Musings of a Pioneer: Am I A Traveller or a Tourist?

‘The traveller sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see’ wrote the famous English writer, Gilbert K Chesterton, a century back.

I have been fond of travelling – as a tourist mostly, at least in my younger days. There lies the dichotomy. As a tourist, I tried to cover as many of the destinations as possible which earlier I used to discover in travel magazines or in Lonely Planet Guides, and in more recent years on the internet.

As I got more mature (hopefully) with age, I went to the other extreme. I remember I travelled to some remote resort a little way away from Nainital, determined that I would spend my entire holiday relaxing and doing nothing, in those sylvan surroundings. Alas! My resolution was short-lived, like so many other resolutions that I used to make for the new year. Only a couple of days of the detox silence of the remote location, and I went scurrying to the heady cocktail of the Mall Road, the Bandstand and boating on the Naini Lake.

In time, I started feeling more comfortable in the remote, off-beat places, where I could be one with nature – go out in the forests for morning walks, or wake up early to view the beautiful sunrise, or go out hiking to nearby villages or on nature trails.  Once again many of these activities were arranged by the friendly travel desk of the resort and thus could not strictly be classified as ‘travelling’, they were more of ‘touristing’. These destinations were still better than the crowded places that I had been going to in those earlier days.

I have never travelled alone for holidays. It was with my parents when I was little, then with friends, thereafter with my wife, adding our children to these outings. It is difficult to cater to the travel needs of four people of different age groups – my wife of almost 36 years is six years younger to me; and obviously, the children are much younger. My wife is of the opinion that you only visit a place once in a lifetime, and most likely not going to return anytime soon. Thus, it is not fair to not visit the nearby destinations, even if some of these destinations may involve visiting the famous temple dedicated to the local deity.

My children have a deep rooted antipathy to visit temples – I do not know if it arises out of some past life incidents or it is an existential crisis which all youngsters go through – even I did not venture inside a temple as a child; but developed my own faith in a supreme identity as I grew older. My children could not be convinced to visit one, even if it were 700 years old, carved out of a rock and was an architectural marvel. They would much rather visit the nearby town or distant islands – as happened during our visit to distant Islands from another mainland island a few years back.

The only time that we all agree to be just tourists is when on an overseas travel – like our visits to England or any other country. This is probably due to the high cost of travel and we remain mentally convinced that with the limited finances that we have, we should spend those on visiting new places.

London is one of my favourite cities which I have visited several times – a few times alone for work, and a couple of times with family on vacation. Before heading to the Lake District during the 2012 visit or to Scotland during the 2018 visit, we did all the touristy stuff. We strolled on the Oxford Street, went to a musical both times, went and met Sherlock Holmes, strolled and posed in front of Marble Arch, went for ride on the London eye, took a boat ride to Greenwich, went to Stonehenge and Bath, and a lot more – generally everything that a tourist is expected to do.

I also love clicking photographs. Thus, wherever I went, I would be merrily clicking away while my wife would be enjoying the sights. She just could not understand how a magical moment could be captured better on a camera lens than on the heart by looking at it through one’s eyes. I also could not comprehend her logic; though, in all fairness, we rarely look at a picture once the holidays are over.

All this changed in the summer of 2020. We had booked ourselves to travel to Goa for a few days in the first week of April and then a microorganism struck us with such an impact which probably even a hammer blow could not have managed. The next few months forced us to relook at life itself and the way we had known it. Not going for a holiday was the least of the worries.

That you are well and safe and yet managing to go about your life has become a prime concern. There are a lucky few – mostly living in high-rises in metro cities and their satellite towns – who have chosen to live in the bubble of their apartments. They do not go out, nor do they permit their family members, including their young children to go out. I really do not know if I should call them the lucky few – they may turn out to be the unlucky few – in the least not developing the immunity so required to travel through life, and in the worst developing into adult human beings who withdraw in their bio bubbles in adversities.

At the other end of the spectrum are those, who have no option, but to go out for their daily livelihood. Unfortunately, for want of better infrastructure and facilities, and better education, these people are unwilling to follow or are unable to follow the basic hygiene requirements, not to talk of additional norms which are not going to be blown away – those that would be needed to be integrated in our daily lives.

It also made me look at life with a new perspective. One cannot be going through life as a tourist, but as a traveller, simply because I see what I see, not what I have come to see – going back to the famous quote by Gilbert K Chesterton. I am not supposed to know what all I must see – there was no literature or Lonely Planet Guide given to me by God when sending me to Earth. I need to live in the present and see what unfolds before me – and in the process experience this beautiful thing called life. My experiences must be my own; not those written by others for me.

I am an eternal optimist and I am certain that in the months to come, maybe even a few years to come, things will get back to normal – the new normal that is – which actually should not have even been considered a new normal. Living a hygienic life should have been a given, which today we consider an exception.

Once this normal is attained, I will like to realise two of my dreams – one, to spend a few weeks in a solitary cottage in the mountains, and the second, to spend a few weeks in a solitary cottage by the sea. I will keep a bicycle in these cottages to go to the nearby village every morning to pick up my daily necessities. And of course, I will return to the humdrum of the normal life, which I had lived BC (Before Corona), fully rejuvenated after these few weeks.

Before I forget, I will also take my computer with me to write what I see and not what I have come to see. I will be a traveller, not a tourist.

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