Why there is no shame in being 'typical tourist'
Why do people say they only want an offbeat holiday? Enjoy the obvious first.
- Total Shares
Human beings and their senses – hedonistic, culinary, and intellectual – always get fired up with a reference, a word, a picture. These are connections which are embedded in our minds. And though I am probably as adventurous as the next person, given our limited financial options, falling off the beaten path in search of something searingly new and non-touristic is for those who have too much time and money, or are so jaded that the sight of lobster or fresh oysters makes them through much.
For the rest of us ordinary people, places conjure up a kind of mind-nostalgia - the image we carry around in our head and is closely associated with that place even if it is due to the obvious channels of communications - these days the internet or lifestyle TV channels.
But a long time ago, I had a geography text called "People and Places", and it described in great detail who lived where and what their lives were like. I learnt about the Indian tepee, the Igloo, the great Mongolian horsemen, the gold digging at Kalgoorlie in Australia, the Masai Mara, Machhu Pichhu, The Bund in Shanghai, the breadth of the Niagara Falls and of course, the Swiss chocolates, Italian cheeses, American hamburgers, British toad in the hole, the African maize meal and biltong (first time I ever heard of such a thing) and none of this came with pictures or any opportunity to find these foods. We had to imagine it all. That created an insatiable yearning for travel that while on a closely monitored visit to Pakistan, I managed to dash and see the famed ruins of Taxila and the Hellenic Buddha statues and thanked the Almighty that they were still in one piece.
Then of course, it was through the streets of Karachi, haggling for wonderful embroidered cloth, spending the evening at a kebab restaurant which first spilled over the parking lot and then on to the road as the night went by.
So, what is this thing called offbeat travel. Those unique experiences which come with a hefty price tag too and are said to show the place in a "new" light?
What is wrong with the good old light in the first place?
When princess Diana visited the Taj Mahal by herself in 1992 (Credit: AP photo)
If you didn’t see the Louvre but instead went grape smashing in Bordeaux, would you call it a seminal French travel experience? Shouldn’t we first experience what is most obvious in relation to a place… Why wouldn’t I race to the Trevi fountain in Rome, coin ready in my palm to be chucked over in so many movies (though I am still waiting for that wish to come true)? My father, an engineer wanted to see the best building in London - the Parliament House - since he had read about its masterful design. In Switzerland, mater and pater traversed the route taken in the movie Sangam which was their reference to all things Swiss and snowy.
I can understand that we don’t like to be rushed into overcrowded places like a herd of cattle, but hand on heart, how many of us tire of returning to Goa again and again? Take away the Taj Mahal and the whole tourist map to India would collapse.
In Paris, it has to be Champs Elysee and the Eiffel Tower where we are even too scared to touch the hallowed window panes of those couture temples. Salman Khan did so much more for the London Bridge than their entire marketing budget put together!
In Singapore, we want our hawker food, in Hong Kong it has to be yumcha and dimsums and the ride to the top of the Peak. In China, we would all go to Xian and Beijing. So why take the joy out of the obvious and shaming people who go to see the "famous" places as "tourists" as if they have no class. Can’t you see they are just reliving a new place as it exists in their minds and they would rather touch and feel that first, before they embark on a trudge through the Myanmar jungles, water purifying pills in plenty.
It would take a lifetime and a bank full of money to see everything from the Empire State Building to the Las Vegas Strip and the San Francisco wharf, cross over to see the Sakura bloom across Japan, taking in the bullet train and that lovely mountain with a sugar dusting on top. The grandeur of Europe lies in its museums – from the Hermitage in St Peterburg to Goya in Madrid. Turkey and Greece, Jordan and Jerusalem, God and Goodness. Victoria Falls to Angels Falls. The Cape of Good Hope to the trans Russian Railway, the Northern lights to the Benguela current - there is so much to do and see in the "touristic" travel itinerary that you will never be able to get through even this miniscule list.
It has taken me 30-odd years to travel through most of the Indian states and have yet to go to Konark and Kashmir! So get off the I-am-so-different-I-don’t-travel-like-you high horse and be one of us. Step onto the bus with translation in six languages - it is not exclusive but it is a great bundle of laughs. At least you would have seen the things that made a place famous and not be an escapist who cannot bear to take a selfie in Venice.
Be ordinary. It is a relief to be one these days.