Travel is the essence of life
By Prithvijeet Sinha
To travel is to reconnect with the slumbering soul that often gets entrapped by vagaries of time; to find a common ground with people we claim to know but discover anew when together in unfamiliar environments. Travel is to make friends with strangers, trace the feeling of similarities in places we have never been to earlier and to create a lifetime worth of memories. It is the essence of life that is influential in shaping our worldviews and is always one to grace our photographic storehouse of nostalgia, telling us how far we have seen and felt a part of the earth unfold with its abundant bounty, whether in the form of its hills, lakes, flora and fauna or seas. It remains to be a fairly accessible point of exploring social and ethnographic, larger cultural truths of nations without the burden of intellectualising the experiences or committing it to some clichéd mystical description alone.
Perhaps it’s the possibility of packing our belongings, making plans, reserving our itinerary and then setting off to diverse locations that comes with a thrill of its own, fundamental to the very core of humanity. No wonder then that travel is one of the most joyful aspects of our popular culture as well and there are so many wonderful examples of it. Take the classic song, ‘musafir hoon yaaron’ (Parichay, 1972), that very succinctly relays the power of traveling to uncharted territories without any previous baggage. Very true to the strands mentioned above are tales of self-discovery in such cinematic works as Ye Jawaani Hai Deewani and Jab We Met where these special journeys displayed the buoyancy of youth and a fearlessness to discover things beyond the sheltered cocoon of big cities and urban preoccupations. Similarly while Seven Years In Tibet shares a spiritual arc of deep evolution through the protagonist’s (Brad Pitt) travels in Tibet, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is perfectly clued to the metropolitan, global, post-millennial truth of young 30 plus Indians who can financially and emotionally commit to extended trips to foreign locations, forego previously held baggage of personalities and sometimes find moments of clarity in a place away from home. All of this posits nothing of a very abstract nature because ultimately travel of any kind is attuned to the general philosophy of giving oneself the comfort, the permission to let go of daily pressures and see the beauty in little actions, people’s gestures and the way the whole world can seem like one’s own personal playground.
Travel can be catching hold of the majestic marbled wonder of Taj Mahal or something as simple as driving beyond city limits, on a road trip and being besotted by the simplicity and lush carpet of the countryside. Or better still going to one’s city’s memorable monuments and haunts with friends and family from abroad. Not to forget, the unexpected charm of going back to our ancestral lands and finding a piece of our lineage calling out to us as those extensive miles make us trace the past with the present. Joy, ultimately, has to be the key to unlocking one’s appetite for travel.
Today, the travel industry has boomed into a highly lucrative model of utmost professionalism where the previously elusive idea of luxury is hand-in-glove with desires of seeing the world for those who have the means to fulfil that ideal. Which is why given the propensity of our times where everything is high-end to a fault, travel, as an undertaking, can often feel like a refuge for those with money and privilege, those who can plan their holidays according to package deals to exotic and even hitherto unexplored corners of well-known destinations. Above that there are trappings of being offered more than just good food, sightseeing and quality family time. Destination weddings in coastal locations or fortified citadels and private villas, photography dedicated to such exclusive tours and hiking and mountaineering tours define the changing face of urban travel that sometimes go beyond just the ‘foreign holiday’ trope. But I feel that whether it’s a quiet unravelling under the Himalayas in a beautiful Indian hilly town or a packaged European tour, travel is a personalized experience at the end of the day that always fits our financial and personal considerations. With the advent of budget hotel chains and companies like Go Ibibo, Sotc, Make My Trip, Club Mahindra Holidays establishing their credentials, the diversity of choices offered adds a sense of professional decorum and planning to travel at large.
We have to catch sight of groups of people in casuals visiting familiar monuments across our own cities to attest to that. It does not involve a luxury cruise, a five star spread or any such trappings. With proper amenities, acceptable options of accommodation and the support of local tourism frameworks, the personal centre of travel can be simple and memorable. The underlining fact remains, as we all believe it to be, that travel is essential to understand the landscape of the world beyond the miniature one we hold so dear to ourselves involving family, home, work and the daily grind. As I say it, I realize there are people I know and so many who probably have never received the chance to venture beyond the four walls of their immediate folds owing to so many factors irrespective of class and sociology. No two lives after all can be the same. But I feel we all have a right to experience the multiplicity of travel to enrich our present.
If I put in a more personal perspective, I was always fascinated by travel shows and print pieces like the ones from Outlook Travel and watching those visuals, reading and imbibing the details through the medium of words respectively transported me to landscapes far away from my own. It was a gift then and till today I consider myself somewhat of a mental traveller since I can visualize so much by just imagining a place after I have read about it or known quite a lot about the way of life there. Since my childhood, my avid travels with family across the length and breadth of India have exposed me to the unparalleled beauty and uniqueness of my multifaceted country’s cuisines, dialects, people, some of whom I will always remember and cherish, and a larger panorama about the collective ethos of our social structure where every traveller is welcome and gets to ingest the sights and sounds as also the soul of what each part holds as distinctive features. How can I ever forget then falling in love with the majesty of Western Ghats on that indelible Bombay to Goa road trip or the wondrous sanctity of the blessed sights of Shillong and of course the storied continuum of Rajasthan where architectural splendour reigns supreme at every nook and cranny. My personal favourite will be Mysore, such a beautifully sombre, marvellous little treasure full of history and pristine charm, from Hampi hills, Mysore Palace to its famed gardens.
My own hometown Lucknow has perhaps been responsible for inculcating that sense of joy and aesthetic appreciation of other locations since it is such a paradise for the storied history it uncovers for newcomers and local residents anew. On so many occasions, I have taken my foreign returned relatives to trips across the many historic landmarks of my city and trust me a renewed vigour informs those instances of travel, inspiring me last year to publish two travel pieces around the same on Confluence Magazine. The irony around this so often is that we draw contrasts between our own provenances and the more developed world when we make preferences for travel. The other striking point is that millions of foreign tourists accept the panorama of India with open minds, warts and all. Each narrative is special then to be documented. So whether they are my trips to Sri Lanka or Malaysia or to the four corners of India, each one is a winner.
In the concluding passages, I would like to relay a pivotal point about the essence of travel. From reading about ancient travellers like Fa Hien, Hiuen Tsang and Ibn Battuta in history books to modern day travel series helmed in by almost all male crews with some exceptions to the gendered rule, Travel with a ‘t’ always seems like a male dominated sphere because that’s the nature of the enterprise which we have inherited as a society. But today females take solo trips, host shows and have written classic books like Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. In turn, personal memoir and the travelogue format conflate their collective parts to become bestsellers and inspired cinematic works starring the likes of Julia Roberts and Diane Lane respectively. Additionally, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri is one of the most poignant exemplifications of personal narratives spread out across India and America, holding reins of multiple generations in the emotional thrust on traveling along interpersonal bonds and memories. In a nutshell, travel is about no single gender or group; it is about fostering a spirit of community, an incentive for ‘education’ and ‘experience’ as Francis Bacon said in his essay “Of Travel”.
It is about exercising free will and individuality in the lap of nature and unfold a landscape of commonality across nations and societies.
Without travel, hence, an essential dynamism of humanity will get suffocated and that’s why we take those trips and create lifelong memories. Travel, then, is the very essence of life. Period.
Prithvijeet Sinha belongs to the cultural epicentre, Lucknow. He is a published writer with works ranging from poetry, film writings, and travel pieces in Confluence, Gnosis, Café Dissensus, Thumbprint Magazine, Screen Queens, The Medley, Wilda Morris’ Poetry Blog, Borerless Journal, among others.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.