Travel isn’t what you think it is

“I feel like the world would be a better place if more people experienced a little bit of someone else’s experience.”

philip rosenthal

Whenever you plan on a holiday, you always have a ‘to-do’ or ‘must-go’ type of a list. If you are a tourist, these 2 lists are all you have. And if you are a traveler, you might have at least one of them.

We often go to see the mountains we have heard about, the island which is all over Instagram, the hidden gem of a forest we saw on Youtube, or a place that is simply ‘trending’ or somewhere we long to go due to some reason.

After narrowing down a destination, we often to jot down the places we would be visiting there.

But, what we don’t plan is ‘who’ we will be meeting.

We forget the human element surrounding our journey

DHANPAT, THE CAMEL GUIDE

After all who populated these beautiful landscapes and made them known to us? Who built the historical sites we are so eager to visit?  And who comprises of the cultural arenas we love to hang around in?

Yes, people!

Those who you meet when you land at the airport, the bus-stand or the railway station. When you hire a cab or an auto-rickshaw, the driver is excited to meet you. If you aren’t a snob and would love a conversation, he would love to tell you about his home city.

If you get lost and seek the help of those around, he would (more often than not) be out there to help you to the best of his abilities. But only when you are open, to the reception.

Some will simply care     

When I was walking on a snow-clad road in Kashmir, which was hardened by the decreasing temperatures and hence slippery, somewhere along the road a man dressed in his pheran (Long dress made of wool), having no connection to me, said ‘

madam side side se chalna dhere dhere

(Madam, walk along the sides, slowly). As I smiled and thanked him, I wondered, why does he care? That was my ‘city mind’ talking. Here, we see each other with the eye of a skeptic. Everybody around is there to either rob or hurt us, that is all!

A STRANGER ON THE ROAD

But traveling rings a different kind of a bell. Ironically, we are more comfortable with the people there, in an alien environment.

SOME WILL be happy to talk

“Because you know what happens when you say ‘hello’ or ‘good morning?’ You make a connection. And isn’t that what being human is all about?”

philip rosenthal

Talking to strangers on road, is like talking to culture in flesh and blood. You just need a hello, or khamma Ghani. That is all we said, when an elderly Rajasthani man came in while we were having tea in what came out to be his tea-stall. He has several tales for us, from the hardships of life in the Thar desert, to the honesty of people in the area. We did lost track of time and got up only when ours was the only voice on the road.

A VILLAGE ANCESTOR IN JAISALMER

Though natives have the most potent kind of a story. You also love sharing your experiences with fellow travelers.

As we boarded the long-tailed boat in Koh Lanta, Thailand, we saw a couple who greeted us with a smile as we hopped on. That was the only signal we needed, because after that we were transported to Canada and Japan, the two countries the couple belonged to.

some will seek respect

There are some people you meet on the road. While others who are a part of your holiday fever, the ones you meet at the ‘must-go places’.

An average Indian tourist always believes the locals are there to rob them or charge a hefty sum. I don’t say their allegations are baseless, but these are too general.

A cranky man, who seeks to go up a mountain because he read about its beauty in a blog, would simply want to go, would believe the owner of the pony should be ‘present’ at his ‘command’. The poor local man, would fight for his dignity and quote a sum he would be highly profitable in. That is because for him, you are a source of income only!

On the other hand, there’s another man. He calls the pony man, “bhaijaan kitne mein chalenge?” (Brother, how much will you charge?) and then begins to bargain, does so with an apparent ‘human touch’, one that makes the local happy because he likes a man who talks, that too with respect and love.

IMAN WITH HIS PONY

The native is there to help you with your travel goals, and earn some money. But if you understand the ‘help’ first and the ‘money’ later, you will see how he makes sure you get the fun equivalent to every penny paid. And in doing so, sometimes, they might go a bit too far.

some will make you cry

As it happened to me that I was being hand-driven on a sledge. While I enjoyed the comfort, along with the snow-clad Pir-Panjal Range, I saw a red drop fall on the snow, where the man driving my sledge walked on. As I informed him of his injury, he would merely wipe clean the blood, smile and moved on.

AIJAZ WITH HIS SLEDGE

For the rest of the journey, I merely enjoyed walking with him while having a conversation, till we reached our destination.

After that, only his words lingered in my mind, the stained snow and I forgot all about the mountains.

some will make you laugh

In the hot deserts of Rajasthan, when the sun was about to retire, we were heading for the dunes. Our man, dressed in a sand colored dhoti-kurta with teeth that laughed all white, came with a shiny black jeep vibrating with Rajasthani folk music.  

As our car mounted on one sand-dune to the next, he would make a loud noise, encourage us to dance, and forget we were different. We drove in the desert for 3 hours and at that moment, we were ‘all one’.

ALI WITH HIS BEAUTIFUL THAR

We had already negotiated the price, it would have been less of trouble if he would drive us down, silently and let us seek our adventure on our own. And somehow he became a part of us even when we headed home.

His laughter and voice, where he sang his own name, “Ali, Ali, Ali” in delight, still catches our ear now and then.

The part played by the locals is not only to help you discover the city but to make sure you have a great time. And if trouble strikes, and you are kind yourself, then kindness shall prevail.

some will help you (without any motive)

You will agree how embarrassing it is to wait for your turn in the queue, get an order ready, and discover you have no means to pay the cashier! Well, that too in a foreign land!

As we finished our meal, we wanted a hot cup of coffee to power up our senses for another stroll in the cold streets of Sweden. So I got in the queue again and ordered 2 hot cups of cappuccino. Even after trying twice, all the 3 of my debit cards wouldn’t get approved. Being a cashless café, they wouldn’t accept any other payment mode. While I opened my mouth, for an apologetic cancellation, the man at the counter announced my order to be prepared. All wet in embarrassment I repeated that I couldn’t pay. The man smiled and said,

“I know mam, don’t worry, it’s on us!”

That didn’t happen to me, so far in my life, in my city, like ever! Is it related to the fact that I had complimented the food, only a while ago because I was genuinely too happy about it? Or would you say the locals-only care for the tourist?

I think, We are far too busy distinguishing people into races, religion, caste, country, ethnicity, locality. It is only through travel that you realize underneath the different skin color, features, built or clothes, is the same human in flesh and blood.

He or she is willing to welcome you in his/her home, shelter you, and let you feel welcomed. Not because you generate revenue for them, but because no matter the money, every human loves to talk about himself and learn about others.

And as human, when trouble strikes, people genuinely care.

some will come at your rescue

Like the time my brother forgot his bag on a tram in Stockholm and the next thing we see is, he sitting in a car and driving away. Later we were told, the man wanted to catch the tram, in order to retrieve my brother’s lost bag. That was a total stranger!

Or another time, when being lost in the all encompassing snowy landscape of Gulmarg, with no connectivity, we were trying to locate our cab driver. It was -6 degrees, our feet were wet and numb, and we were hell tired. Then again, two locals read our trouble, offered to help, and used their cellphones to locate our driver.

It might have been their loss, their loss of time, but humanity always prevails.

Perhaps, we often forget what is to be human in our daily lives. It is only when we see a new set of people, we are willing to be nice again. Though, it is true for only some of us, who are kind enough to ‘respect’ the other, rather than being skeptical.

I remember when my hostess in the houseboat in Srinagar came rushing to me with a heater, asking (in a relatively demanding tone):

Tumhara cap kaha gya? itni sardi hai , baal sara geela, bimar padhna hai kya?

(where have you left your cap? It’s too cold and your hair is all wet, do you want to be ill?)

She reprimand me like a mother, but why? I wasn’t paying her for keeping me healthy, she shouldn’t have cared, after all, I was just a stranger!

That is when I found what travel actually was and realized:

SOME will make you HAPPY , some will make you CRY, some will HELP you, some will CARE or some might just be happy to TALK,

because travel isn’t just about places,

travel is all about people!

P.S. I was inspired to write this post after watching yet another episode of “Somebody feed Phil”.