Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Guest post: Why we travel

I often wonder! Why do we travel? Why is it some have a tremendous urge to explore the unseen, while others are simply content living in the cozy comforts of a place they lovingly refer to as 'home.' It doesn't need hours of pondering to spell out the reasons. 

In the words of a great travel writer Pico Iyer, 'we travel firstly to lose ourselves; and we travel next, to find ourselves. We travel to widen our knowledge and to go beyond newspaper reports and television coverage. We travel to expose myths and to understand more about cultures. We travel to bring the 'child' back into our lives, something we may have left behind as teens and we travel to reverse time. We travel, to escape the humdrum of a non-existential existence we are at times exposed to, day in and day out. We travel to get rid of our prejudices, and when we travel, the greatest discovery and joy is in seeing new places with new eyes and an open mind.’ 

Travel brings many unexpected pleasant surprises, like the time we were in a village close to the Fagaras mountains not far from Sibui, Romania. After a long tiring trek we stopped at a village to catch our breath and admire the scenery. Moments later a middle aged woman came to us with cups of steaming coffee. Not understanding the language seemed to possess no hindrance; on this occasion it was the kindness of a person who understood our need for a warm drink. Then there was this memorable moment when a Yemeni national paid for our taxi fare in Sanaa because we did not possess the necessary change in Yemeni rials to compensate the taxi driver, while travelling from our hotel to the old quarter. He also refused to accept the dollars we offered him. We were touched by this momentous gesture. Talk about unpredictability, there’s plenty when on the road. 

During my short and limited stint in the amazing world of travel, I have been exposed to quizzical situations, and events, not all of which were my own making. Like I learnt, people stand in queues not only in front of bread shops in Moscow or in bus stands in Mumbai. I had to stand for over an hour to enter a casino in Kansas and have stood for roughly the same amount of time to enter the Beer Market in Toronto. 

I was warned not to enter a nightclub if I didn't have the money in Kowloon, Hongkong. I learnt rather sadly, that a miniscule percentage of the world’s population is mean, ignorant and probably racist. While standing at a rail platform in Western Europe, I was spat upon by a young teenager in a passing train. Poor lad, his aim wasn't too good! May he L.I.P (Live in Peace)! 

By the same measure, after a most fascinating day inside an Indian wildlife park, our Indian guide had the gumption to say, he would have received a bigger tip had we been foreigners. Little did he realize the panther was spotted thanks to the efforts of a friend and yours truly, while the tiger family, we spotted hiding in the meadows was first spotted by the village boy, whom we had agreed to give a ride in the first place? The tip if any should have been reserved for us and the village boy! 

Fleeting moments at destinations brings the child back into our lives. Long walks on lonely beaches along the western coast of India, spectacular sunsets in the company of mountains in Ladakh, India; the sight of a male tiger goring its prey in Kanha, central India; cycling across slopes on way to Lake Constanz in Germany, walking along the fort walls in Kumbalgarh Fort with monsoon clouds hovering above brings back many memories we were exposed to when we were children, besides enlivening the proceedings on a dog day afternoon in Mumbai. Thank my good stars, I have quite a number of unforgettable memories all coiled up at the back of my mind. 

Understanding local cultures and behavior enriches travel and makes the whole experience more rewarding. In a village up in the hills, not so far from the city of Muscat, I was treated to cups of 'kawa' or 'chai' or tea, but, not before I had accepted the cup with my right hand and hid the left hand from the host's view (the left hand is considered unclean). For my good behavior, I was once rewarded with the exclusive use of a private washroom (normally reserved only for the innkeeper) at a guesthouse in Phobjika, Bhutan. I was overwhelmed by the gesture and felt like the Prince of Mumbai, while accepting the keys! Incidentally, the room where I slept in had no lock! 

Little do we realize, travel isn't a one-way journey, how we behave and react is carefully noted by locals, not accustomed to uncalled and wild behavior? When we travel we are ambassadors of the lands we come from. Strangely, we are as much a sight for the locals, as they (probably) are for us. At our worst behavior, we can only be termed as 'intruders.’ 

As travelers we are at times like monks, carrying bare provisions and belongings, moving from one place to the next. While visiting the Tongsa Monastery in Central Bhutan, my driver-cum-guide, the ever smiling and amiable Mindro Dorjee, said that he wouldn't be able to enter the monastery since he was not fully clothed, while 'me’ the traveler was excused, even though I had worn a half-sleeved shirt. As wayfarers, we enjoy concessions, while pretending to live a frugal life. 

It goes without saying, when we travel, we fulfill the role of 'courier personnel’, transporting back and forth souvenirs that every culture needs. I made it a point to carry handicrafts; handmade paper, decorative items and leather articles from the Cottage Industries Emporium while in Mumbai, and returned back from my escapades with a bagful of memories, film, perfumes and chocolates. There were no Cottage Industries shops in Toronto, I found exquisite key chains and maple syrup at the duty free shop in Toronto. I used to often wonder, whether it would suffice. It's the thought that counts, which brought me comfort. 

A travel philosopher Santayana once wrote, 'There is wisdom in turning as far as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice and it fosters humor.' Pico Iyer has the last word on this inspiring subject- 'the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.' 


Hector Dsouza owns a travel agency in Mumbai called L'orient Travels and he is also the India representative for SouthWest German Tourism. Needless to say, he is an avid traveller and photographer. He is also very passionate about yoga and is a certified Ashtanga yoga instructor from the Yoga Sanctuary in Toronto.

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