As temperatures soar in the months of May-June and schools and colleges start downing their shutters, we—the people living in cities—tend to undergo a transformation. We start dreaming of cooler climes. We begin pouring over travel advertisements with longing. And we leave behind our humdrum lives and jobs and schools, etc, to zoom off to destinations exotic and non-exotic. We become travellers.
But have you ever asked yourself, what is this travel bug that bites many of us every year? Why do we travel? Is it the desire to visit, see and experience new places and peoples and cultures, or is it a need to break out of the boredom of our daily routines? More importantly, how do we travel and where do we travel to? Do we just wander around soaking in the sights and sounds superficially? Or do we really experience things as we travel?
Do we waste or nurture resources when we travel? Do we travel to the usual touristy places like Shimla or Goa, or are we adventurous enough to check out locations that are off the beaten track, places where there is a ‘smell’ of environmental history? Do we relish and respect the local food and customs of the place we travel to, or do we insist on eating our kind of food and following our customs in those places?
Let’s meander around and try and answer some of these questions. I say try and answer, because we may just end up merely meandering without finding any answers—but then that’s what real travel is all about, isn’t it? Explore, and the joy of that exploration becomes an end in itself !
Human history and evolution is one about travelling. Incessant, untiring travelling. Human beings have conquered the world because they travelled from one end of it to the other. Those were either travels of discovery, or for conquering and colonising new regions.
Today, one of the main reasons we travel is because we want to know and experience the new. Travel managers have devised different kinds of customised, subject-specific travel options—from wildlife tourism to religious-spiritual tours, and from heritage journeys to travels customised for wine lovers! Can we think of some unique—alternative— destinations? And more importantly, will you, my dear readers, be enterprising enough to try them out?
Let’s see—let us begin our wanderlust with a few places which normally do not feature on any regular tourist map.
Molai Forest, Assam
The man with the green hands
Witness what one man can do— Jadav Payeng has single-handedly turned a barren sandbar of the river Brahmaputra into a lush green forest reserve. Molai Forest, as it is referred to, is located near Kokilamukh in Jorhat, and covers an area of about 550 hectares. In 2015, Payeng was conferred the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India. If you are headed towards Assam this summer, touch down at Molai and meet this miracle man.
Ralegan Siddhi, Maharashtra
A revolution happened here
A small village in the district of Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, Ralegan has become an iconic landmark for anyone interested in India’s environmental history. Way back in 1975, this was like many other villages in the country—desperately poor, backward, and caught in a web of illicit liquor trade. Anna Hazare, a retired army driver, decided to settle here, and there began the story of Ralegan’s transformation. Hazare turned it into a prosperous ‘model’ village—through a combination of good governance and effective water conservation measures.
Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, Uttarakhand
The Chipko homeground
Located in the Garhwal region, this diverse reserve hosts some highly endangered species of animals and is a part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves. The world-famous ‘Chipko movement’ took place in Lata and Reni villages in the vicinity of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve. The heroine of Reni, Gaura Devi, passed away in 1991, but the story of her courage lives on—find out what she did way back in 1974 during Chipko, and then check out the forests and valleys which nurture such bravehearts.
Kabani Bamboo Village, Kerala
One with nature
Who benefits from tourism? You may seek answers to that question here in Thrikkaipetta, a beautiful little village in Wayanad district of Kerala. The joint efforts of a local NGO and a travel and tourism company have resulted in a unique community tourism and development experiment here—bamboo handicrafts, organic farming, homestays... even a special lunch with items made only from bamboo! And all of it is locally created and crafted, cooked and managed, with the money from the tourism going to the local community.
Asia’s cleanest village
Mawlynnong nestles amidst evergreen forests in the biodiversity-rich East Khasi Hills district. Women rule in this village—its society is matrilineal. The place is known for its cleanliness. All the waste is collected neatly in dustbins made of bamboo, dumped into a pit, and then turned into manure.
...and there are many more like these. We do hope you manage to check a few such places out in the course of your travels. And while you figure out which ones, here’s a little something else—a travel tale of Piu and Pom. Welcome aboard!
A Travel Tale
Pom yawned loudly. “Getting bored, aren’t we Piu?” asked Pom.
Piu didn’t reply. She was busy playing something on her tablet.
“It’s too hot outside. We can’t even go to the park... Piu I am talking to you!” Pom was angry. “It’s unfair that you are playing with your tablet while your friend is getting bored!” There was no answer from Piu to this, but she suddenly saw something and yelled, “Look Pom a flock of cranes! I wonder where they are headed!”
“They are migratory cranes and heading towards the Arctic. You know some of them will be travelling some thousands of kilometres! I wish I had wings!”
“But why are they travelling such a long distance?” Piu asked.
“Birds migrate to move from areas of low or decreasing resources to areas of high or increasing resources. The two primary resources being sought are food and nesting locations. Birds that nest in the Northern Hemisphere tend to migrate northwards in the spring to take advantage of burgeoning insect populations, budding plants and an abundance of nesting locations. As winter approaches and the availability of insects and other food drops, the birds move south again,” Pom replied, looking at the flocks. “Can’t we also go for a migration?” Piu asked. “But how can I? I don’t have wings and moreover, I don’t know how to fly!”
“Not an issue Piu,” suddenly someone said. It was a bird from the flock.
"Just grab my feet. I will take you with us,” the bird said. And soon they were flying with the flock.They flew over high mountains, through clouds. One of the clouds was full of sweet water. Both Piu and Pom were feeling very thirsty. They drank a lot of water from the cloud but the water also made their palms slippery.
“Pom I can’t grab the feet of the bird anymore, it’s very slippery,” Piu yelled. “Same here Piu,” Pom said. And before they could do something about it, both of them slipped off. “Piu, can you see the herd of zebras below? It’s said that zebras undertake the longest linear land-mammal migration in Africa. The journey between Namibia and Botswana is a round trip of 300 miles,” Pom said. It was really a lovely scene. Piu had never seen such a beautiful scene.
“I wonder how a zebra can travel such a long distance?”she asked.
“Arctic terns hold the record. Moving between Greenland and Antarctica in a zigzag route, the birds cover 44,000 miles a year. With an average lifespan of 30 years an arctic tern covers around 1.3 million miles in its lifetime, an equivalent to going to the moon and back three times,” Pom replied.
“Be careful Piu we are going to hit the ground,” said Pom.
They fell on the grass, and noticed a huge group of people going towards the East.
“Where are we Pom, and who are these people?” Piu asked. “They look like humans but don’t look like us.”
“It seems that we are in time travel. We have come to the era of early human beings. These are Neanderthals,” Pom said.
“But the kid is so cute, can’t we travel with them?” Piu asked.
“It’s a nice idea. We can learn about their food habit, their day-to-day life, etc, “Pom said.
Soon Piu and Pom started walking along with the group of one of the earliest ancestors of humans. They even overcame the language barrier with hand gestures.
“I wonder what would force them for migration Pom,” Piu said. "Whenever I ask this question this kid replies back with strange gestures and noises. It could be a volcanic eruption or climate change or change in rain pattern. I can’t understand."
“Scientists have estimated that there was a super-eruption in the volcano Mt. Toba, which is now in Indonesia, resulted in a long volcanic winter which roughly coincided with the migration some 70 thousand years ago. The climate change could be one of the several factors which triggered the migration,” Pom said.
Suddenly they saw a bifurcation with signage Prehistoric era and Medieval era.
“Don’t take the route of the group any more Piu,” screamed Pom.
“But why Pom?” asked Piu.
“Because we have to take the other route, the medieval era. The journey of our prehistoric forefathers ends with the end of prehistoric era; if we continue with them, then we would become extinct with the group of early human beings, “Pom said.
Pom was right. The whole group was slowly vanishing behind a thick blanket of fog.
“Oh, no Pom we are alone again!” Piu said, "I am missing my prehistoric friend.”
“I can understand Piu but you know, we are in time travel and we have to follow various do’s and don’ts otherwise we will be in deep trouble, you understand Piu,” Pom said in a warning tone.
“OK Pom, next time I will keep it in mind, but tell me where are we going from here? “Piu asked.
Before Pom could reply, they saw a silhouette of a caravan appearing near the horizon.
“Piu see the caravan, “Pom said.
Soon the caravan reached near Piu and Pom. Piu asked, “Who are you and where are you people going?"
One of the old fellow replied, “We are traders. We trade different produces from different countries but who are you and what are you doing in this desert?”
“I am Piu,” replied Piu and we are in time travel.”
“What!” said one of the traders.
“She means we are travellers and we are very punctual about the time,” replied Pom and then whispered to Piu, ”Don’t say all these things because they are people from the medieval era. They can’t understand all these things.” Now Piu and Pom went along with the caravan. They travelled one country to another met travellers like Ibn Battuta, Fa-xian, Hiuen Tsang and Marco Polo.
“Pom don’t you feel little hotter?” Piu asked.
“Yes it’s hot, “Piu replied, “and do you know, it’s the agriculture and other agriculture-related practices like domestication of animals, which increase the carbon dioxide emission that eventually raises the temperature.” After some time the road named medieval era ended and the caravan disappeared behind the blanket of fog. Now they were on a new road.
It was full of activities. Piu and Pom crossed through busy market places, beautiful cities and factories.
They even journeyed through battlefields of Waterloo, Saigon, Warsaw and Stalingrad where heavy fighting was on in between human groups wearing different army fatigues.
“See the stupidity of you humans Piu, in this battlefield it’s just the colour of the fatigue which makes a person, an enemy to the other one,” Pom said satirically.
“Let’s go from here Pom,” said Piu. “This place is full of suffocating smoke and dust.”
“We can’t get rid of this smoke and dust. It is carbon dioxide and other gases, harmful to the atmosphere,” Pom said.
“Then why we humans keep on producing it?” Piu asked.
Before Pom could answer back, a fellow with a sledge and snow dogs appeared before them.
“I am Robert Peary and I need your help, “said the person.
“You mean you are the first person who reached the North Pole!” Piu said, “tell me what can we do for you?”
“Save the ice caps,” Robert said.
“What!” Piu did not understand what he was talking about.
“The ice sheets of poles are melting fast, the climate is changing rapidly because of over exploitation of the natural resources and excess emissions of carbon dioxide and other green house gases. If we don’t stop it right now our only home will submerge under water,” Robert said.
“What’s the way out?” Piu asked.
“Tell the people of your generation to act responsibly. This planet belongs to all of us. Not for just humans and not for just one generation of human beings,” Robert said.
“I will definitely convey your message Robert, "said Piu.
“Thanks Piu. Now I have to go,” Robert said, “I have to make people aware of whole planet about this looming danger on us.”
And Robert Peary disappeared behind the fog.
Travel in-between the lines
Have you ever wondered how our prehistoric forefathers managed to go from one place to other without any signage or route map? In the course of evolution and knowledge we drew some lines on the Earth like Date line, Meridians, Latitude and Longitude. We have another set of imaginary lines which we got as our legacy from our forefathers who crisscrossed the Earth, the footprints of history. Let’s find out those tracks. GT presents—
Early humans started to leave Africa between 60,000 and 70,000 years ago.
According to scientists, it was due to sudden cooling in the climate, driven by the onset of one of the worst parts of the last Ice Age.
Indo-Aryan migrations started roughly in 1,800 BCE. The invention of war chariot led to a battle with the residents of Indus civilisation. The dams made by natives were the bone of contention. Aryans destroyed dams and devastated the civilisation.
Born in 1254, in Venice, Italy, he travelled from Europe to Asia from 1271 to 1295. Around 1292, he left China.
His book Il Milione describes his travels and experiences and influenced later adventurers and merchants.
Established during the Han Dynasty of China, it was a network of trade routes, linked the regions of commerce. The Persian Royal Road, one of the main arteries of the Silk Road, ran from Susa, in north Persia (Iran) to the Mediterranean Sea in Asia Minor (Turkey).
He was the greatest medieval traveller from Morocco. His travelogue name is Rihlah (Travels). His travels covered all countries and as far as China and Sumatra.
Vasco Da Gama
A Portuguese explorer. He was the first European to reach India by sea, linking Europe and Asia for the first time by an ocean route, as well as connecting the Atlantic and the Indian oceans.
A Spanish conquistador, he led an expedition to Americas. He plundered and looted the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of mainland Mexico under the rule of Spain.
The first expedition to reach the geographic South Pole was led by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. He and four others arrived at the pole on 14 December 1911.*
*It can be said that with the first human footfall on the south pole the era of 'exploring new world' ended but travelling continued. In the past we travelled to know and explore the planet. Now we travel to save our planet, our only home in the galaxy.
And now for the flick trip...
A selection of some really cool travel films
1. The Motorcycle Dairies (English)
Two medical students embark on a motorcycle trip across South America. At the end of the journey, they volunteer to work for a leper colony in Peru. The film is a dramatisation of a road trip that Che Guevara went on in his youth.
2. Into the wild (English)
A true story of a college graduate who gives away his possessions and life’s savings and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wild.
3. A Map for Saturday (English)
A travel documentary, this film follows a man who gives up his job in HBO to live a life out of his backpack. It demonstrates a variety of ways people travel and how anyone can travel cheaply if they really want to.
4. 180 Degrees South (English)
A travel-environmental documentary covers the adventure of Jeff Johnson as he travels to Patagonia, learning about the losing battle against industrialisation and the destruction of the natural world.
5. Kayal (Tamil)
Set in the backdrop of the tsunami which hit the Indian Ocean in 2004, this is a story of travel of two friends.
6. Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvunna Bhoomi (Malayalam)
Translated literally as ‘Blue Skies, Green Waters, Red Earth’, this film was shot across seven states. It is the story of two friends who set out on a road trip from Nagaland to Kerala.
7. Aranyer Din Ratri (Bangla)
Satyajit Ray’s classic ‘Days and Nights in the Forest’ spins the tale of a group of friends who take a trip out of their city to a rural tribal forest-girded area.
8. Hit the Road (English)
A travel-adventure documentary following two friends, Ric Gazarian and Keith King, participating in a 12-day rickshaw rally from Mumbai to Chennai. It is recognised by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 greatest adventure routes in the world.
Here’s a checklist for you when you take that trip this summer...
Read up about the local customs and lifestyles of the place you are going to before you hit the road. If you can, learn a few words of the local language. Ecoproducts Bring environmentally friendly products with you. For instance, if you are going to be swimming, you should not be taking a soap or a lotion that may contain toxic chemicals.
Use water sparingly.
Find out whether the hotel/accommodation where you will stay follows environmental norms and practices. Try and encourage only those that do.
Remove all excess packaging from the baggage that you carry—do not burden others with your waste. Also, be careful with the waste you generate and litter when on holiday.
Take the help of local guides, respect people and local cultures, and try to buy locally made products to help the destination’s economy.
Plan your route to minimise carbon emissions—take a train or other forms of alternative public transport wherever possible.
Travellers with a mission
Syed Sajjan Ahmed developed a solar-electric powered car to cover 3,000 km from Bangalore to Delhi to participate in the first India International Science Festival. He was awarded Karnataka government’s award for environment protection in 2006 for his innovation. The solar car has five solar panels, each with a capacity of 100 watts.
A former media researcher with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Rakesh Singh is on a cycle crusade from Tamil Nadu to Kashmir for gender freedom. He will conclude his expedition by reaching Delhi in March 2018.