‘Travel’ is often quoted as a passion, hobby, interest, a way to break the routine, go new places or countries, explore other geographies, cultures, weather, food, language, meet new people or simply marvel at nature’s wonders or architectural splendours, from the bygone past. For some travel comes as an activity, for some its part and parcel of life or profession.
Travel has always been the very nature of human existence. The search for greener pastures, literally, made early human to move from one region to the other. Safety, amiable weather conditions, more fertile lands, availability of resources, all these factors led to the quest to wander, out of necessity. Once the hunter gatherer became a farmer settler, advanced civilisations emerged and thrived, the quest to have objects they didn’t have access to, became a reason to travel. Wooden ships were sent across rivers and channels, elusive goodies, jewels, precious stones, gold, food and ornaments were sought for. The Age of Discovery and Exploration saw many a brave explorers braving long perilous sea voyages in search for new sea routes, new lands and their riches, for trade or to expand their domination.
At other times, it was plain curiosity, the quest to know more, explore what lies beyond the horizon, on the other side of the sea, at the end of the forest, that inspired the adventurous to venture forth.
In India, many a spiritual leaders are known to have left home at a young age. They wandered around the country, villages, streets to understand the true meaning of life and led the world towards peace, truth and enlightenment. Some travelled for years in pursuit of their spiritual gurus.
A young Siddhartha left his palace one night and wandered, looking for answers to many questions he had in his mind. He became Mahatma Buddha and guided the world towards the spiritual path.
Swami Vivekananda left home to travel the length and breadth of the country and after witnessing the sufferings of the common man, he vowed to dedicate his life in service of humanity.
Upon return from South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi travelled throughout India to understand the country, it’s diversity and problems.
Till a few decades ago, travel for the common person meant pilgrimage or months spent at a holy site. There was no concept of leisure holidays. If at all, there would be one or two expeditions to some hill station or a big city (combined with a family wedding), once in a decade.
For me, travel came to be a part of life with my parent’s transferable job all over India. We travelled to far flung remote corners of India, landing in entirely new states, away from main cities, in green cantonments, taking admission into new schools, making new friends, getting acquainted with new neighbours and learning to adjust to a climate we were not used to. Travel also meant going back to my grandparents’ home every vacation. The train journey was one big adventure in itself. Indian Railways as the only mode of travel was exciting and even now, railway platforms seem like a known, familiar place to me. The whole ritual of packing and preparing for the journey was special, waiting at the station, nagging parents to buy comics from the book stalls, buying last minute snacks and day’s newspapers, folding bamboo fans, thermos filled with tea, held carefully. Those days there were no mobile phones to bury your head into. Chatting with co-passengers, getting to know their entire family history throughout the journey, sharing food, snacks and stories was common.
Some rail passengers came equipped with stuff to bide time. As soon as they settled, the leather brown suitcase would open and cards would be out for an exhilarating card game, peals of laughter and jokes for all to enjoy. The tea sold in earthen kulhad was a delicacy in itself. I used to pester my parents till they bought me every possible comic book available on every station. From here, sprouted my fascination for reading and a book worm was born.
With greater mobility, economic prosperity and larger disposable incomes, travel is no more a preserve of the rich. The travel industry had boomed in last two decades and air travel is affordable for the middle class. No destination is out of reach, internet has done away with cumbersome paperwork or need for intermediaries. As a result, we are travelling a lot more, ticking off names from the bucket lists, but somehow the charm of going to a new place after months of planning and anticipation is lost, with everything available at the click of a button.
I still take long train journeys with my children often, just to relive the memories. Very rarely do people talk to each other now, with heads buried in phones, some talking loudly, some watching movies and some playing games. Mud kulhads have disappeared, three sips of tea served in miniature paper cup is tasteless. We don’t trust outside food anymore, the vendors sell packed stuff and restaurants deliver food in compartments. Yet, I enjoy the journey, the unknown towns, huts and multi storied buildings around the tracks in different shades, fields with seasonal crops, over bridges, trees and chimneys bellowing smoke faraway.
Travel is a bit like life, you know general direction where you are going, sometimes you feel you are in middle of nowhere, all people and things strange, you question why you are doing this, you would be better off doing something else, yet when you reach, all your doubts melt away. Someday you look back and thank yourself for taking that chance. That one chance, out of the ordinary, that changed so many things.
“The Real Voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
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