It was not from the lips of Ned Stark that we heard the infamous sentence for the first time. We were years away from watching series in the evenings and doubt that our messenger had ever heard of Game of Thrones in her life. The quote, though, beared the imperative grip of the inclement season. “Winter is coming” would accompany us throught a long journey.
A bent and wrinkled lady passed by, carefully climbing up a rocky path, with her donkey and an axe. We munched our breakfast of foraged strawberries and fresh milk to the tune of wood logging for a while. Then we saw her coming back, with a loaded donkey clumsily following her pace. The scene repeated several times throughout the day. While playing dice games in the shadow, while cooking lunch, over afternoon tea, the lady and her donkey tirelessly climbed up and down the same path from her village to the forest and back.
Being as it was, April or May, we leisurely sat around in the sun. It was one of our first trips together and we were fantasizing about a long travel east, so everything we saw or did, bore an air of importance, each dice game reflected the truth of chance and decisions, each camping meal our ability to be self-sustainable, and every conversation unveiled layers of a truth we were unconsciously searching for. And just before sunset, when the lady was about to leave the forest for the last time, we found our chance to ask the reason of such strenuous labour on a sunny Sunday. Did she not prefer to sit around and read a book? Or watch a movie? Or just walk around, without a donkey or an axe?
“Oh, young people from the city, you think it’s warm and cosy, and you sit around believing that the hot seasons is approaching. But don’t be fooled, my son, soon you will also realize that winter is coming. And it is not far”. At that time we thought that the snowy shadow of winter is ticker only in the reality of rural life, but by now we know that no matter how strong the sun shines, or how cunningly our itineraries take us from summer to spring and back to the sun, the weather is bound to change and, sooner or later winter will be coming, or we shall go knocking on its door.
Travel is tricking the seasons
We were planning to get away with winter when we silently walked out of Sofia on a grey afternoon. And we were let to believe so, while hiking along the seaside, picking fruits, jumping waves in mid December… little did we know that our route would take its own turns, and drive us straight into Anatolia under the snow and then to the frozen mountains of the Caucasus, trembling in the sleeping bags, teeth clattering melodically.
Our journey started twice, once in October and again in March, with the Nowrooz fireworks over Erbil, letting us know that our travel time had come, that we had free passage across Asia, and the sun would shine wherever we would go.
Along the way we learnt that in Laos they count two seasons, the dry and the wet one, unaware of both the hardships and beauty of winter. In India, though, they claim to have six, the customary four plus monsoon and pre-autumn, but moving across parallels made us feel they could well have as many seasons as languages, states or deities, in the country where nothing is ever one and the same. And while wandering around we realized that we cannot longer trace the seasons in this travel, we barely keep track of the days and months, while jumping from a spring that feels like summer in Iran, to summer that feels like autumn in Tibet, and back to the eternal humid warmth of South East Asia with its sweating sun and curtains of pouring rain. The only thing we know for sure is that winter has not been around for long.
And then, with the rocky background of the Himalayas, we spot a grandmother knitting woollen socks by the roadside. Enthusiastically, we run towards her. Nearby, someone else sells thick, fluffy blankets and we provision ourselves. Getting ready for the chill of the mountains, and for something else. Burma does not know what winter looks like, and we may have forgotten as well. In cool, clear air of Himachal Pradesh, the intense sunlight finally begins to faint. Our last few weeks in India shall have the soothing feel of mild autumn colours, the flavour of rose hips tea, and the silence of mountain walks. There is nothing else we long for at the end of the journey. The flavour of coconuts and papaya, the buzzing bazaars, the busy highways, all the roads and all the cars have just brought us here. We walk up to the last house of the last village above McLeod Ganj and we watch through a large window the elegant fly of long-tailed birds, the violent play of white-coated monkeys, the predatory circling of eagles, all framed by a broad, hazy valley and painted in the soft, peaceful light of a dying year. Along the way, somebody walks past us with a load of wood.
The end of something
We arrived. We reached. And every day, at the destination, the sun rises reaching for our sleeping eyes through the window. Initially at eight a.m, and at eight o’ three, and a few days later at ten past eight. Silent and beautiful, our days feel like tendered by serenity. Even the condensation on the glass that anywhere else would have been uncomfortable humidity becomes now a happy moment, ephimerous morning blackboard where Marta draws cats with one finger and watch them melt away in long drops. This is the end of something, we trace an imaginary final line because our minds request us to. It all finishes here, we convince ourselves, inventing an end for this fairytale.
And we look around for any end we can make up. The house with the blooming rose hips, the sunny afternoons, the rocky waterfall at the end of the path that runs past or gate, the mountain camp on top of the hill, or just a bit further the snow line café, where we find only puddles and exclaim “this is our snow. Melted, who cares. We arrived.” But we keep on walking. The view of the glacier, still far away, could make a nice end. And sliding down the ice as well. Or looking up the moment the clouds disperse to gift us a sight of what is beyond… A mountain pass! Travellers temptation! But here we stop. Even if now the mountain pulls us up. Even if every hundred meters are rewarded with chocolate biscuits of the sweetest kind. Here we stop because it’s late. And a cat is waiting. And the night is coming, even if it’s two o’clock, and the day feels as permanently endless, like the sunny in May. We turn back because we cannot find around any better place to mark the end. With each full stop a new sentence begins. The end, as we well know, is a convenient lie and a pretty tale, literature, invention, a line drawn by hand on our invisible map. It’s the step that was and the one that will come.
We reached the end of something. And of one more thing. And of something else. And here, we say, this travel ends. We go over the point with a permanent marker. And jump to the next paragraph. Just because we know that what comes is already different, it is a long bumpful transit road or mere teleportation, whatever comes. It is returning, and no longer travel. Or at least, because we say so, is another travel. This one stays here, in between the rocks and the ice, maybe waiting in vain for the day we shall come back to pick it up, the day we will again grab our backpacks with the determination of the first day, that was no beginning or first in any case. This travel stays at its destination. And us, thankful, silent, happy, turn back and head home this time.
Ahead, the contours of our house are blurred by the distance and the clouds of snow flakes that are yet to come. As the winter closes in, we squeeze through the gaps searching for a corridor westwards that we cannot find. The way back is another puzzle of borders and transports for two humans and one cat. It is air, land and sea if we are lucky enough. A new game, a new travel in its own way. Winter is coming, and we are going to meet him along the way.
If you feel like reading a bit more about magic places and, at the same time, give us a virtual lift along the way (now direction home) you can pass by our Roving Stall and download the first book of travel stories and fairytales that we have written along the way.
It’s right here. — > Download Book in PDF
And you choose the price!