Someone told me that unless you know my struggles and my past, it will be hard to tell you how traveling literally changed my life, so let’s begin from the start.
I was 19 and I had been deemed an overachiever all my life. Things were easy because I was always willing to fight for what I wanted, and when I did, I always got it - whether it was making a girls basketball team in a school that did not promote it at all or doing all the extra-curriculars and still somehow finishing at the top of the class.
I had a simple motto
‘I can do it because I think I can’
but somehow this motto turned a little reckless by the time college started. Staying awake for three days in a row by consuming red bulls just because ‘I am Kajal and I can do anything’ or procrastinating studying for tough exams like Actuarial Science on just the last 3-4 days and still cracking it, I was basically a show-off.
The only difference was that I wasn’t showing off to the world, but just to myself, that I can do anything on which I set my mind. And even though on the outside, that sounds like a good thought, I always ended up taking it to the extreme.
And then it happened! I remember waking up on a Sunday in November 2018. As is the norm, I picked up the phone to check my schedule for the day. Out of habit, I rubbed my left eye, and suddenly all went black. It felt weird. But as soon as I cleared steer of the eye, I could see my phone again. It felt odd, something was wrong. I covered my left eye again, and all I saw (or didn’t see) was blackness.
Panicked, I rushed to my parent’s room and asked them if they could see something wrong with my right eye. Confused, they said, ‘No’. I confirmed whether it was closed shut and they again replied in the negative. I ran towards the mirror, covered my left eye again, and as I tried to look in the mirror with my right eye wide open and saw nothing, it hit me – I had completely lost vision in my right eye! I was partially blind.
Introduction to the world of insecurities
After multiple tests and visits to the doctor, I was told that my optic nerve was swollen. Months passed, and so did multiple treatments, empty packets of medicines, and steroids. Physically, I had gained a lot of weight and lost my immunity to a great extent but mentally it was a different thing altogether. I didn’t know how to push myself anymore.
I was scared. Everyone had their opinions but no one really understood. With each passing day and each new conversation with my relatives or friends, I was losing confidence and gaining more and more insecurities. Growing up, I had never experienced insecurities. I was always the person who was brimming with confidence and talent. But now, my fitness was gone, my friends had started vanishing and I was undergoing one heartbreak after another. No matter how many people I was surrounded with, there was no one with whom I could share about how I felt. A lot of people didn’t even know something had happened because I thought they will pity me or just find faults.
For the next year, I got into a series of toxic friendships which just further took away whatever little self-confidence I had left. On the exterior, no one knew what was going on, not even my parents or close friends. Everyone still saw the same girl with great accomplishments bagging an amazing job, going to Harvard Summer School, and whatnot, but on the inside, only I knew how I felt.
And then in November 2019, one year after that horrible incident, two guys from my college told me about this trekking trip that they were planning in the mid-semester break in December and they wanted me to join them. I was sure that I couldn’t even run for five minutes continuously let alone do a trek. I hadn’t done any sort of exercise or workout or played basketball, (something I used to be extremely passionate about before all this happened), and I was sure that I won’t go because I won’t be able to do it.
I remember them and others discussing who all to ask and then deciding against asking a good lot based on their capability to do the trek. What I couldn’t understand at that time was that why would they even consider me. One of them, someone I had interacted with only briefly by then, took me out for these walks where in the middle of conversations he would randomly tell me that how he was sure I will be able to do it and told me how he will be there the entire time in case something goes wrong. I didn’t know him well but for some reason, his words boosted my confidence, and what felt like a sure No ended up turning into a Yes. I was still unsure of my decision and contemplated changing it every day till the very day before the trip, but who knew at that time that this trip is going to be a game changer in my life.
A little conscious, a little unsure, my journey to the Kareri Lake Trek began. As the trek began, and we started climbing one mountain after another, it became more and more difficult to catch my breath, but I refused to say anything and I refused to stop. My shoulders ached from carrying the trek bag but again I didn’t complain or give it to someone else. Somehow, I was in that part of the group that was leading the trek.
A little astonished but mostly enjoying, I reached the camping site for the night ‘Reoti’. Two people in the group (one of them being the only person on the trek I knew from about 7-8 months) had cramps and nausea and thus decided to stay back the next day. This did make my fear of ‘if I will be able to do it’ return for a while but I decided to ignore it and nevertheless proceeded to the top.
The views were astonishingly beautiful. The snow-clad mountains were breathtaking and as I climbed higher, the views only got better. Every moment was a challenge for me. Sometimes I slipped, sometimes I fell, and sometimes my breathing was so strenuous that I felt my heart would just come out. I even had a near-death experience when I was about to reach the final point of the trek, the Kareri Lake. But by the time we were returning, I was running. Yes, I mean ‘running’. I was running, sliding, and I was just fearless. I went the extra mile to see the sunset; I didn’t want to go back and I didn’t even mind when I got lost with a fellow trekker for more than an hour.
I was not the most physically fit person out there, in fact, I might have been the least, but what this trek taught me or more like reminded me was that I don’t give up. It taught me that I don’t need to be physically fit to trek, I have to be mentally fit. It taught me that even if my body has physically changed so much, even if I am not physically fit anymore, it doesn’t change who I am or who I have always been. I was still a fighter and in fact, after all this, I decided to get myself inked a warrior tattoo. And no, not because that tattoo would somehow make me a warrior, but so it could remind me in those times when I am unable to remind myself that I am a warrior who does not give up no matter what.
2 months later, I was climbing the Kedarkantha trek, and then another 2 months later, I was paragliding in Bir, then Pondicherry, then Singapore, then Chopta trek, and so on. I was unstoppable now. Kareri Lake was just the start of my journey, and as the journey progressed, I fell in love, and not just with traveling and trekking, but with myself too, all over again.
I had now realized that traveling broadens our horizons and makes us see things that we normally are unable to see. From going on my first solo trip to falling in love with traveling so much so that it made me a writer. I had experienced something which had made me grow into a better and more beautiful version of myself and I just couldn’t wait to share it with others and hence started my travel blog.
I still have not conquered all, in fact, there is no conquering all. It will always be a work in progress. I still get jitters while going on my next trek, I still get nervous when I try something new while traveling and I am still not the fittest person in a trekking group, actually I still may be the least fit. But what’s different, is that I don’t stop, and I refuse to give up both on the trek and in my life. Something I didn’t see in myself back then, but the person who convinced me to go to Kareri Lake Trek sure did.
I grow with every trip I go to and learn so much from every new person I meet. Traveling has become such an ingrained part of me now that there’s no Kajal without it. I still am not a very fit person, and I am still working on my recurring health issues since that incident. But now, there’s no stopping me. Not just from growing and traveling by myself but sharing it with others.
You, my friend, do not need a life-threatening incident to happen in your life to discover the beauty of traveling. Just go out there, trek a mountain, sleep on a beach while looking at the sunset, gaze at the stars, live with strangers, explore not just the world but yourself, and come back to see how much your perspective towards everything changes. And if you want to, share your stories with me, I would love to hear and share them.