I woke up in the 30th floor of a five star property in Singapore. I could see the sea from my window. As I gazed at it with awe, I was summoned to the lobby immediately as we had to rush to the airport to catch the flight to Australia.It was my first time abroad but it had not yet sunk in. It was also the first time I had flown in an aircraft and I was on transit. I had landed in Singapore in the wee hours of the morning and had just fallen asleep. When I woke up, I was lost in the blues of the ocean . Mesmerised, it took me a while to realize that I was on the 30 the floor. For a 21 year old, who had never been to Mumbai or Delhi, whose travels had only been limited to the Southern States, whose idea of a big city was Chennai and a tourist destination was Ooty – seeing the vast open expanse of oceans from the 30th floor of a luxury hotel in an international destination which I had only heard about, was more than just an experience. I wanted to call my parents and explain to them how I felt. I wanted to speak to my eight year old brother. I wanted to just jump in joy and share my excitement and describe my travel experience. But I had to wait a month for the same.
We talk about travel all the time and so let us do some time travel. We are not travelling to the Middle Ages, but just rewinding the clock a bit to an era, where one actually feels that you are in the medieval times.I am just on a nostalgia trail, recollecting my first ever international jaunt and my travel experience to a slew of countries – Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia for about 28 days
Back in Singapore, I was a wide eyed, naive and raw traveller. I wanted to log every moment of the trip. But I did not have a camera to record my memories. I did not have a mobile either. No facebook or instagram to announce my presence or whatsapp to speak to my family and friends. There was no google to give me any information or show me photographs. Wait. There was no internet, no wifi, no network – no one knew what those words meant. To me, this was my first tryst with a unknown destination and I was alone with myself and my thoughts.
Sometimes i wonder if this was the real journey. The mind is open to new cultures and people, to novel experiences without any preconceived notions. Every conversation, every encounter is special. There is a childlike innocence when you travel. A fresh perspective, an open mindedness, and a natural sense of awe that one experiences. It is an uninterrupted special bond between you and the destination. After twenty countries and several jaunts, I wonder if I could head to a country today without reading about it or even seeing any images about it and without any cameras or phones. Technology has taken travellers to different realms and yet I wonder if it is just a crutch. Has it taken away the fresh flush of travel, the naive excitement, the raw flavour and killed the eurekha moment ?
I did two trips with my late grandfather, who was a renowned coffee planter and they were both study tours on coffee. While the first was to Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia, the second was even more exotic – to Brazil, San Salvador and Costa Rica. They were not solo trips and yet it felt like one as I was always on my own. In New Zealand I went boating alone in a little lake near Auckland. In Malaysia I took off on a water scooter with a stranger for about 30 minutes. Every moment of my travel experience was much more pronounced than before and I lived in that moment. And every experience seemed much more real and was novel as I had not seen or read about it before. Feeding a kangaroo in a national park near Adelaide and cuddling a koala, sipping wine at a chateau in Barossa Valley, yelling at the Whispering Wall to see if someone could hear me on the other side, touring the Melbourne Cricket Club, watching in awe at sky trains, losing myself in the many lanes. I remember being in tears when the fireworks swept the sky on Australia Day as I wondered why we did not celebrate our own Republic Day with such elan. And every bit of my travel experience felt real, something that you feel deep within you.
How different would these experiences be today ? Perhaps not very different and yet there is something special about a first time. Nothing prepares you for it. You probably have an itinerary on paper and you let your imagination take over. Today, you however have media in every form being bombarded in front of you. When I saw the statue of Jesus with his arms spread out near Rio, I felt an inexplicable sense of awe. I was glad in retrospect that I had not met the internet then.
I do not have too many photographs but every memory is captured in my mind’s eye. That is when I realized how travel can open your minds to other cultures, in its raw and naked form. Many memories stay in my mind. I did keep a journal but this journey kick started in me a new habit. I sent a post card to my parents from every destination. In New Zealand I also discovered a Madras Street and went ballistic and sent a postcard to my parents.To me these postcards are my souvenirs of memories, snippets from my journal and precious fossils of an era before internet.I try and send a post card to myself from every destination even today.
As a world traveller travel I have always believed is about conversations than just sights and sounds. People make places for me. In New Zealand I met a Maori in a train and we shared stories. In Brazil I chatted with samba performers and tried the Caipirinha. I did not have a Facebook to keep in touch with them but the conversations made the journeys priceless. Travel to me is all about serendipity and in my old jaunts, every moment was serendipitous. And I had several of these moments as I continued travelling down the ages. Cab drivers, guides, waiters, co passengers in a train – every one had a story to share. And even as I knocked off more countries as a traveller, I wondered if i have evolved as a traveller ?
Today I see a destination through a lens, my mind is more familiar with the experiences, my phone has replaced me as my favourite travel companion, my facebook and instagram has more pictures of me than people and places and I have already beefed up my brain with lots of information about the destinations. But imagine the era before internet, before technology invaded our lives – we were more mindful, we observed and listened more, we made more friends, we learnt more from conversations, we saw, touched and felt more than just with our fingertips. Our minds were more vulnerable even as the child in us was always awake, waiting to lap every experience and absorb every moment !
I think we were true travellers in the sense of the word. Would you love to time travel with me to such an era ?