Travelers of The Past and The Present
Chai-wai Overlooking The Mountains
It was in the early 80s that my parents met Aunt Dora (name changed), a young and dynamic woman who came to India all the way from East Germany. As a child I grew up listening to my parents talk about Aunt Dora and Uncle Will (name changed). So when I traveled to Mussoorie in the summer of 2016, I knew she was the one person I will not miss meeting. I gave her a call and planned on meeting her in the next couple of days. In her words, we planned a “chai-wai for a cold Mussoorie evening”.
The Little Mystery Cottage
On the Himalayan hills stood her enthralling cottage named Shati Kunj. Her cottage was within the thick cedars and wild trees. It had a little cozy library filled with books of different languages and categories, and then a little room that leads to the hall, popping with colours, the dining room, and the open kitchen. The rooms were elegant with a tinge of bohemian aura.
Aunty Dora was a happy and curious person. She had hundreds of stories to share from the moment I entered her little mystery cottage. I sat on the dining table across the window that faced the Himalayan ranges. Aunty pointed out to the mountains and asked me, “How many ranges do you think is out there, across the window?”
“Mmmm…Five? oh! No.. a little more than that.” I said.
“That’s fifteen ranges out there” she said.
It was overwhelming to see the mountains slip into each other, and the clouds that encircled them.
The Narrow Escape
She served me a cup of tea and some scrumptious brownies that she had baked. Our conversations began with my travel from Bangalore to Mussoorie and then swerved into Auntie’s stories as a young and audacious traveller.
She spoke to me of the time when she escaped from East Germany to West Germany, just before the Berlin wall was built. “A narrow escape” she said. Despite resistance, conflicts and the pressure to take political standpoints, she decided to escape from the turmoil of communism and dim politics along with many from her country. There were hundreds and thousands of youngsters who fled East Germany.
Hitchhiked All The Way
She hitchhiked from one place to another, and in fact traveled all Europe that way. There were even times when she had to jump out of moving cars since she sensed trouble.
Aunty mentioned to me that hitchhiking was not a big deal then, to which my immediate response was, “I could only wish living in those times”. Then, with a bunch of people she met during her adventures, she decided to travel to India by road. It was in India that she met Uncle Will, and in a few years she was married to him. Since then India has been home to her.
Her traveling was not an easy one. She traveled because she wanted to live a life free from the hard and cold politics of her land. She escaped and made way to freedom, away from home. Her travel experiences are rich because she traveled with a purpose to escape from what kept her caged.
At Mussoorie, the little cottage is an open home. Uncle Will and Aunt Dora have been testimonies of love to the people around them. Their home has been open to many youngsters with no parents, and ones who are lost and homeless.
My memories of that Mussoorie evening have stayed with me and will stay with me as I continue to travel and come across many more stories.
Beyond explorations, beyond wandering, beyond traveling, beyond wild imaginations, travelers of then traveled for purposes beyond themselves.