devlok - Tungnath 
Sujan Singh Rana
Mobile: +91 99275 90165      

"Wow"! Our spontaneous reaction spurted out in one word. 

With eyes rolling in sheer surprise, we kept staring at the card. None of us had expected the unassuming man to possess a business card. The man had broken the shackles of our prejudices - "How can an ordinary tea shop owner running his business from a kiosk can be so suave and sophisticated to  carry a business card!"

The back of the card mentioned: 'Please visit us for homely food and stay at the altitude of 3,680 metres (12,073 feet) above sea-level'. 'It will become one of your best memories of this place'.

It certainly did become one of the best memories for us although not for staying in his hotel, but because meeting Sujan changed our perspective forever. 

I made a promise to myself not to judge anyone from their appearance, ever again.

During the same trip, we had arranged to meet a yogi (a saintly person who has renounced all materialism for the service of his God. When asked for his address, instead of explaining verbally, which we had expected, to our utmost surprise, he sent the location to us using Whatsapp! 

Most of our photos during the trip are courtesy, Arjun
Similar was the case with our driver, Arjun Singh Negi. We had hired a car for the whole trip and were expecting a driver to look after our bags and ferry us from one place to the other. However,  and Arjun, a nice, friendly, young and educated guy, became an integral part of our travel. He became our photographer and more importantly our friend. 

These live experiences with real people of the world humbled me. The big learning was a realisation to how we carry preconceived notions and put people in slots matching to the stereotypes of the work they do. 

Thankfully, owing to this journey, I have returned as a wiser person with a wider perspective. My resolution from now on is: Do not judge a book by its cover!