RE­SPON­SI­BLE TRAVEL

Consumer Voice - - Contents - Gouthami, CEO and co-founder, Travel An­other In­dia

J for Joy­ous

To have found kin­dred spir­its

There are tomes writ­ten about travel and the why and how of it. And as much as I ex­plain it with my head about why I travel, from my heart I must say that the real rea­son I travel is for the sheer joy of it. Maybe it is that I leave the ev­ery­day re­spon­si­bil­ity of life when I travel, but once I am set­tled in the bus, train, or plane, my heart wells up with joy. I can never ex­plain it and now I have stopped try­ing to. I just flow with it while it lasts.

Re­cently I was trav­el­ling in cen­tral Ra­jasthan. I had lived and worked in Ra­jasthan for al­most three years about a decade back. I was quite ex­cited about go­ing back but also blasé about the whole trip. As it turned out, the trip threw up sev­eral pleas­ant sur­prises for me— per­haps be­cause I was least ex­pect­ing it.

What fas­ci­nated me the most was the va­ri­ety of jew­ellery that the women wore. Usu­ally I try to be very busi­ness-like and fo­cus on the dis­cus­sions, rather than on the clothes, jew­ellery, etc., of the vil­lage women. This time, I sim­ply could not help my­self. The older women es­pe­cially had some beau­ti­ful old pieces that were prob­a­bly not even made any­more. They were very happy to be pho­tographed close-up and ex­plained to me the sig­nif­i­cance of each piece. This some­how in­ter­min­gled with the main dis­cus­sion

of whether they wanted to set up a ‘ re­spon­si­ble tourism’ ven­ture in their vil­lage, and soon enough there were bouts of loud laugh­ter as the women dis­cussed the jew­ellery they re­ceived in their dowry. And how they would charge a huge sum to show th­ese ex­quis­ite pieces to the ur­ban women who would visit. All said in jest and fun, of course, and we soon buckled down to busi­ness.

For me, much of the joy of travel, whether on work or leisure, is th­ese un­ex­pected en­coun­ters with women (and men), where they prove ev­ery stereo­type wrong. I love to sit with a group – in a tea shop, or a cor­ner, or on a bus – and throw a ques­tion in their midst and lis­ten to their re­sponses. If there is an elec­tion around the cor­ner, the re­sponses are laced heav­ily with irony, sar­casm and wit. The word­play and per­spec­tives that th­ese seem­ingly sim­ple folk share never ceases to amaze me.

All the Peo­ple We Meet

In­creas­ingly, my travel is about the peo­ple I meet rather than about the sights that I see. Of course, na­ture has a way of cap­tur­ing the heart com­pletely dur­ing those few mo­ments when it chooses to dis­play its best. ‘My heart leaps up when I be­hold a rain­bow,’ says it best per­haps, of the many splen­dours of na­ture from the mag­nif­i­cent snow-capped peaks to a serene sun­set by the sea. As I type this out, the steady pit­ter­pat­ter of rain keeps me com­pany and soothes me with its gen­tle­ness.

A decade ago, one of the big­gest joys of travel was how I trav­elled. I would look for­ward to the train jour­neys – the end­less ven­dors with all kinds of in­ter­est­ing food, the fel­low pas­sen­gers who would open out their tif­fin boxes to share, the kul­had ka chai, the insight I got through lis­ten­ing to ran­dom con­ver­sa­tions... I used to say that my best hol­i­days

were spent on the train go­ing from one end of the coun­try to the other.

Now, thanks to stan­dard­i­s­a­tion and tech­nol­ogy, I dread train jour­neys. All I hear are one-sided con­ver­sa­tions, most of which are up­dates on how soon we will reach. ‘Yes, we are just four hours away.’ ‘Yes, we should reach in an­other three hours.’ Not at all in­ter­est­ing to lis­ten to! And since this con­tin­ues through the night, there is no rest ei­ther. The less I say about the food, the bet­ter. Thank­fully, there are still ex­cep­tions such as day trains be­tween Chennai and Ben­galuru or the Konkan Kanya Ex­press be­tween Goa and Mum­bai, where good food is avail­able, but never any si­lence. And so I now look for­ward to the des­ti­na­tion rather than the jour­ney it­self. A pity.

For­tu­nately, most places I stay in nowa­days are com­mu­nity-owned re­spon­si­ble-tourism ven­tures. So I have the dou­ble plea­sure of in­ter­act­ing with some very in­ter­est­ing peo­ple as well as the joy of know­ing that my spends there go di­rectly into de­serv­ing hands.

How­ever de­light­ful the des­ti­na­tion might be, it is the peo­ple we en­counter at ev­ery step of the jour­ney who make or mar the en­tire trip. Just as we ex­pect oth­ers to be qui­eter and more po­lite, it is also up to us to treat those we come across with re­spect. It is the small things and ges­tures that add up to make travel joy­ful. Be cour­te­ous es­pe­cially when making pay­ments – of­ten tourism is an im­por­tant source of in­come and when you hag­gle to re­duce the price by those five ru­pees, you are really hurt­ing the seller. Re­mem­ber to thank your taxi driv­ers and guides – your lives are lit­er­ally in their hands. They are so used to deal­ing with rude guests that po­lite­ness brings out the best in them. Be pa­tient and lis­ten to peo­ple – your jour­ney is en­riched by what they share.

Joy springs from the lit­tle things on a jour­ney – keep your senses open for it. Noth­ing is too small— any­thing is as triv­ial or as in­signif­i­cant only as we make it out to be. Just think of all your favourite books. How writ­ers do trans­form the ev­ery­day into the univer­sal, the or­di­nary into the mag­i­cal, bind­ing us in emo­tions that res­onate.

Fi­nally, re­mem­ber to give the joy back man­i­fold. It is one of the things that keep Mother Earth spin­ning hap­pily along her trail! Let’s re­mem­ber this as we en­ter the fes­ti­val and hol­i­day sea­son in In­dia.

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