I spent the summer of 2017 in North-East India, riding nearly 11,000 kilometres across Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland. A trip that was supposed to last only 28 days turned into a nearly 4-month long adventure. There were many learnings that came my way over the course of this ride, but for the time being, I’m going to focus on just one — the importance of first-hand experiences!
In the run up to this particular trip, everyone who I spoke to seemed to be of the opinion that the northeast was not safe for travel. “It’s politically volatile," some said, while others were of the opinion that I would “definitely be robbed or attacked.”
There were a few who were even confident enough to inform me that, “It is not worth spending time or money travelling to such places.”
Naturally, these conversations began to weigh me down with hesitation, and even some fear. But, after a fairly topsy-turvy battle in my head, I threw caution to the wind and put the plan into action anyway.
I didn’t plot an itinerary for this trip — most of the routes that I rode and the places that I visited were based on the recommendations from locals that I met along the way. You could say that I was riding blind, depending entirely on the information from strangers to decide where I would go and how I would get there. This also meant that I was asking these people for guidance about safety of routes and the like. Why is this relevant? You’ll know soon.
In Gangtok, I met a few people who warned me that Sikkim was safe and easy to travel through, but the rest of the northeast would not be that way. But, despite the advice to the contrary, I ventured onward into Assam.
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As it would turn out, the people I met in Assam were absolutely wonderful and I ended up having a great time in Gauhati and thereabouts. When it was time to leave and ride towards Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, I began to hear the words of caution yet again.
Arunachal is breathtakingly beautiful, and its people are easy-going and welcoming of an adventurous stranger into their fold. But, yet again when it was time to ride south towards Meghalaya, that same warning made a now routine appearance. Needless to say, I continued my journey and went on to personally experience the warmth and genuine kindness of people in several other parts of the northeast as well.
Over this particular journey, I realised that the opinions and information obtained from others, however good their intentions might be, cannot ever substitute your own learning through first-hand experience. In this digital age, when information on nearly any subject is only a few clicks (or taps) away, we’ve all come to believe that we are more informed and aware than the generations before us. The reality, though, is that a lot of this information is often based on hearsay or built on what other people have read somewhere else. Original, authentic, well-founded and honest information is still hard to come by. If I’d chosen to listen to everyone else, I would have missed out on many special experiences. I would have also unknowingly carried forward a prejudice or opinion that was not necessarily with rational basis. My own personal experiences were vastly different from what I had been told to expect.
There will, of course, be times when it is pertinent to pay heed to the wisdom and words of caution received from people who know places better than you might. It’s always a careful dance of personal choice to decide whether you want to rely on someone else’s judgement or your own. But, on the whole, to put it very simply, I’ve learnt that if there is something that I am truly curious about, the only way to learn about it is to go out and find out for myself!