The intriguing Banyan Tree island
I do not have very pleasant childhood travel memories. Staying in the western part of India travelling mostly meant long and tedious train journeys across half the length of India. Those were the days when Air travel was still a luxury available only to a handful, and the Indian Railways was the lifeline that connected the four corners of the country. These journeys were long; we had to spend literally 2 days and a night in the train as it chugged along merrily. Though to the adult mind this in itself could afford a subject of fascination, to us children it was like being caged. All in all I never liked these long and arduous train journeys.
But what I did like and enjoy were the shorter trips that we undertook. Two of those shorter trips still remain evergreen in my memory.
The first one was not a trip or travel in the real sense, it was more of a childrens’ outing.
There was this small unnamed hillock not too far from our house in a vast open field. Somehow this hillock personified intrigue and challenge to our tender minds. Those were the days we were on a heavy dose of Enid Blyton and four of us fancied that we were the Five Outers (minus the Dog) and every holiday saw us stuff our lunch boxes with biscuits, chocolates, sandwiches, or anything we could lay our hands on in our kitchens, and off we were on an exciting journey to ‘The Hillock’, as we called it affectionately. We would race to the top and then lie down on the summit, gazing up at the clouds floating in the sky, we would play to our hearts content, devour the food from our lunchboxes and race down. Only once did we venture towards the other side of the hillock, we descended to a dry and arid land, but in the distance we spotted water. With a gleeful yell, we were off, running towards the water. In a flash we took off our clothes and jumped into the water, splashing about and generally making a racket. We had the time of our life and reluctantly walked out of the water to make our way home, our eyes gleaming as we promised to each other that we would tell no one about this secret place of ours.
The second was a monthly picnic we went with our parents and family friends, to a small island. This would be an exciting affair and what we children would look forward to. We would leave early in the morning and return by night fall.
We used to stay in a small, dusty town called Bharuch in the Western Indian state of Gujarat which lay on the banks of the river Narmada, and this island known as Kabirvad was at a distance of about 18 kms. We would drive to a place called Shuklatirth, from where we would clamber on to a big wooden boat which would seat around 25-30 people and the boatmen would soon start rowing towards the island on the opposite banks of the Narmada.
It must have taken us probably 15-20 minutes of rowing to reach the island. As soon as we set foot on the shores of the island, we children would be off towards the welcoming shade of the island. The island was covered by a huge network of the intertwined branches of a single Banyan Tree. According to local myth a single Banyan tree grew from a small twig which had been used by the 15th century Indian poet, mystic and saint Kabir, and thrown on the island after he had brushed his teeth with it. Over the years the tree spread and spread to completely envelop the 2,5 acre island with a green canopy.
The unique nature of the island was a source of great enjoyment to us as children, we used to swing from the long, hanging roots of the Banyan tree, we used to play hide and seek, and best of all we used to play ‘Catch me’, the only condition here was that you could not set feet on the ground! we jumped, ran and swung from branch to branch as we played to our hearts content.
After all this exertion it would be time for a cool dip in the welcoming waters of the Narmada river, we would splash around in the water under the watchful eyes of the adults. For us children, these simple pleasures seemed like heaven and we could not ask for more.
Finally we would be served our favorite food by the womenfolk who would take upon themselves the responsibility of ensuring that everyone was fed well. After the food we would climb up to our favorite spot high up in the branches of the Banyan tree pretend we were the lookout for any imaginary attackers.
Evening would see a group of tired kids climb into a wooden boat and sit quietly staring at the setting sun as the boat weaved its way in the placid waters of the Narmada towards the other shore.
Such was the magic of those trips that the memories continue to haunt me, it has been decades since those days, I have not been there since then, I am not sure if the island retains its old charm, a charm that cast a spell on me as a kid, or has succumbed to the trappings of commercialization. One day I hope to find out.
What travel memories as a child continue to haunt you till this day? Would be lovely if you could share it.