Passionate about experimental and unplanned travel for 15 years, Archana Dutta writes what its like to be on the road with her child whom she is ‘unschooling’.
Travelling and meeting people from different cultural spaces, developing relationships and remaining close to the five elements is our tool for unlearning and keeping Navyaa, our 6-year-old daughter, unschooled and a natural learner. When our near and dear ones ask, “So, how long is the trip?” I reply with a smile saying, “Let’s see how it goes”. This liberates me a bit more and brings a smile to Navyaa’s face.
It also somewhere instils our faith in the bigger cosmic plan and keeps the thrill alive in every moment.
I have been passionate about experimental and unplanned travelling for the last 15 years. I find it completely analogous to life, which is an experiment for all practical purposes. Unplanned travel opens the window to a completely unknown world and gives a first-hand understanding of dealing with situations, experiencing people and rethinking our fears and strengths.
Manish, my husband, supports me when I leave on such trips with our beloved daughter.
As always, the purpose of this trip was also to live life in unknown settings amidst nature with new people and trust the universe for receiving love and warmth wherever we went.
This trip had a lot in store which would shape our larger understanding of life.
The Long & Winding Road
Our first journey of about 1200 km began by road from Ahmedabad to Dehradun on 27 August and was going to last till 8 Oct, which was not decided when we left Ahmedabad. By road, the journey began with our two friends Prashant and Divyesh and Manish, who dropped us to the Prakriti Sangam campus near Rishikesh while they all returned to Ahmedabad. We then travelled to Dehradun, Mussoorie, Chamba and Tehri.
We were to spend more than two months in a community living program designed by a friend named Sultan, who was living the philosophy of ‘unconditional love and oneness’. The place was amidst nature, beside the river, a spring, forests and many birds and insects. The day consisted of cooking, cleaning, listening to songs, playing in the river or stream, sunbathing, bird watching, refreshing morning teas, being with sunsetting moments, morning or evening circles, sharing life stories, knowledge sharing, drawing, photography, welcoming new people and resting.
Navyaa would go for long morning walks with him passing through the village, greeting people, dogs, cows and goats, and sharing their stories. Sultan also taught her to swim. Though he was 48, she would call him ‘Sultan bhaiya (brother)’, as that’s how she related to him.
But in a sudden incident, Sultan became one with the river and left for his heavenly abode. This came as a big shock and loss for all of us present there to participate in the program.
It was the first time that Navyaa witnessed death so closely. I was worried about the meaning she is making out of this incident, so I was trying to observe her more. I realised that as children are away from the concept of ‘time’ and ‘space’, they see death as any other normal event in life, unlike adults.
That evening we all prayed for him and lit a lamp in his memory. The next day his relatives took him to his native place for last rites. We all collected a handful of soil from the river to be placed in his grave and sent it along with his relatives, but I was touched by a question Navyaa asked me. She said, ‘Will Sultan bhaiya recognise the soil that I have put in this?’ I assured her that he would.
En Route to Shivpuri
While most of the participants returned home the next day, we had our tickets booked for 8 October.
Though Sultan’s death seemingly brought our plans to a screeching halt, I decided on doing a bit more travelling.
Sultan had recently shared a contact of one Ron, who has a beautiful traditional homestay in Shivpuri, near Rishikesh.
When I talked to Ron about visiting, he was happy to welcome all four of us — my friend Dimple, her 3.5-year-old daughter, Divyanshi (Duggu), Navyaa and me.
Ron gave all of us a very warm welcome and planned interesting activities for all of us that included wall painting, music, village visit to a house of natives amidst hills, water play, making sandcastles on the banks of river Ganga, riding in hills, visiting his campsite in Shivpuri, and slow nature walks where children would collect different leaves, flowers and stones.
Ron has a very witty way of talking with and engaging children. Navyaa and Duggu had a beautiful time venturing out with Ron and his son Mehul.
After staying there for a few days, we were invited by Vandana to the Pauri area of Uttarakhand. I knew Vandana as her family had shifted to Pauri and began their initiative ‘Kashvi Agro’ for natural farming and reviving traditional food practices. So, we left Ron with a promise to visit again.
Heading to The Hills
On the way, at Devprayag, we saw two rivers ‘Alaknanda’ and ‘Bhagirathi’ merging to become the holy river Ganga. The sight was mesmerising for children, as two rivers with different colours of waters were merging at one point.
It took us almost 5 hours to reach Pauri by road.
Vandana and Tribhulochan had planned farm visits, deep forest visits and old temple visits for us. We spent five days staying with them roaming around in hills and deep forests, understanding the flora and fauna of the Himalayas and cherishing the sight of snow-clad Himalayan ranges.
There were so many unplanned events like our children trying to make colours using flowers and leaves, a monkey dropping in for playtime. We also experienced a herb named kandali that creates a current-like sensation to your tummy. Dimple shared her delicious Sindhi recipes while we plucked fresh fruits and vegetables and experienced our own ‘Garhwali’ culture. We met them as strangers and left with a strong beautiful connection.
We stayed in Rishikesh for the next two days without any plan.
We then returned to Dehradun and spent a few days there. We visited Sahstradhara, where we all enjoyed bathing in streams and rope-way to the upper hill where there was a garden, cafe and rides.
We visited Science City, where we all watched a 3D documentary on planet earth and some models that children enjoyed.
We stopped over on the way home so that Navyaa could spend time with her elder cousin sister and be pampered by her grandmother.
From there, we returned to Ahmedabad on the 42nd day.
Experimental travel is a learning tool for a child not attending school. Not only does the child gain knowledge about different landscapes, cultures, environments, languages but also learns to deal with real-life situations, learns to adapt, be responsible, and stand up for themselves.
(Written by Archana Dutta; Edited by Yoshita Rao)