A few hours before heading out on my first Himalayan trek, I chanced to see
a quote by Marcel Proust inThe Times of India: “The real voyage of discovery is not in
seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”One early morning a few days later,
soaked with rain, under-slept, and with no hot food in our stomachs (no matter,
since we were also plagued by GI troubles), our mountain guide correctly sensed
that we needed a moral boost, and we took turns swapping those trite inspirational
quotes usually found printed in flowery script on office calendars.
I busted out my Proust, mostly because I would sound well-read, but as it
came out, I sensed its relevance. Here I was, hiking through mountains, for no
practical reason. What do we expect to find in exotic, far-off locales that we can't find
at home? Why do we bother to travel?
I think Proust knew. Travel implies a home to which we return (otherwise
we'd usually call itmoving), and though we see wonderful things while we're gone,
the reality is we usually end up back at our computers, holding off the email deluge.
The important, meaningful part of travel is not the ephemeral experience of new
cultures or landscapes, but the changes they inspire within us.
Most travelers experience some form of “re-entry shock”, a disturbing feeling
of alienation from what should be the most welcoming environment, your home.
You feel alienated not because the home has radically changed, but because your
perception of it has. The customs seem a little less rational and your friends seem a
little bit too caught up in the cultural minutiae of everyday life. Our new eyes let us
see the mundane afresh.
(Pic Credit: Sihi 2005)
Sometimes, though, we can forget that goal of travel. Our 12 day trek, with all
its suffering heat and dehydration, ended when we stepped off the trail and onto an
ordinary road. One of the trekkers remarked about how anti-climactic this seemed--
after all of our efforts and expectations, we unceremoniously ended up nowhere
special. I could sense the disappointment in her voice.
And I could understand that feeling. Why did we bother traveling if we
weren't going to end up somewhere important? Proust came to the rescue.
“Riswana,” I said in a hopelessly didactic tone, “the fact that we ended up
somewhere so unspectacular only underscores the importance of the real trek: the
(Pic Credit: Sihi 2005)
And as ridiculously cheesy as it sounded (it only sounds more so as I type it
out... shudder!) I knew I was right. The value of travel is not in the landscapes you
visit, but how those landscapes change your sense of identity. We could have stayed
home to read a John Krakauer novel. But instead, we trekked the peaks ourselves,
and in doing so, found new eyes to see.
Of course, being able to get 20 cent mango lassis and 3 cent samosas is a
pretty good reason to travel, too!
More on sihi 2005-
Ed: lassi is a popular drink made from curd and sometimes other items like mangoes; Samosas- a flour triangle filled with potato mix and deep fried.