National Geographic Traveler India recently conducted a travel meet about slow travel, of which my friend Natasha was a panelist. She asked me if I’ll be in Mumbai for the session, but that was the week I moved to Dharamsala. She said she would love to use my example in her talk, and that – for the first time – made me realize how much I enjoy slow traveling!
When I made the decision of moving to McLeod Ganj, some of my friends and everyone in my family instantly reacted – “AGAIN?” I don’t blame them. I first visited this place exactly a year ago. What started as a volunteering trip for a month, ended up being a two month stay during which I hardly worked. For the sight-seeing and travel I did in those 2 months, I could’ve easily completed the trip in 15 days. But I didn’t, I couldn’t, and given a choice I’d still go back and do the same thing again. I came back to the same place again within 3 months to stay for a fortnight. And 9 months later, when I made a conscious choice to live in the mountains, I didn’t have to think twice about the place I wanted to call home! I wonder why that is?
Some think it’s weird that I go back to the same place, meet the same people, spend days and weeks at stretch eating at the same café. Some would say this isn’t travel. But what really is travel, I ask? Very simply put, isn’t it just a way to relax, unwind, and experience life in a different way than you have? Isn’t it about meeting new people, gathering new experiences, learning about new cultures? Isn’t the main reason we travel, to step out of our comfort zone and live life the easier, healthier way? Isn’t it about the journey, and not about the destination? “Sight-seeing” as we popularly know it in today’s world, can’t possibly be the parameter for travel. If it were, I wouldn’t ever feel the need to leave the ever-changing city of Mumbai that offers unique sites and experiences on a daily basis! For the longest time I thought I enjoyed traveling alone as opposed to traveling with a group of friends. But then I have enjoyed the company of my friends when we backpacked around North-East India in a short span of 15 days, or a short weekend trip to Pondicherry with my Bangalorean colleagues. No, it’s not as simple as being alone or with a bunch of friends. It’s about the time you invest in really “knowing” your destination.
Back in the city, we are so time-bound, that every time we get a chance to step out and explore, we try cramming our itineraries with every possible “must-visit” site, not realizing that we’re involuntarily planning an even more hectic schedule than the one we’re trying to escape. We try putting everything on the map, 4 days in Cherrapunjee, visiting so and so site in a stop-over at Shillong, 3 days for north Sikkim, 2 days for West, 4 days for Darjeeling, a quickie with Kolkata on our way back. You end up coming back home with more pictures in your DSLR, than memories in your heart.
Haven’t you ever imagined what it would be like to not care about which day of the week it is? Monday morning blues, mid-week inspirations, TGIF, Saturday brunch, Sunday hangovers?
No morning alarm, no weekend plans, no agenda, no schedule, no “dressing up”, no formalities! Waking up at crack of dawn, to the sound of chirping birds, and the sun peeking through your window pane.
Staring at the same mountain ranges every morning and noticing how different they look by the passing hour.
Walking back home in a lane with no lights, with fireflies lighting up the way and the moon shining down the street.
Like-minded people you met here, that understand what you’re trying to find without you having to explain it to them!
Spending days at your favorite café, chatting and playing card games with the owner and his friends, not a single worry in the world!
The Café staff knowing exactly how much food you usually have, and packing it for you if you miss a meal.
Meeting new people from across the world every day and marveling over how incredibly unique each and every person is!
Lifting your bag any time and going away for the weekend with a random stranger.
Walking 2 kms to eat that perfect chocolate mousse at Kunga, and walking 4 for seeing the sunset at your favorite resort in Naddi.
Shared cabs, state buses, and asking bikers for a lift to the city!
Knowing most people by face and not by profession.
Bird-watching, star-gazing, finding faces in the clouds, walk in the forests, trekking in the mountains, photowalks.
Learning macramé, reading books, yoga in the morning, street jams at night, and maggi by the waterfall.
Soaking your feet in the river and listening to the Highway soundtrack.
Judging people on first appearances, then talking to them and realizing how fickle city life really makes you!
Above all, I love how I can do nothing all day and not feeling guilty about it!
Slow travel is all about discovering the discovered. About spending some quality time with a place you’ve given your heart to. It’s about marriage, and not about dating. It’s about a career, and not about a job. It’s about family, and not about relatives. It’s about soulmates, and not about infatuation. Slow travel is about companionship, and not about company.
Maybe it’s just me, but maybe you should try it too?
Help keep our travel trail clean. Don’t litter, motivate your friends to do the same!