Wanderlust? Bring it on!

Enroute pleasures

Wanderlust? Bring it on!

Echo Spot. Sunset Point. Tiger Hill. Dolphin’s Nose. Boating at the lake. Check, check andit’s not about the cycle : Ravi Ranjan picks up his cycle and rides out every now and then. It’s meeting people on the way and the ever-present opportunity of new sights, conversations and experiences that make this kind of a vacation interesting to him. check. Local produce shops. Check. Travel used be like that, didn’t it? Travel agents and brochures listed all the ingredients of one’s vacation, and you returned with pictures — especially in the pre-digital era — at each monument, location or viewpoint.

Even today, a typical trip involves reading up about a destination, its attractions, things to do and planning an itinerary around it. Earlier, it was travel books and magazines; more recently the internet has opened up new sources of information, including other folks who’ve been-there-done-that and found new, lesser-known ‘spots’ and vista points.

You get there almost half knowing the place. Given the plethora of pictures on the web these days, even the sights you see on your first visit to a place are familiar.
It kind of kills the charm of discovering a vacation, doesn’t it?

Not for the breed of traveller who does it for the getting-there part of it. It’s an old, cliched quote that asks you to enjoy the journey and not just the destination. But this breed of traveller lives out this cliche with zest. For lack of a definition, let me call such journeymen (and women) the Enrouters.

What’s different?

Ravi Ranjan picks up his cycle and rides out every now and then. Sometimes, he does this all by himself! It’s meeting people on the way and the ever present opportunity of new sights, conversations and experiences that make this kind of a vacation interesting to him. “While riding in Kerala, people offered me a place to stay and shared their food with me. And to think I was a total stranger who did not even speak their language,” he exclaims.

Can you imagine that on a trip to Goa or Ooty with the hotel rooms and cabs all booked in advance? Such stories happen when the script in between the destinations is open-ended.

For some, it’s a chance to be all alone, far from the madding crowd. It makes you engage in conversations with yourself, toss around thoughts and ideas in your head.

Jasvipul Chawla, an avid backpacker, is a “sucker for solitude” and actively explores options even at popular places. “At Angkor Wat, if you go east of the main temple and get down one level, all tourists disappear, you are the only one. It’s blissful.” This budding photographer has also got very special shots of places that everyone clicks pictures of.

Love Joshi, who loves his motorbike rides, too likes travel for the sake of itself, not to get anywhere in a hurry. “The feel of being on the open road, going to unknown places, meeting new people, breaking free from the mundane is reason enough,” he says.

How do you make this kind of a trip?

There are many ways of enjoying the journey. Some, like techie Anita Bora, prefer cycling long distances over many days. She thinks there’s “no purer way to travel”.

“In July this year, travelling from Manali to Leh on cycle, I got to savour the beauty of the Himalayas in a way that is impossible in a vehicle,” she says. Cycling affords a slow, unhurried interaction with the places one rides through. It’s also a great conversation starter.

Other Enrouters prefer public transport, including trains and state buses.
Jasvipul flies to destinations when he has to, but prefers a train journey. “On a train you get to smell the land and feel the time, as opposed to air travel, where you reach the destination without experiencing the route or time. I always sit at the door of the railway carriage and keep looking out.

Evenings and mornings are the best. Random things keep flashing by — a scarecrow made of CDs, beautifully-lit villages during Diwali, monuments rising out of the jungles —  both the concrete and the real ones,” he says dreamily.

Nachiket Joshi took a year off to backpack across India. And his mode of exploration? “Trains, buses, jeeps, tops of jeeps, army Shaktimans, tractors, horses, bullock carts!”
More than the mode of travel, it’s how you approach the travel that makes it different.

It’s useful to look differently at time, to constantly seek the unfamiliar, look beyond the comforts and luxuries one is used to at home. Your usual instincts of sticking to a schedule, or being ultra-focused on the goal need to be suppressed; curiosity and the desire to explore anything that catches your fancy even as you travel will magically resurface.

The romance of chance encounters, unexpected experiences and pleasant surprises is definitely a big draw for the Enrouters.

Ravi loves the sense of adventure that an unplanned vacation has. “Usually, there’s a vague route in my head, but I decide as I go along. I like my travel mostly unplanned, in terms of where I stay and what I eat.”  But then it’s rarely a completely unplanned trip. He has some sort of a route map even before he heads out.

For Prem Sagar, avid birdwatcher and traveller, planning is a must. “However, even on a planned trip, having no specific planned agenda actually adds to the kick because you get to surprise yourself — with both pleasant and unpleasant things. And, we actually laugh about the unpleasant episodes at the end of the trip,” he says.

Jasvipul, on the other hand, likes to turn up somewhere and then figure out the place and his next move. “I do read up about the region I’m going to. I try to get as much information as I can about transport options available, and what to expect, the area’s specialties etc. I have lots of plan B’s prepared,” he says with a chuckle.

Yes, the unplanned bits are fun, and key to enjoying the journey. Yet a plan helps, and what makes travel a lot more fun is building flexibility into the plan, and of course the willingness on the traveller’s part to embrace changed situations and  spot opportunities in them. It was G K Chesterton who said, “The traveller sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.”

Where do I head to?

Most of us need some sort of a structure even around unstructured time and plans, so here are some recommendations by some serial Enrouters. Ravi and Anita strongly recommend the Tour of Nilgiris, an annual 900+ km cycling ride across the southern hills, that affords you an experience of these well-known destinations at a totally different pace.

Bangalore is situated brilliantly, from a motorbiker’s point of view and Love Joshi says he is spoilt for choice. “Hampi, Kemmangundi, Kabini, Bylakuppe, Chikmagalur, Kundapur... the list just goes on and on,” he says.

Jasvipul has the most interesting suggestion for this one: “The first bus out!”
To reiterate, it’s not the mode of travel or where you’re headed to, but the act of stopping and actually smelling the roses when you see them which is the best part of such journeys.

As the Enrouters say: keep adapting, don’t stick to a plan, spend more time at a place if you like it, less if you don’t. Travel light, keep some plans handy for tackling emergencies, and then go with the flow. The most important part of an  Enrouter’s luggage, after all, is an open mind.

Anxieties about one’s personal safety, emergencies and unpleasant situations in unfamiliar places are a natural part of travel. What do seasoned travellers advise? Here are a few tips:

* Have multiple copies of all documents and contact details of banks and family/ friends who can be informed to assist immediately.
* Buy travel insurance specific to your travel needs.
* Maintain a low profile (jewellery at home, camera in the bag when not in use, low on cash and most of it in the money belt/ hidden pocket).
* Dress like a local and with customs, traditions in mind.
* Use your credit card with caution.
* Avoid arguments with locals.
* A compass, a compact flashlight and a whistle can be handy anytime.
* It is now easier to profile people. Use the internet to better know a roommate, or someone you’ll share a trip with, in advance.
* Remember that on a motorbike or cycle, you’re vulnerable. Ride defensively.
* Carry emergency contact numbers. Keep folks back home updated.

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