The Hindu (Mumbai)

Chasing a sunrise

When you are on vacation without a moment to relax

- Sandip Roy

My sister has been invited to a destinatio­n wedding in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The programme seemed eminently bucketlist­worthy. The hosts had planned excursions to see the famous waterfalls and go on safaris. Then much to her dismay, my sister realised that it all meant getting up at the crack of dawn every day. It was a vacation but there was no sleeping in.

The very word ‘vacation’ has its roots in vacare (Latin) or ‘to be unoccupied’. But in reality, vacations are anything but unoccupied.

Recently, I was in Pokhara, Nepal. The room faced Mount Annapurna. We set the alarm to wake up before sunrise and then stood in the balcony with a cup of tea, watching the Annapurna massif turn pink and then gold. It was breathtaki­ngly beautiful, but greedy for more, we decided to go up to nearby Sarangkot the next day for an even better view.

That required getting up earlier, at 4 a.m., finding a taxi, racing to catch the first cable car, stumbling through people’s backyards in pitch darkness to get to the watch tower. By the time we reached the viewing point huffing and puffing, it was already filled with photograph­ers armed with tripods and cameras. Huge lenses were pointing menacingly into the darkness, a ring of paparazzi ready to capture that first spot of magical sunlight.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisati­on’s World Tourism Barometer says internatio­nal tourism had reached 88% of prepandemi­c levels by the end of 2023. They predict a full recovery by the end of 2024. Europe hit 94% of 2019 levels, Africa 96% and the Americas 90% while South Asia recovered 87%.

As if to make up for the pentup demand, the sunrise watchers at Annapurna were working extra hard to be pictureper­fect. As the sun rose, I saw people rolling out their mats and striking yoga poses with the Himalayas as backdrop. People formed precarious human pyramids at the edge. An influencer changed her outfit twice for her photoshoot.

We were all on vacation but no one had a moment to relax.

Acute FOMO

This is not new. I grew up in Kolkata. Going to see the sunrise on the Kanchenjun­ga, or rather trying to, was a rite of passage. We would get up in the bitterly cold dark, throw on our woollens and brave a traffic jam to get to the Tiger Hill viewpoint. We usually only saw clouds obscuring the mountain. Yet we kept trying. The human fascinatio­n with the sunrise, whether on the sea or the mountains, is infinite. I have done my fair share — Nanda Devi sunrise, Angkor Wat sunrise, Con Dao islands sunrise.

Torturing yourself while on vacation isn’t new but in an age of social media, bombarded by the glossy feed of travel bloggers, the fear of missing out is far more acute.

My partner drew the line while traveling in Luang Prabang in Laos. Early in the morning, the Buddhist monks, many of them child novices in orange robes, walk the streets outside the temples while devotees silently place food in their begging bowls. Sai Bat or morning alms is an old Buddhist tradition, but has now become a tourist attraction and photograph­er magnet. Though our hotel faced a monastery, my partner refused to get up at 5.30 in the morning. “This is not even a sunrise, I am not getting out of bed to watch monks get food!” I did get up because the travel bloggers said I should. It was on my images checklist.

Instagram is filled with these beautiful images thanks to all the travel bloggers out there. We marvel at the image but rarely realise the pain (and filters) behind the perfection. I have stayed at boutique hotels because the rooms looked lovely, but had little chance to enjoy them because I would leap out of bed as soon as daylight broke to rush off on yet another checklist mission.

Closure in bed

I was determined to sleep in while staying at a lovely restored hotel in Chettinad on a travel junket. There were no mountains or ocean and hence, no sunrise pressure. But the manager cheerily announced that they had organised a special picnic for me among temple ruins; but we needed to set out at daybreak before it got too hot. I didn’t have the heart to refuse.

That’s why I approached a travel assignment to the newly opened Taj Guras Kutir near Gangtok with some trepidatio­n. The hotel’s USP was Kanchenjun­ga views, which meant sunrise calls in 3°C December cold. But then I discovered that you could watch the sunrise from your bed, wrapped in your blanket, doze off and then wake up to watch it some more.

I finally felt like I was having my vacation cake and eating it too.

 ?? illustrati­on: Allen Shaw ??
illustrati­on: Allen Shaw

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