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Shalaka Pai
Urban Urchin

Shalaka Pai is a writer and a photographer.She doesn’t have Instagram (yet)and won’t spam your Facebook feed with badly watermarked photos

The alternate reality of the beautiful and the alive

The majesty and the serenity of the forest.

efore we knew it, our vacations were over and it was time to come back to school and actually, y'know, work. Our little class reunion was relieving and emotional; as much as we'd enjoyed being back home with our families, we'd missed each other way too much. But something didn't feel right. Our class schedules were packed to the hilt, our weekends left with so much time we didn't know what to do with ourselves. In and out of class we went, like zombies, not really feeling alive, inspired, anything, really.

We needed a break. So, collectively, my tight little group of seven decided to do something we'd been talking about since the year began — we were going to go on an adventure. We were going hiking, to finally get out if the city and see some green, calm our minds, "reconnect".

Spend a few hours in a forest, any forest, and you will be overcome by the impulse to just lie down and breathe, keep breathing until the jungle just grows over you.

Plans were made, train timetables were looked at, no one really believed it was going to happen but we were full of good intentions and resolve. And very surprisingly, we all stuck to our word. Come 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, we were on a train to Karlstejn, a mere hour away from the city. Looking back at that trip now, I still find it hard to believe that it actually happened. Once in Karlstejn, we found our way to an 8 km-long hiking trail. Ten minutes in, we were in the forest. Surrounded by quietness and greenery, we walked, our minds far away from the stress of school and projects.

s I found out earlier this year, forests are incredibly calming, more so than beaches, my first love. When you're in a forest, you feel, even when you're around people, that you're in a little bubble of your own. It would be sacrilege to plug in earphones and listen to music as you walk. Why would you need that when you're surrounded by the indescribable feel of... well, life, really? One may think that cities are alive, buzzing as they are with trains and cars and people. And it is true, in a certain way. But the forest, that's where things actually... live. Spend a few hours in a forest, any forest, and you will be overcome by the impulse to just lie down and breathe, keep breathing until the jungle just grows over you. The deeper you go into the forest, the harder it is to come out.

We climbed a little hillock, huffing for breath in the winter air, and soon enough we could see for miles around, the only sign of civilisation a little house with a spire of smoke. Here, we were free. In a daze, we walked past log cabins and a little waterfall, explored a cave, and spent a lot of time being... well, let's just say being one with greenery. But soon enough it was time to go home; it would be getting dark soon and we really didn't want to be lost come nightfall. And so, we went in search of a road, maybe even a meal.

We had no real idea where we were going, we'd strayed so far from our original destination that we only cared that we found a town with a train station. The road was long, we had at least an hour's walk ahead of us, and soon, as it got darker, everything seemed to turn inward in my head, my only focus on my breath and on incoming cars.

It still feels like a dream, that walk. Around me, my friends laughed helplessly at the worst jokes, broke off into little duos and trios speaking of deep thoughts, and then there was me, on my own, watching at peace, just concentrating on beating the cold for yet another hour.

Eventually, we did find a train station and a train. "Tell us a story," someone pleaded as we settled into our seats, muscles aching from a good day's walk. And a story was told, and told so well that I drifted off to sleep against the train window. When I awoke, we were in Prague, still in a state of half-awake limbo I took the tram home, startled once again by the reality of cities. It was hard to believe that just a few hours ago I was gazing at a waterfall.

Or was I? Maybe. Probably. Two weeks down the line I remember that day, and somehow I'm convinced we sucked ourselves into some alternate reality where everything was beautiful and alive, nothing mattered and nothing hurt.

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