Here comes December! – That time of the year when most college students await the end of the semester exams, much more eagerly than they await their birthdays; to pack their bags to the sunny and sandy beaches of Goa, and leave all the winter chills and spills behind. All those months of planning in between lectures, inviting friends and friends of friends, looking for economy tickets, drawing itineraries, shopping ‘scanty’ clothes from Janpath and Sarojini– are finally going to culminate into one long breezy vacation at the Konkan coast- and the best part, with no strings attached! Hallelujah!
I wonder how long this tradition of ‘college travels’ has been on. Not very long it seems, for had it been going on from the time of our parent’s generation, obtaining permissions, especially for the day scholars would have been a tad easier. So, one thing is for sure- while travel and travellers have had a long past, peer travel has only a short history.
Well, Cheers to the changing times!
It is interesting to see a trend emerge these days. Either everyone already is or aspires to become a traveller. A sudden drive seems to be seeding in young hearts. And well, like most other passions of the day, there is no hushing it.
Social media is abuzz with the pledge to infuse this craze into the newbies. Facebook and Instagram- I call these the giant living rooms of our social world– are pictorially and verbally full of exhibits from such retreats. Trending hashtags like #TWWT (The Way We Travel), #TRLT (The Road Less Travelled), or the amateurish #travelforlife, #travellove, #travelwithbff, are doing their bit to plug in the last minute disconnect and have everyone hooked onto the desired ‘wanderlust’.
Travel bucket lists tend to dominate most peer conversations nowadays. Be it the much coveted Goa trip for the freshers to unwind and bond over booze; the Tibetan getaway to McLeod Gang; a weekend escape to the pristine Parvati Valley to get high among the hills of Kasol or the ultimate road trip to Leh to catch a glimpse of the breath-taking Pangong Tso- everyone seems to be bitten or shall I say, smitten by the travel bug.
However, as amazing as it may appear, I have always found something lacking in these travel tales. A soul, maybe? Some freshness.
These trips today, have become more like a ‘ritual’. One can easily figure out a pattern- batches after batches, same things get repeated, analogous post-trip ‘kissas’ start doing the rounds, even the pictures that come to adorn our virtual faces and spaces are pretty comparable. While the stories stay the same, only the characters change. It is like that disclaimer at the beginning of the movies, only with a slight moderation- ‘The resemblance of any character with any person living or dead, is purely ‘non-coincidental’ and a result of months of planning and weeks of imitation.’
What is even more upsetting is that we are so upbeat and buoyant with this one-dimensionality of approach with which we lead our lives, that nothing seems amiss. Probably, our routine lives are so full of such study related stress or work-related woes that we are happy with the slightest possible change, where we can put our brains to rest, and let our hearts enjoy. And quite rightly so, why would then, one desire any innovation in the notion of what we perceive the ‘picture-perfect vacation.’
Recently, in a book I happened to be reading, I came across a chapter called, ‘Through the Eyes of Travellers’. It had a mention of the travellers of the golden age like Fa Hien, Hiuen Tsang, Al Biruni, Ibn Batuta to name a few.
These people came from distant lands, travelling on foot, for many-many months altogether, to reach an unknown land with unbeknownst customs, traditions and even languages. They had not, the access to google maps for navigation, or the option to ride over semantic barriers through google translate. They had no one to guide them- no patterns to follow. They made their own maps, learnt the native languages, and studied ancient texts- all to understand a land and its people, hitherto unfamiliar to them.
At times they were mesmerised with what they saw, and at others, they flinched with disgust – yet they absorbed everything in, with their sensory and mental faculties. No wonder the accounts of their travels are so descriptive, yet so rich.
How delightful would have been that novel experience of setting the first sight at a new land, with no previously uploaded images on google; how pleasurable would that wafting aroma and first taste of a new dish be, not rated and reviewed on zomato; how enchanting would that native folklore must have sounded, which could only be heard once by the ears and not recorded in smartphones to be stored as an untouched antiquity.
Real experiences were those, with the freshness of a ‘first’ feel.
I often wonder, why is our life so bereft of these intangible, yet ecstatic experiences of life? What has made us soulless? Rather, than absorbing the beauty of a new land with our eyes, why are we so fascinated with the idea of capturing it and keeping it alive in a thousand pictures, disturbing its natural beauty by setting artificial filters, never to be looked at again, say, after a week? When was the last time we gazed at something just to drink in its beauty with our eyes? Why do we feel so handicapped if we are made to travel a couple of miles without our headphones? Why, instead, can we not immerse ourselves in the sound of music derived from the chirruping of birds, or one that is coming from the water gushing its way through the pebbles in a hillside? Why are we so disconnected with our sensory armour? Can today, one imagine, an Al Biruni, managing to write the famous Kitab-al-Hind, had he been our peer?
We have become so dependent on external things for inner peace that, often, we forget to look inside and reflect. We are used to a certain way of life, that any deviation makes us anxious. Patterns are set so that we can follow them. If not, why else would they be there, in the first place, right?
A couple of days back, I found a book at my Father’s side table. It was one that, I would have never picked up myself, at least not until my hair were a shade of salt and pepper. But, there in it, I found a verse, which not just left me spellbound that instant, but opened the floodgates of wisdom that our mystic saints have had, to offer to the world.
In the words of Swami Niranjananand Saraswati,
“There is no silence or peace in the jungles, forests and Himalayas, and there is no noise in the middle of the city or the town market. What we perceive to be noise and silence are external movements in the environment. The real noise and silence are experienced internally. If you are not able to stop the chatter of the mind, you will not find peace even in a cave in the deepest, remotest part of the Himalayas.”
Well, even if one of us could stop that constant chatter or the bickering of our mind, we would not need a pattern for our life. There would be no anxieties, no insecurities; we would have a free spirit and a soul, desiring not just to travel, but to wander. Wander galore!