By Ganesh Rajgopal

When it comes to the latest fashion trends or appropriate dress codes for events, I am either clueless or indifferent. But even I know that you don’t gate-crash a wedding in T-shirt and shorts. With a backpack completing the ensemble? I had the privilege to do just that, much to the amusement and horror of the guests who were decked up in their finest. 

This story has its origins in the Sangla valley of Himachal Pradesh. While backpacking through the mighty mountain ranges of north India, I heard a group of travellers talking about Chitkul, the ‘last village in India’ before the Tibetan border. A bit of eavesdropping and a quick Google search were enough to convince me. Hidden in the lap of the Himalayas, this breath-taking place is a collection of a few lucky houses located between earth and paradise. I tend to gravitate towards word-of-mouth recommendations from the locals or fellow travellers, so my itineraries are prone to being ripped up at a moment’s notice. 

The next day, I woke up before the sun’s first rays hit the mountains. Taking those dark, lonely walks towards the bus stops is a challenge of sorts, as the early morning streets are ruled by the giant dogs of the Himalayan kingdom. My entry into their domain often results in simmering levels of tension, which results in them lashing out by way of deep-throated growls or worse, a temptation to dig their teeth into human skin. I was lucky to have an uneventful walk that day. Maybe the canines were more nervous than I was or just lazy to engage in any meaningful activity. After a few minutes of waiting, the bus arrived, and the passengers were packed in like sardines in a can. A window seat in the back row allowed me to alternate between the stunning views of the landscape and conversations with fellow passengers. 

A few minutes into the journey, a local got into the bus and immediately struck up a conversation covering a range of topics from my personal details to the reasons behind my life choices. Very curious about my life in Mumbai, he explained, in no uncertain terms, that his only motivation to visit the metropolis was to stalk the bungalows of film stars. He was unafraid to have an opinion and dispense it with regularity. Someone in Mumbai dishing out judgement on my life could expect a riposte but, here in the mountains, I took everything in my stride. Getting into an argument was the last thing on my mind, so I nodded to everything he had to say. When I told him I was headed to Chitkul, he gasped with delight and told me that I won’t be able to make it today. I wondered whether there was a landslide on the way or some other problem that I wasn’t aware of. Sensing my confusion, he laughed and said, “My friend, you cannot go there because I am taking you to my sister’s wedding in Rakcham.

My decision-making process was moot. He had already decided that I was getting down at Rackham and was making arrangements with his friends for the same. Not for the first time, and certainly not the last, I let the world take control and went with the flow. The rest of the journey passed in relative silence once my fellow traveller got busy with phone calls, and I admired the wonderful scenery. 

As we got down at Rakcham, I let out a whoop of joy. Before me were acres and acres of green fields protected by muscular, snow-clad mountains. The lifegiving river Baspa, in spate, seemed to be in a hurry to get out of here, the exact opposite of what I was feeling. My new friend, who finally introduced himself as Achal, broke my hypnotic state of mind. He mentioned how the locals migrated every six months during winters to lower altitudes and returned during April to sow seeds and tend to the crops. Walking through the narrow lanes of the village, it seemed that I had been transported to a place from the past. No hospital, no newspapers, no post office, no internet, no police station, no restaurant, and not even a market. 

The entire village was empty as everyone had gone to the shamiana erected near the main temple. When we entered the wedding venue, I could sense all eyes turning towards me. As an outsider, I expected it to some extent, but this was different. Feeling a tad exposed, I looked at Achal for some respite, but he was surrounded by his family members. After what seemed like an eternity, he introduced me to his parents. When I greeted them with a namaste, they surveyed me from top to bottom as if deciding whether or not to admit me. In such a state of awkwardness, I didn’t know what to do other than follow their gaze and look at my feet. It was then that I realized I was thoroughly underdressed for the occasion. An odd-looking t-shirt paired with shorts that were perfect for a run. No wonder all eyes were shifting towards me and staying there! 

Achal, probably sensing my unease, came to my rescue and guided me towards a hut situated behind the temple. I took off my backpack and racked my brain to come up with a solution to this wardrobe malfunction. Achal offered me water and asked me to wait. If it was up to me, I would have waited out the entire day in the hut. My daydreaming was broken when Achal entered the room with a kurta and pyjama set for me. Shocked and happy in equal measure, I thanked him profusely for being my saviour once again. The fact that he got me into this position in the first place was briefly forgotten. I changed in a jiffy and tried to make myself comfortable in the attire that was one size smaller than I would have liked. Consoling myself with the reality that backpackers can’t be choosers, I was ready for my re-entrance and to meet everyone’s gaze with a stare of my own. 

I walked out with Achal and surveyed the scene in front of me. The family members and relatives were huddled close to the bride and groom who were having a hard time following the wedding rituals despite the expert guidance of the purohit. The rest were either busy exercising their mouths eating or in getting their point across to their neighbours. I made my way to an empty seat from where I observed the wedding formalities. The happy faces against a backdrop of the mighty Himalayas exuded a sense of peace and calm that is hard to find in overworked and congested cities. 

Lost in my own thoughts, I failed to notice that Achal’s father was seated beside me and was trying to get my attention. He was asking me to join the family members for lunch. I was glad to receive the invite, given that my insides had been urging me for replenishment. There was a special arrangement for the couple and their families. When I was asked to join them, I was astonished. I found this royal treatment too much but was mindful of the fact that a polite refusal might be misconstrued as rudeness. I had barely settled into the chair close to Achal’s when he introduced me to his sister and brother-in-law, who were seated to his right. They welcomed me with such warmth and openness that I couldn’t help being overwhelmed.  

The food was served within minutes and my attention drifted towards the menu. The showstopper was a mutton dish, usually served on special occasions in the mountains. Being a vegetarian, it posed a significant problem, but I needn’t have worried. Achal had asked the cook to prepare a dish specifically for me, made by throwing in together all the vegetables he could find. I understood why Achal had asked me about my dietary preference when we got off the bus. Without my knowledge, he had taken care of every single detail to make me feel comfortable. The love and care the family had shown for a total stranger was beyond my comprehension. Even before I had eaten my first morsel, I was full.

Ganesh Rajgopal is a fun-loving guy who loves to travel and explore the world. If it were up to him, he would spend his whole life visiting new places, meeting strangers and experiencing different cultures. When he is not traveling, he is dreaming about it and getting ready for his next adventure! He believes that words, when used effectively, are a very powerful medium. Writing comes naturally to him and his teenage years were spent journaling his experiences & emotions. Once the traveling bug bit, he started a blog where he records his thoughts and the crazy experiences he has on the road. He is constantly on the lookout for stories that are worth sharing with the world.


4 thoughts on “A Wedding Backpacker

  1. Many are such heartwarming experiences when u visit remote rural areas with simple people. There is no pretentiousness but genuine affection and warmth. U were a lucky one to experience this in person. Travel does Meeth a man/woman!


    1. Thank you so much. You are spot on there. Travel allows us to have such heartwarming experiences and see the goodness in people which we may ignore in our daily lives sometimes.


  2. This was a delightful read! Ganesh Rajgopal is a talented writer. The fact that he is a keen observer of the places he travels, as well as of the people he meets, adds genuine charm to his work. Quite simply, reading his stories is FUN. I feel that I am traveling with him on these journeys; he is engaging In all the ways of the best narrators! The writer is curious, enthusiastic, genuine and courageous. His descriptive language can be mesmerizing. There’s a kind of magic in this man’s talent, and I look forward to reading everything he writes.


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