By Gannon Troutman
In my time in India, and especially in Agora, I’ve noticed lots of similarities between hiking to the top of a mountain, or living in a traditional village in the Himalayas, and offshore sailing. There are lots of similar disciplines required, and all these experiences teach you more important things than you’d learn living ten feet from a washing machine, air conditioning, and heating. All these experiences bring a sense of self-discovery that comes from pushing to the extremes and getting out of “normal life” as we know it.
One of the things these experiences in faraway places can teach you is to not let things in your day-to-day life back home, bother you nearly as much. After living on the open ocean, or hiking down to the Asi Ganga, up the other side to Bajinder’s house and three more miles to stand under a thundering hundred-foot waterfall, I am reminded of what people are meant to live through, which is what life is like here.
Today’s society, though, has built up so many small things that we’re supposed to worry about that really don’t matter at all. But if you’re out on the ocean or in the mountains with a small group of people, you need to make lots of decisions that actually do matter. For example, I’m not a people person, but this morning I brought in three cups of chai to my roommates because I know how important it is to do as many meaningful and kind things for others. It makes the time better for everyone and helps avoid bad attitudes, and it makes you a lot happier to make other people happy. Acting this way feels much different when you’re living with a small group than when you’re at school with 220 other people. The first thing you learn when sailing a big boat is the importance of the team, so when you’re going down to get food or some water you always just ask others if they’d like some too. These are the real things that make such a big difference.
When we hiked to the waterfall along Indian fire service roads and crumbling century-old British roads, I started thinking about the streams we crossed or hiked up. All these rivers start from a very pure source, then they trickle down the mountains and eventually get to a more populated place or a city and eventually out to the ocean. I feel like this relates to the way people take different paths in life as we all head down the mountain taking different paths to different places. Some of us might get to a polluted spot, and we either get stuck, or figure out a way past it and go on to the ocean. Even at the ocean, though, that water evaporates and goes up to clouds and the process continues. Where a person is in this long process all depends on an individual’s state in life.
Another image. Here in Agora, on a terrace down a rock wall just below our lodge, I visited the blacksmith. Lots of people visited to order knives or hammers, but as someone’s who’s done a lot of hands-on woodworking with my father and on my own I think I felt a deeper level of mutual understanding of what he was doing. I actually just sat there awhile with him, watching him working and seeing ways I could help by grabbing a wooden handle that was far away so he wouldn’t have to get up, or slowly cranking the handle on his fan to keep his fire hot. As I watched him and saw how skilled he was working with these very simple tools in his outdoor workshop, I thought about all the gadgets we’ve made today that have taken away from the physical skills we used to have. The kids who make things on their own back home are few and far between, but here there are lots of kids like this who make things to play with or who even help out making food in the house for us during our meals with our families. I noticed that the blacksmith had an apprentice working beside him, and it seemed like he might have realized he was getting old and so he was passing off his knowledge to a younger person so they could continue the work.
Sitting in his outdoor workshop on the edge of a cliff, there is no better workshop with a greater view, just as there is no better place to have breakfast either. In this way also, it reminds me of being on a boat on the open ocean where it’s so great to look around and see a lot of nothing, little evidence of people, and seeing so many things untouched makes you appreciate things here or on the ocean more and makes you wish you could see more of them. When you see untouched places like these, you feel like you want to just let them be, and I start to worry that if too many people start coming the place will be changed. Even if we try to help them with something it might affect their culture. Motorboats began to replace sailboats so people could get places faster, and in the process took away a lot of the skills needed as the importance of getting to the destination replaced the adventure of the journey itself.
In our world, so many things are getting easier to do. It is already easier to get to Agora than it was before; I can imagine a time when there wasn’t a road from the city of Uttarkashi that led right to the trailhead, and the government is currently building a road beyond the trailhead that will lead directly to the village.
If you have a desire to go somewhere and see things like this, I hope you’ll follow through with it and not talk it over too much with people, but just go and see these places while they still exist and take it all in with a completely open mind. I made no images of this place ahead of time, and that definitely enhances the experience of going anywhere: just go and see and observe and leave it be as you leave. Don’t get so attached that you try to better it or change it in whatever way you think you should. While it might seem selfish, going offshore or to the mountains just to see these places can lead to broader perspectives and allow you to better prioritize your life when you go back to society.