I, Arjun Goel, had always viewed life as an on-going timeline based on calculated decisions. I’d set goals for the future, work towards them, and more often than not I’d achieve them. This for me was how life worked and how it should be lived. That was until I moved to the mountains. I don’t have a sob story or any tale of breaking free from a bad life. My life in Chandigarh was great. I have the most amazing parents, an absolutely lovely brother who is also my best friend, and close friends that have always been by my side. I also found love in college over 9 years ago, and we’re still going strong. So I can probably say, without trying to sound too smug, that I had it all.
I think the first spark to travel came when I went to Germany for my internship. I was just 20, on a shoestring student budget and suddenly I was in Europe where countries were smaller than most Indian states. My friends and I literally backpacked through these countries at a time when phones didn’t have Google maps, Instagram or any other means of figuring things out.
We’d buy tourist maps, figure out where we were and roam around the cities talking to people and asking for directions. We’d sleep on overnight trains to save hotel costs. It was a wonderful time that also made me realise how cheap travelling in India was as compared to Europe. I made myself a promise that when I go back, I’ll travel throughout India – but such spirited promises made to self are rarely kept.
Fast-forward a few years and I was now an Architect, working in a good office in Chandigarh. I’d do the 9 to 5, and meet friends in the evening. Life was good until I realised, it was just like Groundhog Day. Three years of my life went by as I took the same route to the office, worked till the clock ran out, and rushed home to repeat it all over again. It wasn’t long before I quit my job, hoping the experience I’d gathered was enough for me to start on my own.
And start I did, as being unemployed didn’t sit well with my ‘plan-every-day-every-week’ life motto. I started working online, picking up freelance architecture jobs. I was also writing voice-over scripts for my friend’s animation studio at the same time, something that I still do today and absolutely enjoy!
On the 1 st of August 2017, I went to Dharamshala. I had been to Himachal many times before but there was something about the Dhauladhar Mountains that literally hypnotized me. I remember sitting on a chair, looking at this enormous range – absolutely awestruck.
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As luck would have it, I ran into an old friend who invited me to dinner. It was here, over drinks and conversation with some people I’d never met before that I decided I wanted to live here. This was a new feeling, something that I’d never experienced before. Something that the Arjun back in Chandigarh would’ve never dreamt of doing. It was scary, but it felt completely right.
So the next day, I go back home and tell my parents my decision. I did mention I have amazing parents, and they were all for it. They trusted me and allowed me to explore my life. That was all the strength I needed, and I set out to move to Dharamshala. Moving was the fun bit. I’d flit between Chandigarh and Dharamshala whenever someone I knew would be making a trip, and I’d spend days walking around, knocking on doors and asking villagers if they knew of a house I could rent.
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Their bewildered looks would sometimes amuse me, but more often than not make me question my ‘stupid’ decision. I believe good things happen to you when you stay focused, and that’s how I met Nidhi who is now my best friend in Dharamshala. She pointed me to a house that I fell in love with and it’s the one I’m living in today! So I went back home, hired a truck, stuffed it with all my worldly belongings, sat in the passenger seat next to the driver and left for Dharamsala – ready to set up a new life.
I had some savings that helped tide me over for a few months. My idea was to take time off and figure out what I wanted to do in life. Music had always been something that gave me strength, and I took this time to practice, sing and write more than I had ever done before. It was in Dharamshala that I had my first ever gig at Blossom’s Resort – the same place where I had made the decision to move to this town. It was poetic, surrounded by those same people who were now my friends, with the same Dhauladhars now serving as a backdrop as I sang my heart out.
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I’d never been happier. Since then I’ve played a few more gigs, and have even performed twice at Gone Fishing Cottages in Tirthan Valley where I was invited as a musician! I had never used that word for myself before, but now it feels right! I found friends with whom I did my first treks, forest walks, hikes. I did my first solo bike ride with a guitar on my back and mud all over me. I trekked to Kareri Lake, one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. I went to Spiti for 2 weeks after having waited for over 5 years, where I pitched my own tent for the very first time. Maybe Dharamshala was the catalyst that my life needed for a series of ‘firsts’.
My work had slowed down as I had taken a sabbatical, and there was a time when I was worried about how I’ll pay the rent. I had never taken any money from my parents since the day I graduated, and I wasn’t going to start now. These were the times when I would question my decision of moving here when I could have easily stayed in a city and set up a profitable practice.
I think the word ‘belief’ doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Even though I was struggling financially, I was happy. Something I had never thought was even possible. My belief in the fact that I was right finally proved itself when I started getting local architectural projects. That was the turning point and I’ve never looked back since.
I now live in Dharamshala, in a cute house with a gorgeous view, as I spend my time designing mountain houses for local clients. I happily pay my rent and have perhaps enabled myself to earn and save more than I could have in a city. Did I know life would turn out this way? No. Do I know what the future has in store? Absolutely not. Am I happy? A million times yes.
There is something VERY important that I’d like to add to this, especially if you’re still reading! Ideas are sparks – they click instantly. Executing them is a whole different story. I don’t want anyone to think that I moved on a whim without a care in the world. The day I made the decision, I took time to count my savings, create a mental map of my expenses, and figured out how much runway I had before I could take the plunge.
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I lived small in the beginning, for I realised that I was not on vacation but on a sabbatical where time was more important than luxury. I knew I was closer to Chandigarh that would allow me to be there for my parents when they need me. Being an Architect, with work experience allowed me to set up practice here and has led to a comfortable life.
Living in the mountains sounds wonderful, but it comes with its own set of challenges. There are no midnight food deliveries. No Ubers to take you home. No proper service stations for your phone, laptops or any tech help you’d need. Medical facilities are not good. The internet isn’t always the best and power cuts are frequent and sometimes frustrating.
The work culture here is slow. People live simple lives and don’t rush about to meet deadlines like they do in the cities. You’ll have to understand this and mold yourself accordingly. Remember, you’ve moved into their town so you’ve got to understand the culture, the unsaid rules, and take everything with a pinch of salt.
That being said, I’m living the best days of my life in Dharamshala. I have my music, work, friends, and the mountains to climb when I need a break from it all. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing about my life, for every small decision I’ve ever made led me here and I couldn’t be happier.
This article was contributed to Curly Tales by Arjun Goel. If you have a story to tell us, drop us an email to [email protected]