Travel is all about happiness… and happiness is all about togetherness. To be travelling alone doesn’t deprive you of the experiences and impressions of the place where you are, but you always feel there was something missing in all these smiles that you gave while being clicked, or something incomplete in the way you described the food of that country.
I have devised my own equation for happiness that may result from travel. My equation is:
HT = 2XE + 3YF + (P x n), where…
XE = Thrilling Moments in the Place
YF = Local Culinary Delights
P = Interaction with People
n = Infinity
HT in the above equation is, of course, the level of Happiness that results from Travel. I will obviously be on the look-out for these factors and mathematically add them all up at the end of each day and then compare the answer with the bright sparkles in the eyes of my family.
I will disagree with anyone who insists that a particular place is the only one where a mathematical combination of these happiness factors is the best. The way I put it is that if you follow my mathematical formula, you’d surely be able to transform every holiday, every trip, every yatra, every travel itinerary into one that is over-flowing with happy moments! I stick to this formula… and to help me understand it better, I have a set of factors that I look for in every new city or country I happen to be in. I’ve done it in Sydney, in Seoul, in Singapore, in London, in Kuala Lumpur… I’ve also done it in Port Blair, in Leh, in Goa, in Jhansi… and this set has never disappointed me.
We look for norms that a city will chart
This tunes us up, gives us a start
To zoom in, zoom out easily
And by knowing them, win their heart!
I remember the time when a tattoo in London and a seemingly wayward hair-style in Sydney gave me instant friends when I started talking about these characteristics without the typical ignorance that foreigners display.
‘It is so heart-warming to say ‘terma kasih’ when you’re in Kuala Lumpur,’ said Specky, ‘and want to thank someone for giving the right direction. Almost like winning friends by just saying ‘juleh’ when you’re in Leh!’
I agreed with her and added, ‘Local norms aren’t just the basics of the language spoken, but also include small courtesies that can actually make your stay there so wonderfully happy!’
I’d make sure that when we are travelling as a family, we try and learn as many such norms and language bits as possible… it will result in making our travel equation so neat and solvable!
‘Stay away!’ ‘Stay away!’ is hardly done
By tourists who aim to be one
With the locals of a city. The mantra, then,
Is to mix-n-merge and double the fun!
Have you realised that when you don’t interact with strangers, you find that you visit a place with some pre-conceived notions about the people and go back carrying the same set of convictions… you have obviously not added to your knowledge about them and this isn’t something that will bring on a smile on anyone. So it is vital to interact with people and reach your own inferences. People fill gaps… and make your smile brighter and more influential! I remember the time when we had visited a monastery near Leh and a few minutes of friendly banter with a Lama made him show us the technology fan in him… he even took out his binoculars and let us zoom in to some superb sights that an outsider would never have access to.
People interactions is something that will surely be a necessary part of my travel plans and my family will smile!
Fear not, for fear is what must cower in fear
And embracing thrills, as you get near
Local adventure, the place looks up
To you and calls you a ‘dear’!
William Goldman, in ‘The Princess Bride’, writes:
“He held up a book then. “I’m going to read it to you for relax.”
“Does it have any sports in it?”
“Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True Love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest Ladies. Snakes. Spiders… Pain. Death. Brave men. Cowardly men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”
“Sounds okay,” I said and I kind of closed my eyes.”
Wherever I happen to go to with my family, local adventure and adrenalin-pumping is what we are going to seek… seek hazardous adventures… pursue that flighty temptress, adventure… whichever way you wish to put it. I remember we decided to go scuba diving the moment we set foot on Havelock Island in the Andamans. I was recently in Kuala Lumpur and was lucky to be a part of ‘The Michelin Pilot Experience’ where I actually drove a Formula 1 racing car and a Renault speedster at the Sepang International Driving Circuit. These are the activities that brought a lasting smile to my face… and so were the times we went trekking to the dizzying heights in the Spiti region.
As Eleanor Roosevelt put it: “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” This is precisely what we’ll do and this is what will bring a smile to our faces and to the face of our memories!
Do it the way your heart wants to do it
And you’ll discover that joy will fit
Into the scheme of things
And the moments will smile bit by bit!
Why hold yourself from expressing joy? You do it once and that moment will stay in your memory forever, haunting you for the rest of your life. Be free… express freely… just take care not to let your enthusiasm cross the legal or cultural norms of the country or city you’re in. ‘We do this all the time,’ said Specky, ‘remember the time we were driving from Jhansi to the Sonagir Jain temples?’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘and we stopped near the fields to watch and play with the scarecrows there. Frankly, this was the first time I saw a scarecrow other than the times I saw them in pictures or movies or read about them in books.’
The joy of the moment was much more than any picture can capture… and we did capture the rapturous delight of my nephew and niece who loved pretending to be scarecrows shouting ‘Woo Hoo!!’ to the wayward crows there! This is one picture that defines one of the sublime secrets of the connection between travel and happiness.
Take risks and do what others will not
Let your spirits soar with whatever you’ve got
And then watch the friendly smiles
Look at you thinking, ‘This is what I too sought!’
‘Crossing the Parichha Dam seemed risky,’ I reminded Specky, ‘but we did it.’ Yes, that was one moment that we will all cherish. The dam was overflowing and the narrow pathway in the shadow of the massive cusecs of water there was enough to put fear into any heart. None of the tourists there clicking the beauty of this place would even have thought of crossing over to the other side to take to the local villagers… but we did it. I saw some villagers walking across and it was enough for us to give it a try!
The unexpected will always give an expected bonus of smiles!
There are pathways from here to there
And not knowing them is to scare
Little bits of knowledge that
Travel must give, for travel must care!
When I am in my own city, I am forever trying to decipher the connection between now and then… trying to see how our past has influenced the present, trying to help the past influences be there as guiding lights. Don’t we all still peep into the Biscope with unfettered delight? Don’t we still go hunting for Galib’s Haveli in the lanes and bylanes of Ballimaran in Old Delhi? We do… and this is what makes us smile. When we do this together with our sons, daughters, and parents, the joy soars higher! I remember I was walking down Hauz Khas village and I noticed this Barber’s shop and I wanted to go in and get a hair-cut… it reminded me of the sort of shops that small towns and villages still have… the picture here is of a barber’s shop in Balaji, a village temple near Jhansi.
It is when we link ourselves with ‘the connections’ from the past and dive into ‘cultural explorations’ that we actually begin to discover the real city or the real country. It is such real things that give lasting happiness… and are easier to discover when you’re with your family.
The Kid Within
Don’t you let the kid wither away, dear
For if you do that you’ll live in fear
And all colourful designs will fade away
To leave you with lots of fret and a tear!
Just look at that picture of my father play with that stick snake in Dilli Haat in New Delhi… the thrill and the happiness is what makes our trip to this haat memorable. This is precisely the sort of moment that I am going to search for wherever I happen to travel to with my family. I know such moments are possible everywhere… from the barren vastness of Siberia to the winding pathways in Katoomba! It is vital to let the kid within remain live-n-kicking… and this is always possible. I know I can do this in any country, in any city or town or village… the smiles and happiness just need the spirit to go and tickle the child within!
It is equally easy to look at a city and see only the sordidness there… or look at it as if watching it through a kaleidoscope and watch the city in colourful, gyrations!
Look at the third picture there in this section… and it is there to tell and remind us all of how important it is to accept the local fervour and joy! I mean, here is my mother all smiles holding a retro-fan in in her hands. She is probably going back in time and picking up smiles that are lying there forgotten by everyone. The point is that we allow the resources available in a city or a country to catalyse our smiles… hope this is clear.
Spirit of innovations
I saw them hit a six at twelve thousand feet!
Another I saw dance to a gulli-danda beat!
Miles apart, they knew they wanted
Happiness… undiluted and neat!
Specky read the heading and then the rhyme and immediately said, ‘I know what you’re talking about. You just reminded me of the game of cricket that the lamas were playing in that remote village in Spiti. The most memorable fact was that they had lit a bonfire in a drum that doubled as their wicket… and the spot where they gathered to warm their hands after every over!’
‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘that was the most charming and innovative game we ever watched.’ This is the sort of innovation that tourists need to keep searching for… and absorb the moment if it comes to them. I think such moments of innovative sporting joy are everywhere… you just have to get into the right spirit and earnestly search for them. I did it when I was in Jhansi when I saw this youngster playing gulli-danda in an open field of a local degree college. I stopped to watch and click a few shots… and play a short game with him. Yes, this is the sort of involved approach you need to have if you want happiness and travel to be going together.
Read between the lines and you’ll know
So much more than a city wants to show
But hey! The city loves your spirit
And rewards you with a friendly glow!
The local newspaper has everything that a tourist would want to know… and more. It isn’t just the movies that are running in the cinemas that matter… I’d want to know if there was a local play being staged… or if the poets were meeting to share their creative out-pourings. I’d attend such a meeting, if possible… and take my family along… this is what makes the city transform itself into a friendly entity than just another lump of concrete buildings.
‘Don’t you remember the time we just trooped into the Poetry Society meeting in York?’ I asked Specky.
Specky said, ‘Yes, and though we paid their mandatory one GBP attendance fee, the evening brought to us some excellent people who became friends for life. More than that was the gala time we had listening to all those wonderful lines being recited by the poets of Yorkshire!’
And then there was our Leh visit where we spent half a day just searching for the editorial office of the local tabloid… and, in the process, managed to reach places that no one ever reaches. We discovered a Leh that no other writer had ever talked about so far!
You’ll need to wait and not just hurry away
For things look different at different times of the day
And if you want to see the real wonder
You’ll need to be patient and just stay!
I am talking about patience because the way the clouds opened up to reveal this absolutely sublime dance of light rays was because we happened to be there in Kasauli and had enough patience to wait for the magical moment.
Remember, magic happens when you wait… so whether it is finding joys at the Gilbert Trail in Kasauli, or waiting for the play of grey skies with the fountains of the Petronas Tower in Kuala Lumpur, or walking slowly to the right spot to see the three sisters in Katoomba, or patiently waiting for the slumbering crocs to wake up and turn their head to look in your direction at Shivpuri, or moving up another few yards to get to the right place to see the Shahstradhara in Dehradun, or getting out and climbing a few feet to see the what the shadows of the bigger mountains do when you’re near Hikkim in Spiti… these are all magical things that nature presents to you only if you have patience. And if you have it, you and your family are going to come back with smiles that are larger than expected.
Of course, there is always more when you’re travelling. There is local food that always needs to be tasted. I mean, why go to Kuala Lumpur and search for paranthas? You can always taste their Malay delicacies like Nasi Lemak… see the way they do their prawns and other sea food. Or if you happen to be in Singapore, go ahead and get some authentic meals in the Chinese part of this city-country… or reach out for the Singapore Sling (a gin cocktail recipe). What I mean is that if you’re in Patiala, why come back without smacking your lips with the lassi that is sold near Sheranwalan gate? Or why leave Delhi without knowing what Sitaram ke chole-bhature taste like? I’m sure not many of you know that Multani Dhanda in Delhi is the only place where they prepare and sell dal-samosa (and this isn’t pithi, mind you… this is yellow moong dal that tastes like moong dal!). The point is that you must try and taste local food… and this is exactly what we’ll do wherever we are for our yatra. And we’ll love it.
So where will I take my family?
Anywhere and everywhere
And we’ll have joy flowing free.
I know I’ll take care
To follow the mathematics of travel…
And happiness will unravel!
Yes, I would try and do as many of the things that I have mentioned in this post… and so it is travel that fascinates me. The destination could be any… we in my family, believe that every destination is equally attractive and full of charms that are just waiting to be discovered. And, by the way, there are other objective things like hotel bookings and airline/ train/ bus/ cab bookings that can add to the happiness quotient if they’re done properly… but I know where to go for all these things. I’m sure you too know this by now. All that remains is that you just follow the mathematical equation of travel and splash around in happy times!
09 September 2013