dharamsala or bust: on the wonder of ‘what if?’
Two nights ago, right about midnight, I found myself in my friend Kim’s apartment.
Her friend Wendy from home had just arrived in India and they were in the throes of figuring out how to spend the next two weeks.
Should they go to Hampi and Mysore? Kerala and the Lakshadweep Islands? Or the biggest question of all: Sri Lanka?
And that’s when it began, when the big knot of yarn that led to the evening’s epiphany slowly started unraveling.
“I know I’m not going to find what I’m looking for,” Wendy said. “I want mountains. Real mountains. Cold mountains.”
“We could always fly up to the Himalayas,” Kim suggested, but in that way you say things you don’t really mean. Kind of like how I said to my sister I was taking her and her ten bridesmaids to Bermuda for her bachelorette party. Right.
At one point a map was consulted and the Lonely Planet guide to India brought out, as thick as a dictionary. Still they were no closer to an answer.
“What about Shillong?” Kim asked.
I said no.
I’d been to all those places and knew they weren’t what she was looking for. They were hill stations, not mountains. I knew what she wanted; she wanted magic.
“You should go to Dharamsala.”
“Where the heck is Dharamsala?”
And to tell you the truth, I couldn’t actually find it on the map right away. All I knew was that it was north.
“It’s where the Dalai Lama lives. And where the Tibetan government in exile is based, so it’s called Little Tibet. And where you can see the Himalaya.”
The more I told them about it, the more my heart was racing for them, and I told them this, about how Dharamsala was somewhere I’d always wanted to go.
“Well why don’t you come with us?” Kim asked, as if it was the easiest, most obvious thing in the world to do.
And in a way, I realized that it was. Just that morning, I’d started a draft of my last blog post from India (as I’m leaving in a month!), in which I listed the many stones I’ll leave unturned here.
But the biggest unturned stone of all, my greatest regret, was that I’d never gone north of Delhi.
While I’ve been out west to Jaisalmer and been something like 25 miles from Pakistan, while I’ve stood on the southernmost point of India at Cape Comorin, and while I’ve made it to the far northeast corner of the country where tourists rarely go, I still know there are great swathes of land I have yet to set foot on – the Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and most importantly, Jammu and Kashmir.
And so as Kim and Wendy told me to come with them, I couldn’t help asking myself: What if I did?
What if – there were those two words again, so often harbingers of regret. Because as much as I love my home here in Goa, as much as I love the sea and my friends and the delicious hours of writing time, I also knew that three months from now, back home in Virginia, I didn’t want to be asking myself:
What if I’d gone with them?
But the words ‘what if’ can signal something else, too – possibility.
Sometimes I think the traveler in me has quieted down, that perhaps the wanderlust no longer runs as strong through my veins.
And then suddenly I’m bent over a map of India and my heart is actually racing, the adrenaline of anticipation coursing through me faster than any drug in the world. And the thing about it is this:
I will go to Dharamsala, and even if it happens to be the most disappointing place in the world (which I highly highly doubt but you never know), it is this moment that counts – when it still exists as a mere possibility in my mind, alive with prayer flags and snow-capped peaks and monks in burgundy robes; when that possibility alone is enough.
The possibility of, what if I went here:
So this time next week, my train from Goa will just be pulling into New Delhi station, where I will then meet up with Kim and Wendy (who, in the end, decided to go to Hampi too) and we’ll begin making our way to Dharamsala. In a matter of two days of travel, we will have left this balmy sunshine behind for colder climes and I’ll finally (finally!) get north of Delhi.
But for now, I’m still here in Colomb Bay, five minutes from the beach, content to dwell in the prayer flag-draped possibility that is Dharamsala, asking myself what if?