Show and tell, one step at a time

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - SHAMPA SINHA

“Avanti! Avanti!” I scream in cho­rus with my fa­ther, as the pedes­trian sign flashes green. My four-year-old hand bur­rowed se­curely in the hol­low of his, we run to the other side, laugh­ing. Rome may not have been built in a day but we are out to prove that it can cer­tainly be walked in one.

It is not in­ap­pro­pri­ate then that the Ital­ian word for “Go!” is the first one I picked up all those years ago. We traipse around cob­ble­stoned streets and man­age to throw coins into both the Trevi and Tivoli foun­tains. I shud­der in mock-hor­ror out­side the Colos­seum while my fa­ther’s cam­era clicks. At the end of the day, to cel­e­brate the feat, there is another photo of me hold­ing aloft a cone of mul­ti­coloured ge­lato like a vic­tory torch. I date my love of walk­ing back to that day.

To walk me is to know me. Ev­ery place I have vis­ited since seems to whis­per this mantra. The call is so ur­gent that I once aban­doned a taxi in a traf­fic jam in Paris in favour of legging it. I was re­warded with the dis­cov­ery of an Aztec cho­co­late store tucked away in a side-street in the Marais where I yielded to the temp­ta­tion of the dark chilli, clove and car­damom-flavoured cubes on of­fer.

While pass­ing an apart­ment build­ing, I glimpsed un­ex­pect­edly a bronzed statue of Pan, perched atop a foun­tain, flute del­i­cately poised at his lips. Around another cor­ner, a small park had erupted in bou­quets of pur­ple, pink and white glad­i­oli. On another oc­ca­sion, it was the taxi driver who de­serted me in Old Ha­vana late on a Satur­day night claim­ing reg­u­la­tions did not al­low him to drive any fur­ther. An­noyed and map­less, I wan­dered aim­lessly around a maze of un­known al­ley­ways only to come across a crum­bling man­sion in which a lady was giv­ing tango lessons. Catch­ing sight of me peer­ing in cu­ri­ously through the door­way she drew me in­side with pan­ther-like grace. I stayed for a mid­night con­cert in the court­yard where a husky-voiced Cuban ver­sion of Mar­lene Di­et­rich crooned sen­ti­men­tal Span­ish bal­lads and I clinked mo­ji­tos with artists and poets.

Streets are the ar­ter­ies and veins through which a city’s lifeblood cour­ses and walk­ing is a way to join the cur­rent. In cities such as Kolkata, walk­ing may mean nav­i­gat­ing an ob­sta­cle course of street ven­dors, even men lath­er­ing up by a road­side tube-well, obliv­i­ous to passers-by. There is also the risk of get­ting el­bowed in the an­kle by the ubiq­ui­tous shoe pol­ish boy vig­or­ously brush­ing an im­pa­tient of­fice­goer’s black leather Ox­fords with the frenzy of a crazed vi­o­lin­ist. Or you may have to step gin­gerly over squares of some­one’s laun­dry left out to dry by the neigh­bour­hood dhobi. Once, af­ter run­ning the gamut of these, and other, hur­dles, I came across a young girl sit­ting cross-legged on the dusty foot­path calmly rock­ing her baby sis­ter to sleep in a makeshift ham­mock fash­ioned from an old sari. I tried ever so softly to side­step her “bed­room”.

I have yet to taste a sweeter mango than the one of­fered by our Ja­maican guide near the sum­mit of the Blue Moun­tain. We had been walk­ing up from mid­night, our head-torches mak­ing cones of light be­fore us, spit­ting moths out from our mouths.

On a clear day, the guide­books in­sist you can see Cuba from the peak at dawn. We reached it to find ev­ery­thing shrouded in soupy mist. Our guide shrugged, “Un­for­tu­nately, there are very few clear days”. His deep vel­vety voice curled around the words, mak­ing the news some­what more tol­er­a­ble. That was when he of­fered us the mango, cut­ting slices with his penknife. The yel­low pieces glis­tened like bits of sun­shine and melted in our mouths. So of­ten it is the walk­ing, the process of get­ting there, that makes a des­ti­na­tion worth­while.

See­ing sights such as Rome’s Trevi Foun­tain can be a for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for the young trav­eller

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.