There are countless reasons to travel. Each person has their own set. From exploring other cultures to discovering new foods, exposure to new fashions and languages, a desire to not feel settled or tied down. Whatever your reason for travelling, it’s a good one.
I have plenty of my own, but there’s one I didn’t realise was important to me until after I started travelling: the feeling of coming home.
It’s that strange sense, when you encounter a place or a person for the first time, of having known them before. Deja vu, we sometimes call it, though I think that’s not quite right. A glitch in the matrix, perhaps. The explanation that resonates most, for me, is that whoever this person is, wherever this landscape is, I have experienced it in a life lived sometime far back. Before I was born into this body, in Colorado, I lived countless lives with countless people in countless places. And every once in awhile I get lucky enough to brush up against them.
Of course, this sensation happened before I ever set foot on an aeroplane. Pieces of those past lives are, I believe, naturally drawn to us. I’ve met people who felt instantly like family, or who rubbed all my fur backwards for some reason I couldn’t elucidate. I felt the connection in Charleston, South Carolina, where I travelled on an ill-fated adventure to meet up with a boy. While the station I found myself in was ten shades of crazy, the city itself broke open my heart and stole a piece of it away forever.It’s a heady feeling, and hard to describe. There’s a comfort to it, like being wrapped in my mother’s arms. A familiarity, as if I’d seen this place a hundred thousand times before. A sense of belonging that defies all rational explanation. It’s a feeling I adore, and I want to experience in my life as much as possible.
I think one of the most striking episodes for me was visiting the elephant stables in Hampi, Karnataka, India. Hampi was built in the Vijayanagara empire when rulers of that area commanded a huge amount of money and power. There are thousands of ruins around the city of Hampi, giant temples and elaborate halls built for the king and queen. The stables are located near the Zenana Enclosure, a secluded area created specifically for royal women. Within the enclosure, you can visit the Lotus Mahal, see the remains of the Queen’s Palace, and the Treasury building where it’s said the queen’s eunuch guards lived. The stables themselves are one long line of stone enclosures, eleven in all, with vaulted ceilings and domed roofs. They are one of the few structures in the area that remained untouched by Deccan Muslim invaders in the 16th century.
As I walked over the large swath of emerald grass between the edge of the enclosure and the stables, I was struck with a feeling that I’d been there before, many times. I felt wholly and completely at home in my own skin, and in that place. I stood in the huge rooms, pressed my hands against ancient brick, and could almost smell the elephants there beside me. I could almost feel the hay beneath my feet. I closed my eyes and heard the soft rustles of the rope that wound about the elephant’s ankle, tied to the metal hook on the wall.
The barriers between our lives are thinner than we give them credit for, I think. We have these memories, distant and fuzzy and obscured by time and space that sift up through our hearts from time to time. I don’t know if they make much of a difference for this life, but I love the subtle reminder that there is more to my experience than this life’s experience alone.
So, I travel. I search. And every once in a while, I’m lucky enough to find.
Written by Sarah Hirsch