The first time I was in London was sometime in the mid-nineties and then for the next three years the city became an annual celebration. There was then a gap of a few years and the London happened again… and then again a couple of years later. I remember a friend asking, ‘Don’t you get bored of going to the same destination?’
‘No,’ I replied, ‘because every time I go I take with me new eyes.’
‘Well, discovery happens not when you perceive things, people, and landscapes with old tired vision,’ I said, ‘new eyes are all about curiosity remaining awake and a will to explore alive.’
This is so essential for all travellers. Let me tell you about a little incident that happened the last time we were in London. We, of course, booked our flight well in advance as our visa was already in place. After all, getting tickets for the best International Flights needed a lot of planning and time. A UK visa can pose a lot of issues of time, if the vacation is planned during the peak months… and we did recollect that it took more than twenty days for us to manage our visa just two years ago.
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‘Let’s reach the airport at least an hour before boarding,’ I suggested, and Specky, my wife, agreed as she knows that though the stores seem same and the eateries seem to sell the same things, the people are always interesting to watch. The behaviour of those who opt for air travel seems different every time. And we were not disappointed at all. There was hardly anyone pretending to be busy on his or her laptop and I whispered, ‘People are pretending less now.’ Specky did point out a few who were glued to their phablet though, but the point is that everyone seemed more open and ready to travel without the burden of being seen as a busy executive. Well, new eyes during travels are necessary. But then, travel wasn’t only about knowing details of Delhi to London Flights or walking straight into the aircraft… travel is all about becoming an observer of everything!
As we flew over London we noticed that the city did not seem as grey as the texts are always pointing out… and the April sun was shining benevolently. Later, my son told me, ‘The sun isn’t as benevolent in April, but I guess it knew you were coming. Where do you plan to go this time?’
‘You are one who will plan,’ I said, ‘we are the ones who will simply let each day come on and surprise us.’
‘That’s a great plan too,’ said Monica, my daughter-in-law, with a smile.
As we were barely a ten minute walk away from the Tower Bridge, we really did not need many plans. I mean, the Queen’s walk is such a happening place at all times that one can go and stroll from the Tower Bridge to the other end near London Eye and every day would actually look like a new day! No, the Thames remains where it is, the sites do go about changing positions, the banks deal with the same tides, and the cruises go on with their schedule. But the sky is never the same… people in the crowd are different… you aren’t always there to watch the bridge open and close… and the performers on the side-walks are always up to something new!
We saw more people sitting on the benches and reading. The reflections of familiar buildings seemed to pop out with a strange freshness. The exhibits on the walkway had a lovely new boldness about them. There were new high rises trying to frighten the airplanes with their loads of travellers. There were new performances and new forms of communication everywhere. And then among the busking artists we stumbled upon a British duo playing the table! Yes, hearing the sound of tabla mingle with the soft buzz of inquisitive tourists from the EU and the distant drone of cruise boats ferrying people from one end to the other can be quite dramatic. We looked around and saw a sea of foreign faces come face-to-face with the beauty of the sound of a table. ‘Can anyone plan such a thing?’ I murmured, and Specky smiled.
Who says the city remains the same and that it is essential to go to a new destination every time?
We have been to other places too… and Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore, Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Amman exude a unique charm that makes them all unbeatable. But listen, I can go to any of these destinations many times and yet you will never hear me say, ‘How boring! The place looks the same…’
14 May 2016