The first memory of travelling for me is a flight to Dubai while on my way to Botswana with my parents when I was 6 years old. We stayed in Botswana for three years and vacationed in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Europe and America. As I grew up the memories of those places faded and what remains is little fragments of scattered imagery of those vacations. If I were asked what I learnt from those three years, I wouldn't be able to really say anything, except that i developed an accent. Cut to age 17, I'm on a flight to Singapore to board my first vessel as a sailor with dreams of travelling the world and seeing exotic destinations. I sailed for 12 months (not in a stretch), sailed around the globe and went to every continent except Australia. I visited countries like Japan, Korea, Ecuador, Guatemala, Columbia, Turkey and many more. I also got to visit my dream destination of Hawaii. Unfortunately due to some reasons I had to leave the merchant navy and my travels stopped. Even though my travels stopped one thing that remained was what  I learnt due to my travels.

I meet a lot of people that tell me that they have travelled to abc countries and xyz destinations, however when I listen to them I realise that they actually never travelled but only vacationed. For me, personally, there is a big difference between travelling and being on a holiday (vacationing). Lying down on a beach or playing in the sea water, or looking at a building or statues and clicking pictures without actually seeing the object, going shopping in malls and having drinks in clubs is not something I consider travelling, whether the buildings, statues, malls and clubs are in Paris or Agra, the beach in Brazil or Chennai, it doesn't matter. It is simply vacationing.

Travelling, to me, is going to a place and learning about it, learning about its history, learning from its history. About being on a hill or a river bed and seeing what nature holds in its purest form, or on a beach really admiring the vastness and never-ending glory of the ocean that encapsulates 2/3rd or our planet and yet is not a part of everyday life for most people. About seeing a statue of someone and trying to understand the persons legacy. Travelling is about learning. It doesn't matter if you travel to a village outside Bhopal or to Venezuela, as long as you learn something new, about nature and about yourself. It's about broadening your horizons and realising that a world exists where normal day to day activities happen in ways beyond your wildest imagination. There is a certain sense of pride that comes with it, which u may gather from the tone of this write up, however it is not arrogant pride. Travelling is only a status symbol for those who vacation, for those who actually travel it's an experience that leaves them more humbled than proud. 

When I was sailing and we arrived at any port, if I got the opportunity, I would just go out into whichever city we were in and just walk around, I would ask the local  people about the places that I should visit or what activities I could do in the time frame I could manage off duty. Most of the people would tell me about the best malls around or the biggest clubs, but sometimes, from nowhere, someone would tell me about a place or activity that would excite me. For example on one of my visits to Hawaii while walking on a beach I asked a man in a surf shop about some adventure activity I could do, he invited me and a colleague of mine to go cliff diving with his group the next day. I don't have a single picture of that cliff diving experience but the image of being mid air and feeling the fear rush out of your body seconds before being engulfed in the huge ocean is something that will never leave my memory. I realised how right people are when they say that you learn more about yourself from fear than you do in comfort. I went to Hawaii a few more times after that and always tried to convince my shipmates to quit the malls and commercial tourist spots and enjoy nature in the hidden and  unadulterated form. 

Another great place to really learn about an area and its people is the market place. I don't mean a mall, where the mannequins are more expressive than people, but the local marketplace where the small merchant is selling his wares. These places often reminded me of home where each sabziwala in the market truly believes his vegetable is fresher than the others, or a tailor arrogantly dismisses the other tailors as novices and claims to have a better hand. While in Adana, Turkey, there was a similar situation when we went to try the famous Adana Kebabs. Each vendor claimed to have the softer meat and the best pita (bread). Each kebab I had was more delicious than the previous one and every hair on my body stood as the tender meat would just melt in my mouth. I remember eating so much that I could barely walk back to the ship. The warmth of the local people who offered us Turkish tea for free at every shop we visited was very endearing. There is so much to learn from the tales of locals if only one is truly willing to listen. I guess people have a way of knowing when someone is genuinely interested in what they have to say or are just loitering for the heck of it.

There are many such tales and incidents that I had the honour of being a part of, but telling them can take forever because I tend to get carried away with excitement when I  remember those times.

After I stopped sailing I stayed in Agra for a little more than two years and that is where I learnt the true importance of my travelling. While it was a sudden jolt for me as I was thrust into civilian life after 20 years of enjoying the security of Fauj (being a fauji brat), the disappointment of a failed career and the bewilderment of new subjects to study was also pretty daunting for me. However I went through the troubles and tried to face everything head on. I could do so only because I had seen how big the world is and knew how inconsequential my worries were in the grand scheme of things. I always told myself that if the tribesmen in Africa could survive in the Kalahari with only loincloth and cactus roots, I would be fine in Agra. My exposure helped me cope with my problems, I would think about my travels whenever I was bothered and would end up smiling. What I didn't realise while travelling, I realised when I stopped travelling. I realised how travelling had changed my life.

So, in the end I have a request for who reads this. The next time you visit someplace known or unknown, try looking behind the obvious. Talk to people about what you can do there. If u need to find the way to someplace ask for directions from locals rather than opening your smartphone, maybe you'll end up not where you wanted to be but where you needed to be. If you see something beautiful and want to take a picture, make sure you first capture the image in your mind
before you take out your camera. Images might get deleted or destroyed but that feeling while seeing true beauty never leaves. 

Try learning something new about every place, maybe you'll end up learning something new about yourself. Travel, get beyond your limits.

travel , exploring

1 Comment

Sep 10, 2014 14:36 PM This is brilliant Anugrah. I too think vacationing can never be what travelling is!

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