‘Cauldron burning bright but where are the witches… Probably toggling up for the party’.
In the on going Covid-19 scenario the travel cauldron is overflowing with places, freebies, modes and methods leaving the end-user hyperventilating or baffled by innocent over choices. The traveller/tourist has seldom had it so good and wants to dip into this ambrosial pot and pull out a magical plum. But, then, it is a do or die situation. For once home is the best travel destination and an opportunity to rediscover the hidden gems in our surroundings. We could be the balcony singers of Italian towns and create magic of connectivity. India is trying its best to avoid the lockdown stage but the virus knows better. Hopefully we will be back to our queues at the earliest, pinning down the must see places.
A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”– Lao Tzu ( Chinese philosopher and writer)
Pre virus outbreak conversation: “Where are u going next’. I look at my friend. Post virus reply>>> ‘Where am I going. No where’. In 2019, by this time, lured by beach visuals and luminescent aqua rings in the ocean, we visited Goa and Maldives. A mistake or as Pico Iyer writely said that the romance we attribute to places is more in our imagination than the place itself. Goa was inundated with tourists from different corners of India and the world. Wherever we went, land or water, footfalls followed so that ultimately we preferred to moon over the setting sun from our beach front hotel. Exceptions were the artefacts of an ancient Portuguese mansion, owned by a local family, and open to tourists for stipulated fee; the churches, forts, the verdurous paddy fields, the solitary beaches of South Goa that compensated for human impediments.
The other water centric break, Maldives, was again in season (February) and peopled, unless one flew to the remotest seven star resort. But, then one needs to be moneyed or is handed out a press trip.
I am a Capricornian, an earth person, and preferred Hulhumale (near capital Male) to shuffle around unknown neighbourhoods and streets learning more about a land that is a mix of South India, Sri Lanka and China. We did the ferry rides to Villingili and Cinnamon Island resorts for the customary sun bathing or crashing on the waves as answer to ‘You went to Maldives and did not stay in a water cottage’. A day was sufficient to soak our feet in the waters and sip exotic concoctions in soul stirring ambiance (as pasted in tourist brochures).
2020 and we still have to work out a vacation. Covid-19 virus restricts long distance travel so it has to be closer home. Then again ‘do not go in season’. It is turning into a mind boggling chore selecting a convenient and likeable place. Earlier travelling was simpler, In-Season or Out, West or East, as everything was different from our home towns. We would be dumbstruck, awed by new surroundings (first timers still are) never envisioning that a place could be so different, a everyday paradise. For visitors from developed world India was another world of roller coaster reactions from being awed by the antiquity and the squalor around to seeing rainbows in splashes of mud and water. Gone are the days when a Christopher Columbus, in search of India and its gold, would be content to discover a new continent. Today the social, written and visual media does that for us, compartmentalising visits into time and cultural slots. Mass tourism’s new buzzwords– authentic, sustainable, urban, rural.. are being manipulated into lucrative tourist attractions. Village models, preserved wildlife, pinned destinations are stuck on pedestals and we revel in these presentations. The reason for the blind faith is that travel is in our genes with continuous migrations from one patch of land to another patch, city to city, or country to country. My forefathers migrated from a city in Pakistan to the banks of the Ganga in North India. My children have moved to North America and the cycle keeps on rolling. If we had stayed within four walls of our abodes there would not have been discoveries of new lands and people. In our own way we are explorers and adventurers who set forth interconnecting the globe.
We know what we want and where we are headed. Recently a travel blogger, on a sponsored visit to India, wrote how she is keeping her fingers crossed for any eventuality. She was travelling business class, courtesy her native country’s airliner, and staying in princely luxury in Mysore Palace (converted into hotel). She has her views and choices aligned as mine are when strolling downtowns of SanFrancisco, Toronto, Manhattan (New York), Sydney, Hong Kong, Beijing…. I focus on the glitz and glamor of surrounding bricks and mortar that reinforce the mental xerox copies of images gleamed in magazines and newsreels. I bypass the daily contents of livelihood.
The difference between a traveller and a tourist is that a traveller immerses himself/herself into local culture and history, exploring and learning, while the tourist tramples footprints on cultural and environmental sensibilities. I have friends for whom places are numbers on their world map. Ask them what they saw or experienced and the answer is touristy stereotypical… monuments, markets and where their travel guide took them. The sheer numbers of such people or “terramotourism” or tourism earthquake restyles an area into a crowd pleaser. The above picture is from 2017 visit to Emerald Lake in Yoyo National Park, British Columbia, Canada. Within no time the serenity of the lake and its surroundings was photobombed by selfie stick wielding tourists looking for the best spots to click. The busloads of tourists can unnerve any diehard nature lover. Think Venice, Bali, Goa and other islands and beach towns, mountain tops where overstepping invasive and exploitative footfalls lead to environmental degradation.
This is not to begrudge tourists their desire to visit places as travel is getting fancier with customised aircrafts, state-of-the-art cruise ships sailing for days of unlimited pleasure, luxurious holiday resorts and culinary indulgence.
To me a real traveller is one who pokes around, steps into the unknown and unvisited, face to face with the hidden and covered. It can be responsible and sustainable travel, senseless travel, or a perpetual bucket list travel. As someone suggested the world is one humongous treasure trove waiting to be discovered by not restricting ourselves to the beaten track. We can look for projects in different regions of resident country or abroad, re-discover the history and ecology of the town living/visiting as every brick and every mound has a story to tell about transformations taking place.
Covi-ded: The present situation is providing us the signal to change direction. There are choices available from being a couch-traveler to re-writing the reams of travelogues of places visited or planning to visit. Facebook and blogger advisors add their bit by recommending language learning or craft, to clue up on an unknown land as one never knows it might be a future travel hotspot. The list is never ending.
I am back to the dilemma… where now? Closer home (Pune) or another another city…or better to wait for a Covid-19 free world.