Travels With A Difference

Men like Copernicus, Galileo and Einstein were travellers of the mind, while the great sage Sankaracharya who walked from Kerala to the Himalayas through forests and plains was the world’s first holy traveller.

Published: 27th April 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th April 2014 08:01 PM   |  A+A-

THE ULTIMATE 2014 VACATION BUCKET LIST

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. —Lao Tzu

For the ancients, travel was an adventure fraught with unimaginable dangers. Travellers were exalted in myth, like the wanderings of Ulysses, the labours of Hercules, and the dangers faced by Jason and the Argonauts. Then the sea was full of monsters and beguiling evil enchantresses, and lands populated with one-eyed demons. But as the Buddha said, it is better to travel well than arrive. And arrive they did, as the world slowly turned on its axis through the centuries. Marco Polo reached the court of Kublai Khan. Hiuen Tsang, who travelled from China to India and Afghanistan, is one of the world’s earliest travel writers. Then the earth was flat, and any mariner who sailed too close to the horizon was apt to fall off the sea, to be devoured by monsters. Centuries later, Christopher Columbus discovered America, while searching for India and Vasco da Gama found it. Charles Darwin went to the Galapagos and changed how we perceive humanity. Lady Hay Drummond-Hay flew the world in a Zeppelin between two world wars. Four decades later, Yuri Gagarin conquered the final frontier. Men like Copernicus, Galileo and Einstein were travellers of the mind, while the great sage Sankaracharya who walked from Kerala to the Himalayas through forests and plains was the world’s first holy traveller.

It is all about unravelling mysteries and giving the world the gift of knowledge. To be on easy terms with the world, was to lose the mystery of travel—satellites penetrated areas where no man had seen before; bulldozers devoured forbidden Amazon forests driving ancient tribes further inward; and deep sea vessels brought the primeval secrets of the ocean to television screens. It was Hilaire Belloc who said, we wander for distraction but travel for fulfilment. Slowly, a change began in the narrative of journeys—the transition of the traveller into the tourist. Flights, ocean cruises, tour buses, luxury taxis, guided visits, luxury hotels offered packages, and tour operators inveigled passengers with freebies in luxury hotels in Manhattan or Bangkok. Banks offered travel loans. The mystery of travel was diminishing, and the polar opposites of luxury travel and backpacking are the two reference points of all travel today. Yet, there are some brave souls out there who wish to charter the unknown and the dangerous, recapturing the romance of travel. They go to warzones, courting dangers to experience conflict first hand; they go seeking ghost sightings in Chernobyl (Fukushima could follow soon); they watch rats milling around in Karni Mata Temple and see garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean for $10,000 per person. Man hasn’t given up travelling yet, seeking outlandish mysteries that still exist, adventures that thrill and tours that illuminate.