Some of us go to spas. Some of us go to random corners of the world. Our objective is the same — renewal.
I’ve always been part of the latter group.
But it’s not just travel to see sights and monuments. It’s travels off that much-visited path that excite me. It’s when you abandon the schedule, the massive tour bus and the resorts that you get a glimpse of yourself.
That’s right. It’s not just a glimpse of the society that you’re visiting, but a look at yourself. You realize how much of the chaotic reality can you handle, how much empathy you truly carry, how much you really want to absorb.
My recent trip to northern India did just that. It was, for me, the kind of restoration that you can only achieve when you feel humanity, not watch it from a distance.
Standing on corners, flagging down auto rickshaws, arguing with taxi drivers who want to keep their meters hidden under a towel is not glamorous. Nor is it comfortable. But it’s primal — it’s the fundamental skills that we have to sharpen.
The drivers put up a good fight; you have to haggle, haggle, haggle. And at times, even if you speak the local language, it’s a 10-minute ordeal before you consent. That’s their bread and butter. They will fight for it.
I met drivers who were jolly, kind, cranky, sleazy and greedy — the whole gamut, basically. While the latter made the process of getting from point A to point B not so pleasant, there were others who didn’t even demand a price. Rather, they said: “whatever you think is fitting will be plenty. After all, you’re a guest in our country.”
Needless to say, I was impressed.
Travel is for many of us an escape. It is a voyage from our lives and all the challenges that encompass it.
But, lately, I’ve enjoyed travels that are less of an escape, and more of a smack in the face. The kind that get you thinking: I wonder how long that lady walks to get her daily supply of water. I wonder how much pollution that auto rickshaw driver must be breathing every day. I wonder if that watchman ever gets tired of his duty or lonely in the middle of the night. I wonder if that farmer gets his fair share of the crop.
Those are the people whose stories are worth hearing. They don’t transport you to just a different setting but to a different reality altogether.
I remember the health worker I spoke with who was so eager to get more hours on the job. Why? She wanted to send her daughter to school so she could have a better existence. I remember the auto rickshaw driver who visited the Sikh temple every morning because it reminded him of his late father. I remember the young public official who really wanted to bypass all the corruption; he was fed up with it as much as everyone else is.
And most of all, I remember the mom who fed me endlessly because she thought of me as her child.
These people transported me to their worlds. Perhaps it was just for a few minutes, perhaps a few hours. But those are the moments I remember. Rarely do I recall the touristy visits. They all begin to blur together after time.
But it’s those moments when I felt humanity, I felt that I had truly traveled.
I felt alive in such moments. Otherwise, the monotony of our lives tends to make us passive creatures. But, when I travel away from the resorts and packages toward the raw reality of my destination, I feel the earthiness of our existence.
And that earthiness, that roughness is what renews me. It deepens my empathy, it eliminates the small nuisances of life, it connects me to others, and most of all, it gives me scope — what is the grander purpose of this existence.
Travel can do that. It’s a religion in many ways. It shows us humanity without preaching it.
To find the course, though, you’ve got to throw the map away and start walking. Try it.