It was just another bright and sunny February morning in Havelock Island, India. And I was just another tourist, who had signed a statement that said I was medically fit to dive 12m underneath the Indian Ocean with a certified scuba professional, and was solely responsible for any impendent casualties! We were a group of six, out of which only two of us had any experience swimming in the ocean… Following a brief session on breathing underwater, handling our diving equipment and the basic scuba signs, our motorboat quickly approached the dive site. My companions and I soon quieted down. The glittering turquoise waters that we first set eyes on as we landed at the Port Blair airport, now surrounded us from all ends. It was beautiful and terrifying in equal measure…
In this blog post, I invite you to a deeply personal journey- discovering yourself through travel. With the second COVID wave upon us in India, I hope you all continue to remain safe at home- and instead, journey through a few of my ‘travel discoveries’, some of which I’m sure, we share in common!
1. Travel opens up your mind to an altogether new way of living.
When travelling, always make it a point to befriend locals and visit lesser known places. Travel forces you to lay aside all preconceived notions of how things are done and makes you question deep-seated convictions that are a part of your own culture and upbringing. I am especially intrigued by how much our food habits change every 100 kilometers in India.
Experience a place’s unique customs and rituals, and you will soon come to realize that in another part of the world not so far from you, communities have identified an altogether different way of life, that is perfectly harmonious and self-sufficient.
That being said, we are also motivated by very similar needs; our conversations though languages may differ, still revolve around the same essential things! During my visit to Manipur & Nagaland, I was especially touched by how warm and hospitable the locals were, though our language, food habits and lifestyle differed greatly. It was a running joke we had that as the temperature dropped, the people got warmer and the dogs, fluffier!
2. Take back memories for a lifetime, but leave as little of you behind as possible.
Now, a large part of travelling consciously is to ensure that we do not burden or disturb the equilibrium of another space. In our diving session at Havelock, we were specifically told not to touch the underwater coral reefs, so that they remained intact.
Havelock Island is known to be the least polluted diving site in India, and we knew to tread lightly.
“Live gently upon this Earth.”
3. I am insignificant, so are you.
How insignificant our lives and endless worries seem in the grander scheme of all Creation! I bet you have felt the same at some point in your travels, as you gazed up into the night sky lit with a hundred stars, or watched a wave crash onto shore, reemerging yet again, or witnessed how a sunray when passed through water droplets can put on one of nature’s best theatrical performances!
Let’s practice gratitude for all these little miracles and put away the worries of today. A lot of the time, our worries and anxieties have no actual bearing on our reality, and are simply undesirable guests that we host in our own heads.
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”
- Psalms 8: 3–4
4. Honey, I Shrunk the World!
We all have heard about how the Japanese are punctual, Indians are hardworking and Americans are loud! But, in an increasingly multicultural world, typical racial stereotyping such as these, is fast growing obsolete.
As opposed to the ‘melting pot’ of cultures, I prefer the ‘salad bowl’ effect where each culture brings its own unique flavoring to the dynamic. What practices can you learn from, what can you discard? What new worldview will you take back from your travels? When I visited London, I remember how everyone, regardless of class or gender, was extremely friendly and polite.
Also, being an Indian woman, I couldn’t help but notice how nobody so much as looked at me twice. Men, please take note!
5. Examining ‘His’ ‘story’.
Every time we travel to a place rich in history, we navigate the ‘story’ of the place. After all, ‘history’ is ‘his’ ‘story’; a story written down by someone who had the power and influence to shape his land’s narrative. All our cultural texts have been passed down to us by the ruling folk. The stories or ‘mini narratives’ of the subjugated class are merely a trickle in comparison to the neatly packaged ‘history’ we are handed down.
For every historic legacy or heroic exploit that is left behind, there is also a story that is left untold. We must explore the roots of manmade discord (religious/ political/ socio-cultural) that is implicit in our recent past and examine how we will do things differently today.
What narrative are we building for the future? Are all voices equally heard in our society today? What legacy are we leaving behind for future generations?
6. With a book and a bicycle, you are free.
In my previous blog on Thriving in 2021, I had written about how much I enjoy to read. Another pastime that I especially enjoy is cycling. During my trips to Pondicherry & Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu, India, my cycle came to be my trusty guide and companion.
Cycling has been scientifically proven to benefit your heart rate, muscle strength, flexibility and weight loss. It is one of the safest exercises recommended across age groups and is also a great stress reliever.
There’s something about cycling that has taught me to embrace the pause, welcome uncertainty and focus some more on the world running by me and all its little miracles. For instance, have you noticed how there is no direct correlation to how much you pedal and how far you get after a certain point? Just how running inside a moving train will get you no faster to your destination…
That’s the same with life too, don’t you think? Let’s focus some more on the journey, who knows what the destination holds!
7. It’s not about the journey as much as your travel mate.
I know- I just said that the journey is more important than the destination. What’s even more important than the journey though, is who you journey with!
Now, travel of any kind is fraught with some level of risk. You could get lost in an unknown place, you may not get a ride back, you may fall sick, plans may fall through at the last minute… You and your travel mate must manage such conflict well. Otherwise, the most spectacular of destinations may fail to excite you.
Getting lost makes for a great story, but only if you have the right travel mate with you!
8. No Place Like Home.
Everybody wants to belong somewhere, wants to be needed, and I think there’s no better definition of ‘home’ than that! Over the past year, ‘home’ has become a lot more important, with many of us stranded, unable to make it back to our loved ones due to the COVID lockdowns, flight cancellations and other such restrictions.
While 2019 may have been a year full of travel plans, 2020 was spent planning the passage back home!
Nothing beats the comfort of getting back to family, where you are fully yourself, surrounded by those who have your best interests at heart. In these uncertain times, let’s make an effort to do everything within our abilities to keep our loved ones safe, happy and protected.
Let me circle back to our little diving expedition. Suffice it to say that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that was made all the more memorable by an excellent scuba guide who helped me conquer my (unfounded) fears of the deep ocean. We were literally toppled underwater; the weight of the scuba cylinder that was unbearable above sea level, became insignificant once we were underneath. We instinctively knew how to wade in deeper with our swim fins; the turquoise waters slowly darkened into a deeper blue with every step away from sunlight.
What is on the other end of your fears? Do you trust yourself to open that door?
We saw plenty of interesting organisms underwater- fish that disguised themselves as plants, bioluminescent plankton, plants with intricate trapping mechanisms to keep away odd organisms like you and me, several coral reefs and colorful fishes. It was intriguing how a whole new ecosystem thrived just below sea level; we felt a deep sense of interconnectedness with these beings, most of which we couldn’t even identify. None of us were prepared to return anytime soon and we kept insisting our guides to take us deeper down.
Like all good things however, the expedition came to an end. We spent a while swimming at sea level, and decided we would be back again to share this experience with more friends and family!
Sometimes, the trips we make to far corners of the world, bring us closer to who we are. And meeting with people of different cultures, religions, languages and lifestyles teaches us that we have more in common than we are made to believe!
Know that no sadness or joy is permanent; every moment is to be cherished for what it is, no matter what the next moment holds. Every single setback can be overcome with the right people by your side. These are desperate times we live in; so many of our friends and family need support, medical attention and care. And if there is one thing history has taught us, it is that mankind is resilient and has been through worse times of plague and war. We will get past this too. I have made quite a departure from my ‘travel blog’ here, but let me leave you with a concept I recently discovered the meaning of-
“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
- Nassim Taleb
If you are interested to learn more about ‘antifragility’, you will find this blog on the topic useful.
In my next blog, I want to take you with me on a culinary route. Now that travel is next to impossible, let us bring the world home with what we love the most- food! Be sure to follow me for all the latest updates on my blog, and do leave a comment!