TravelHer With Shaili Chopra: A Village, Stars And The Changing Definition Of Luxury

Shaili Chopra

I sat staring at the moon like a child in a candy store. I hadn’t seen it so close, so clear, so bright, so near. It was glowing like a massive pearl in a dark sky. The moon wasn’t alone. There were thousands of stars in the night sky and one of them was particularly brighter than anything else. I reached out to my phone and googled, ‘my night sky tonight’ and discovered the big bright ball of light next to the moon was Jupiter. Between the recesses of my mind, I was trying to hold on to that thought – that I was spending an evening with moon and Jupiter. Below where the night sky met the edge of the land, there was nothing but one sole tall tree in silhouette over the mountains. That too sat in the same awe of the world above as me. If we were all undisturbed, it would be just a silent conversation between me and the sky.  But there were some dragon flies and fire flies all of which were hitting my glowing mobile screen when I tried to learn more of the stars and constellations.

I realised the loveliest holidays are about simplicity. The blood cells it resurrects! – Shaili Chopra

ValDOrcia Italy Shaili Chopra 2
I had not done this in decades. I couldn’t have. I didn’t search for it. I didn’t think about it. I was realising after many moons that this is what I wanted my vacations to be. Rolling hills, skies, stars, telescopes (which I forgot to pack) and the vast universe. I had taken one like this for the first time. There were only four people between that hill and ours. I stood on top of one of hills where we were living and just stared at silence of the night. Sometimes silence throbs your ears because they don’t know how to deal with it. The air carried the sticky sour smell of the pine needles mixed with that of growing wheat below. An unlikely combination. We were breathing clean air. That evening I redefined what luxury was for me.

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I want to holiday where my lungs flourish and I see the stars dance. Where I can map constellations and talk to my children of the unknown and not Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol. We sat in the rooms with breeze and moonlight streaming and no fans. 

Shaili Chopra travels

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When I was a little girl, perhaps four, sleeping on the terrace on a manja coir bed was normal and all we did was stare at the sky. My dad would show us artificial satellites, and seeing three or four a night was absolutely normal. At times, our sky was checkered through the slouchy mosquito net but nothing really blurred our exploring eyes, and the vast possibilities of entertainment through the sky. Even better, it was different every night. On many other summer holidays we would spend time on someone’s farm house having a great time swimming in a hoddi which is an open concrete tank near fields. I had sat on tractors, visited khets and sat semi roasted by a brick kiln, climbed trees as a child and I found it increasingly difficult to offer the same to my children. This trip helped me change that a bit.

Just float in the clouds, dig some mud, sow some dreams and sit with books by a view – Shaili Chopra on TravelHer

I have been a city slicker all my adult working life. I also love exploring new and different city lives and cultures. But this time I felt like a pause. We selected a place called ValDOrcia in the Tuscan region of Italy as our stop. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site for its cultural and environmental ethos. This is just two hours out of Rome. Its biggest asset? You arrive and just want to stare at a scene we had so longed for – natural beauty, mountains and valleys. It was something else. Upon a farm stay on a hill, there was nothing much to do, a little home against other hills with other little homes. Just insane skies, clouds, rain, good air and stars. Our days started with walking up and down a hill building an appetite, with a mild pause chatting with the farm-family owners who were trimming their grass with mini trucks. My son picked stones along his trek and thought of shapes it resembled. We embedded cherry seeds into the soil and promised to come back next year to see it grow. We lay on the grass, getting mild prickles, staring at the vastness of our surrounds. We kicked the ball into wheat fields of gold and pricked our calves into bloody dots trying to get it back. We physically tired ourselves out. Had not done that outside the gym, freestyle in a long long time. 

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ValDOrcia Italy Shaili Chopra

We were up on a hill where one side was a Roman town with a fort right on top called Castiglione and another one called Bagno Vignoni which has natural hot springs. One afternoon we just sat warming our feet and staring at the valley below. I realised the loveliest holidays are about simplicity. The blood cells it resurrects as though were dormant for years. The outhouse of this farmstay had a little hut which was three sided covered in the Italy version of ‘raat ki raani’ or Jasmine. Walking past it a few times would just turn you into another person. Like it cajoled you out of any mood and turn on the happy mode.

In my head, there is a new goal. One to be part of places where places become a part of you. I want to redefine travelling for myself and my children. It’s not about India or abroad. It’s about where you find yourself. Just float in the clouds, dig some mud, sow some dreams and sit with books by a view.

Shaili Chopra is an award-winning journalist and founder of SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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