Sitting in a rickety old bus taking us from Srinagar to Kargil, I was glad to finally move away further from almost everything that supports words like busy. The rush to reach somewhere and anywhere suddenly departed soundlessly and was replaced by occasional exclamations of delight and undiluted joy. Looking up to see clouds floating leisurely on wind currents that they did not control, I thought, could be done full-time. These clouds are charmingly communicative and love to discuss and debate with everyone willing to indulge them. Sometimes when the chasms, valleys, and gorges suddenly appeared, the mind had the option to switch conversation partners… and the journey slowly happens with even boulders, idle glaciers, distant tree-lines, and meditating peaks smiling to welcome everyone to some new and unexplored adventure that the mind keeps churning ceaselessly. Bushes and saplings wave us on with encouraging nods. I whispered all this to Specky, my wife, and she replied, ‘Good that we didn’t fly to Leh.’
We had one night to spend in Kargil but extended it to two. We were able to drive to villages around this town and interact with the reality of the area that would otherwise have been missed out. This is the sort of unpredictable change in itinerary that travelers love and appreciate. Lao Tzu has written that ‘a good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.’
Veni, Vidi, Amavi
We came, We saw, We loved
Pace in travel, let me add here, is a relative term. If I am traveling to London, for instance, I would obviously prefer to hold conversations with clouds from my seat in an airplane… however, if I must discover Darjeeling city, it is better to walk from one point to another and not rush around in a cab from the zoo to the Stupa there. Yes, destinations too matter, but then just as vital is walking and finding out the stories that are hidden in the lanes and by-lanes anywhere.
It is common to see travelers sitting cocooned in cabs and reaching destinations. They simply get out, stretch their legs and give a bored look before clicking a few pictures and then being in a hurry to get to some other destination. It was during our numerous walks in and around Darjeeling that we stumbled upon the beauty of local architecture that we would have zipped through without care in a cab. During our long drives in Spiti we made hundreds of unscheduled stops to walk up or down to talk to locals working in a field or to go near trees to know more about why the locals found them useful to their lives. In Port Blair we rode in a local city bus and discovered the secret of Bumflaat. We fell in love with chewing-gum art simply because we were in no hurry to cross the Millennium Bridge in London to rush into yet another destination on the other side of Thames. The point that I am trying to make here is that the hurried sequence of reaching, seeing, clicking, and moving on has a better alternative that the Roman proverb mentioned at the start of this section reflects accurately. We need to travel to fall in love and not just treat a destination as yet another entry in a list of sites visited.
Lots of travel enthusiasts boast of having been to and ‘seeing’ an entire region or even country in less than three days. Well, I can spend less than an hour and do the same by watching videos on YouTube. G K Chesterton has rightly said that ‘the traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.’ This is one reason why the unpredictable and the unplanned during travels fascinates me. By the way, this happens generally when a person is not in a hurry and is ready to accept every twist and turn that travel is willing to unveil.
Rudyard Kipling wrote that ‘the first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it’ and it is only reasonable to take it further and add that this is true of any travel to any place if the pace is unhurried and isn’t dwelling only on reaching destinations.
11 February 2019