I often wonder what is it that creates our memories of a place – people or the place itself? Much as we would want to describe, the dynamics of a geographical location is difficult to explain. It can mean differently to different people.
In the course of my getaways, I came back with stories and mostly they have been about people and how they added to the experience of a place.
For the sake of all the wonderful times, I choose to ignore the bad ones. Try hard enough to avoid; still, there would always be that co-passenger who’s loud over the phone, a driver who takes you off route or overcharges, a wannabe guide who keeps misleading throughout for the sake of earning a few bucks or your hotel staff not being helpful. The list can go on. My personal worst in recent times being the one where the driver literally dumped us midway due to a taxi strike and eventually, four of us negotiated with them for hours and ultimately paid more than double the price to reach a safer location. At the end, tired and irate but still not deterred from my love for Uttarakhand.
The real memories are numerous and each engraved distinctively. Our auto driver in Amritsar drove us throughout the day with patience and volunteered to drop at the station without any extra charge. A Jodhpur cafe owner let us spend an entire afternoon at his cafe (coffee with an additional homemade cake and board games). While one sweet old lady in Kalimpong readily agreed to cook for a nominal price; another in Dalhousie invited me for lunch. For a mere one night stay, I haven’t experienced guest engagement anywhere as in Ranthambore which later extended to almost two days.
These might not have been life changing moments; however, every small gesture of hospitality and warmth bestowed upon by strangers in a new place is one of the best parts of travelling – be it for a day or ages.
While locals represent the heart and soul of a place; the people we meet throughout inspire us in many ways too. An adventure group in Almora invited us for sightseeing with them for a day and introduced an unexplored territory. And as it turned out, I now have been on three trips with them. I have stayed awake playing with a group of youngsters till the wee hours or listening to someone’s travel tales and many more. My interaction with others made me admire and befriend some, while being equally receptive with any coming my way. It’s interesting how people introduce us to places we didn’t know exist. Sometimes, I try and imagine the alternate versions of how those dorm stays with strangers, treks, road trips, camps, bonfires and musical starry nights would have turned out without those people. I couldn’t; as it would change the entire narration and maybe, I don’t need another version.
Some paths are to be taken alone and some with people along for them to witness our journey. Life happens when the best of both worlds meet.
We as travellers impact a local’s idea about outsiders to a great extent and thus it becomes a mutual process. Maybe, to them, we represent a community of our own which is in thriving existence. Somewhere, it is our moral responsibility to make other’s experience equally pleasant – be it fellow travellers or residents.
If we are in someone else’s narration – it better be a happy one for them. I am learning, so are we all. I haven’t reached a conclusion to my initial question, no need to. My takeaway remains – set out without prejudices or preconceived notions for that is the beauty of the unknown.