There’s a great deal to be said for packing up your bags, putting the old smartphone into airplane mode, and heading for the mountains.
That’s easier said than done, and I’m fortunate in the fact that I have one place I can always retreat to – Halwinna, a little village up on the mountains somewhere in the Sabaragamuwa province. My grandfather, on my mother’s side, built his home there, an odd, sprawling house that, had it been built of wood, would have been the quintessential cottage. As it is, it’s a house that has seen more people than I’ve met in my life (popular people, my grandparents), teetering at the foot of a vast mountaintop of equal parts jungle and equal parts cultivated supergarden.
I’m not sure why I’ve never written about this place, because whether I like it or not, I seem to drop by at least once a year. And what a visit it is! There is a road that snakes up from Godakawela, at the foot of the mountain; it twists and turns so ferociously that anyone not trained in these hills (or in Ratnapura: those drivers are a breed apart) would end up as a sad tangle of metal and flesh halfway down the mountain. The road takes you past streams and fields, and houses clinging to the hillside, past cliff-faces swallowed up by clouds.
But it’s the air that changes the most. You sense it as you climb – or rather, you feel the air getting colder, clearer, with the heaviness of the lowlands left behind. Your ears pop. Out of the side window you see the tops of distant mountains, wrapped in white mist. Everything seems slightly louder, clearer; the world feels refreshed, like the night after a shot of vodka.
The best part about this place is that cell phones don’t work there. No WhatsApp, no Viber, not even a call. Normally, I’d consider that marginally worse than a death sentence – being cut off from social media and my daily information overload is torture. But occasionally, like now, it helps to disconnect.
It’s not a simpler life. There’s no grand sigh and an eulogy about returning to the simple life of the peasant, away from the rat race of the city and all that. By and large, there’s always stuff to do, and people are people wherever you go – most of them are idiots, and the rest are too busy doing their own shit. But it is a reality check in every sense of the word. You realize that life doesn’t revolve around a weekly binge at Dutch, or a BMW bought on an eight-year lease, or coffee at the most expensive place around. That most of the things you think really matter really don’t. And that most people, being people, are really sad, because they’ve sort of built the majority of their lives around meaningless little things like this.
And by the time you get back – for get back you must – perhaps you’ve managed to sort some stuff out, and become slightly happier in the process, and slightly more productive to boot.
There’s a lot to be said for disconnecting.