Traveling means a lot of things. It could mean commuting, visiting, exploring in a pragmatic sense and journey, transformation, adaption in a more spiritual sense. It means different things to different people, who travel for different purposes. In India, it is the family’s disposable income which determines what kind of travel people would undertake.
For instance, take me. I come from a middle class family which rose a higher after 90s financial reforms in the country. I went to college in early 00s. I was born in a society where there are no major career based ambitions from girls. My family had a modern outlook and there was no major family based ambitions either! In short, I was born in a household of plentiful with no major responsibilities or ambitions. For me traveling started as a way to escape campus and college. Coming out from a prestigious engineering college, I met people with no formal education running successful businesses, people in village farming for living, people who were living n a world which had nothing in common to my world. Meeting such people gave me hope. Considering my poor grades and no interest in getting a corporate job, going to remote hilly areas showed me a different perspective and made me realize that there is much more to life and still a lot that I can do. In a way, I used to travel to find a warm place for myself in an otherwise cold world.
On the other hand, lets consider a school history teacher I recently met in Kinnaur, an eastern district in Himachal Pradesh (HP) which shares its boundary with Tibet. She lives and teaches in a state-board school in Simla, the capital city of HP, with her daughter who studies in a more recognized English medium school. Her son is in the first year of college in Delhi and her husband lives in their hometown in Kinnaur handling the family business. This arrangement of living apart is necessary for the family to ensure a good education and future for the children and to keep the family business running for better incomes. The teacher is from a small town of Jeori, which is ahead of Rampur, the main political seat of Kinnaur.
We need to understand a bit about Kinnaur to get a perspective about our history teacher. Kinnaur has not been developed for tourism though it has one of the oldest roads from India to Tibet laid down by British in the 19th century, today referred to as Old Hindustan-Tibet road. Since half a century, alternate routes and roads were developed and used, this route was not paid any attention until last year, when the state PM expressed interest in developing this route into a national highway. In the last two decades, a better part of Kinnaur along the river Sutlej has been used for developing hydro-power projects. As a result of tunneling and landslides, the road after Rampur starts getting worsen after every mile. By the time, you reach Reckong Peo, the administrative capital of Kinnaur, there is no road at all. Just dirt and stones. I won’t go into details of the journey, as that is a different story and different blog.
This story is about me and the history teacher, who was my co-passenger and companion on our bus ride from Simla to Jeori, where she got down (I continued till Kalpa). So after more neutral topics like apple orchards and cherry blossoms which filled the view for as far as we can see, we both started poking our noses in each others lives. We got to know about each one’s family structure and profession, and background in general. She strike one as being an open minded hard working woman with good living standards. Since I was considering to go till Kaza in upper Kinnaur, I casually happened to comment to her, that she must have been to Lahual & Spiti. When she negated my presumption, I was overtly surprised. She must have seen the surprise on my face, and continued to say that she has never been any further east to her village! Not even to Peo! Not even to Kinnaur Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva!
Honestly, I couldn’t get my head around this fact for quite some time. She must be in her 40ies, lived her entire life in this region, but she couldn’t travel for 100 kms to visit these amazing places for which I have traveled in a plane, a train and a bus already, covering more than 3000 miles! Why such a complete lack of interest and respect for travelling? As the time passed and roads cracked and bus wobbled along, it dawn upon me what travel meant to me was different from what it meant to her. Probably, for her traveling means meeting her husband and son. An additional expense. A risky business. A series of distressing events. Broken roads, falling buses, escaping swindlers. To see what? To what result? To see the same struggles she sees everyday anyways? The rich and effluent me would think: since she is coming from hills, she would like to see a beach, the ocean waves. Why not go there? The practical me would answer: given so many family engagements and religious functions, who has the time. So basically, travelling is not her priority. How could it be among so many social commitments and responsibilities?
There was this German girl, Janina, I met in Sangla Valley and we exchanged notes about our travels across the globe. For both us, travel has been one of the main teachers in life. Even though we come from different countries and backgrounds, we share the same love for travel. For us, it was strange that most people like the comfort zone of their lives and don’t prefer traveling. As per her, people don’t travel not because of lack of money but because of different priorities. To some extent this might be true; however, in India, the priorities are different due to lack of money. So those who get monetary compensation for personal travel as yearly allowance, they usually travel and like it. Those who have to dig in reserves might find it a waste of time and money.
I wonder why the travel allowance has been scrapped for a hike in salary in most of the government jobs in the country. Do we all collectively believe that it is better to spend money on clothes, jewelry, house, cars and other possessions than simply seeing more of the world? If so, then Janina was spot on! I hope someday traveling would belong to the same moral standards as praying and forgiving. After all, historically, it was those who weren’t afraid to cross the seas, found the new lands!