It was simply stunning.
The sun was rising over the holy Ganges River, with the gentle foothills of the Himalayas off in the distance, the town slowly awakening into a soft pink glow. The atmosphere so peaceful, so serene.
I stood there enjoying this sunrise for quite some time, watching the monkeys hop around the rooftops in front of me, smiling at the first sounds of chanting and music flowing out of the ashrams nearby.
I could not have been happier.
About fifteen minutes prior to this, I had been sound asleep in my room four floors below. I was sharing that room with a female traveler I had met the day before, having decided to split the cost of accommodation to save money. The budget guesthouse was nothing special but the bed was actually more comfortable than most, allowing me to sleep quite well.
Until I suddenly awoke at 5:45am. When I opened my eyes at that time, I knew that something was wrong. My stomach was in such pain, with intense cramps, and I was starting to sweat.
I realized that I needed to get to the toilet quickly.
It happens, especially when you’re willing to eat anything while traveling and from anywhere.
Naturally, I could have used the squat toilet in the bathroom attached to my room, but after looking at my travel companion still sound asleep on the bed, and understanding very well what was about to happen, the thought of waking her up with my stomach issues was not something I wanted to turn into reality.
I decided to look for a public bathroom in the guesthouse instead.
With little time to spare, I grabbed my roll of toilet paper, left the room and went to the reception area, clutching my stomach, but there was no toilet to be found. I checked the small restaurant off to the side of the ‘lobby’, but no toilet to be found there either. And since none of the guesthouse staff were awake yet, I had no choice but to continue searching each floor of the building for a toilet, holding on as best I could, quite sure that I wasn’t going to make it much longer.
Again, it happens.
A few minutes later, after having checked all four floors, and unable to hold on any more, I reached the semi-open rooftop. I quickly checked two doors up there but they were locked.
I was drenched in sweat by this point, with my stomach in great pain and so, thinking I had no other option, I started to unbutton and unzip my shorts right then and there.
And that’s exactly when I spotted a large potted plant in one corner of the rooftop.
Perfect. I ran over, down went my shorts and I sat right on the ledge of that deep pot, with my rear end hovering over the plant itself.
What relief, a few minutes of such relief.
After the issue eventually ran its course and it all came to an end, my mind started racing. What if I got caught? What if my travel companion figured out what I did? Did I really just do this? That’s when it suddenly hit me that I was on a rooftop and people on other rooftops next door, if there was anyone awake, could probably see me.
I really hadn’t been paying attention to anything other than my stomach and the pot.
So, while still balanced over that plant, I looked up. I lifted my eyes to the world around me, hoping nobody was staring back in disgust.
Again, I just looked up.
And that’s when I was treated to one of the most beautiful and memorable sunrise experiences I’ve ever had. I remember saying to myself, “Wow”, over and over again, completely fascinated by the sudden transformation of this town from a clump of semi-darkness to a fairy tale setting covered in such magical light. With my shorts still down by my knees, I could not believe how this early morning had just taken such a turn for the better.
Of course, I then saw a woman sweeping on a nearby rooftop and it reminded me that I should probably put my shorts back on and get off of this plant. So I cleaned myself up as best I could, pulled up those shorts and then I walked over to the railing that surrounded the rooftop.
Then I just leaned there for a while, a long while, staying focused on the brilliant experience, waving to the woman on the rooftop and receiving a big smile in return, just soaking it all in.
And I can remember every moment of that sunrise so well, even today, some 10 years later.
The most important travel rule?
We should always look up at the world around us. We’ll miss too much if we don’t. And by ‘look up’, I mean really try to notice as many things and as many people as we can, no matter where we are or what we’re doing.
When we’re walking down the street, sitting in a restaurant, waiting at the bus station…look up. When we’re feeling frustrated or lonely, when we’re lost and unsure what to do or where to go…look up.
If we always remember to just look up, to look all around, to notice what is in front of us, what is off to the side, what is off in the distance, everything that makes travel so great will multiply right before our eyes.
When we look up, we see the store fronts, the architecture, the bicyclists, the fruit stalls, the political posters, the flower shops, the long lines at the pharmacies, the graffiti, the snacks people eat, the local fashion, the pace of life.
We see the smiling faces, the curious people, the potential for connection with those around us. We can’t meet many people by looking down.
By noticing everything around us, we gain a deeper understanding of every destination we visit. And at times, often when we least expect it of course, we might even see something so interesting or breathtaking or perhaps life-changing, that the experience will stay with us forever.
Kind of like my surreal sunrise in Rishikesh.
So let’s look up, always look up. Yes, even when we’re on the toilet, or a potted plant if that’s all we can find.
Have you had a memorable experience as a result of suddenly paying attention to everything around you? Could be while traveling, could be while at home?