“Excuse me, sir. I think I’m terribly lost.”
The man who spoke was young, with a wispy beard worn by those who think they are men but are still just children, both in body and mind. He carried a backpack common to Westerners traveling the East, technical enough to be used on a polar expedition but mostly just used on day hikes that never carry you more than 3 miles from the parking lot.
“Is that so? How do you know you’re not exactly where you’re supposed to be?” the old man replied.
“I just expected there to be a lot more people around.”
“Well, we’re three hours outside Kalga – it’s not exactly downtown Delhi.”
The old man was right. Kalga is nestled deep in the foothills of the Himalayas. While it may be a well-known spot for Westerners disillusioned with the rat race that is their daily existence, the entire population of the village rarely exceeds 60.
“Well, before I came I was looking at posts from this area on Instagram, and everyone says that seeing the waterfalls at Kheerganga is an absolute must. I just thought I’d see more people heading that way.”
“Ah, I see,” the old man said kindly. “The waterfalls at Kheerganga are very far from here. You must have taken the wrong trail from the park headquarters.”
The traveler sat down in defeat next to the old man in.
“My friend, do not despair,” the old man said. “This park is one of the largest in all of India. There are many beautiful things to discover.”
“Yes, but everyone said that if I really wanted to find myself, there is no better place to think than beneath the falls.”
The two both sat in silence for a bit.
After a while, the old man spoke, so softly that it sounded like the rustling of leaves. “You came here, to Kalga, to find yourself?”
The traveler nodded silently.
“Yet, today, rather than listen to your inner voice, you set out to do exactly what society said you should do when visiting Kalga.”
The traveler thought for a long time.
He then stood, his face broadening into a smile.
“Baba, you’re right. Instead of the falls, I found the wisdom I was seeking all along. Do you mind if we take a photo together? I’d like to use it to remember the lesson you taught me.”
Securing permission, the traveler thoughtfully composed a selfie, snapped it, and continued on his way.
Later, back in his hostel, the traveler posted the photo of the old man to Instagram, quoting the old man’s words in the caption.
The post got 324 likes.
Only then did the traveler feel at peace.