Thursday, July 19, 2018
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Slow & steady on travel trail

Travelling is no longer about hurrying through a trip just to get photographed at touristy spots. It is about experiencing the quintessential aspects of a place14 Jul 2018 | 12:40 AM

When Nandini Sharma from Agra set off for Dharamsala with her two friends, she had one condition — she wouldn’t be asked any questions whenever she wanted to be alone.

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Purnima Sharma

When Nandini Sharma from Agra set off for Dharamsala with her two friends, she had one condition — she wouldn’t be asked any questions whenever she wanted to be alone. “My friends’ plan included a trek to Triund, among other ‘must-dos,’ whereas I wanted to just put my feet up and listen to soft music and admire the peaks of Dhauladhar,” says the healthcare professional. And sure enough, while her friends were sweating it out, the 30-year-old was enjoying her “own communion with nature”.

Late afternoons she would walk towards McLeodganj, often stopping for a chat with the locals. “It was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed — travelling at my own pace,” she adds. Having long done the traditional kind of vacationing, rushing from one place to another, Sharma is among the fast-growing tribe of travel enthusiasts who are now relishing the joys of slow travel.

“Only people who are really passionate about travel love to take it slow,” adds Delhi-based Naveen Talwar, who has just returned from a week-long trip to Moscow “savouring the city, enjoying its myriad flavours”. Of course, together with a group of friends, he did pack in some FIFA games, too.

“Other than sitting in the stadium, enjoying those 90 minutes of action-packed soccer, the rest of the time we were just walking around, getting a feel of the city — there was no need for any hurry, no tour guide cracking the whip because other places had to be ticked off the itinerary,” laughs the orthopaedic surgeon reminiscing about his evening strolls around the city. “It was fun meeting the locals, especially youngsters who hoped that we had a Bollywood connection. Old timers were thrilled to hear we were from the land of Raj Kapoor.”

Needless to say, Moscow was the only city figuring on his itinerary. “My friends felt it was crazy not to zip down to St Petersburg or Vladivostok — places we’d read so much about — but that was not the idea,” says the doctor, who wanted to get back to work relaxed and rejuvenated, and not “more exhausted than we were before we left”.

Having done his share of trips that leave you with a “tourist burnout”, he smiles talking about a friend who went on a cruise that ostensibly covered some major destinations like China and Vietnam. “The stopovers at the ports lasted just a few hours — it was more like a trailer. No wonder, she intends going back to Hanoi for a bigger picture — with a longer and more relaxed stay.”

So, what exactly is slow travel? We’ve heard about slow food — a movement that started off as a reaction to fast food, aiming to preserve the traditional styles and flavours of local cuisine. And then came the slow movement that focused on the need to slow down to savour the myriad joys of life. Part of this movement is slow travel that is not only about travelling from one place to another but also about immersing yourself in a place and develop a deep connect with it.

The words of German poet and novelist Hermann Hesse ring true, “The high value put upon every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most important objective of living, is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy”. Applied to travel, it is this ‘hurry-hurry’ that makes you rush through that the believers of the slow-travel movement take umbrage at. Says Talwar, “Every evening, we’d hang out near the Red Square in Moscow, the hub of activity. We made many friends. Walking around, we got a chance to try out amazing, authentic food at places where tourist guides would normally not take you.”

Travel enthusiast from Delhi Pallavi Pasricha says, “I was in New York for more than a month because I wanted to just feel the place I’d heard so much about.” Pallavi spent her days not just covering the usual sights but also taking in the sounds “by sitting on sidewalks or roadside cafes talking to people or just watching the world go by.”

Pasricha recently spent several weeks in Punjab. She says, “The best part of this unhurried trip was meeting strangers who later became good friends”. It all started when she posted a picture of a sunset from a gurdwara on social media, and someone, who was following her, suggested that since she was in his city, he and his wife could show her around. Pasricha consequently got to see and eat at places that only a local would know of. “I had an incredible time meeting many wonderful people,” she smiles and mentions her friend’s 20-day recent trip to Europe. “I wonder how can you see a whole continent in 20 days? I’d be happy to spend these many days at one place — just sitting there, talking to people, getting to know more about them — in short, travelling without an itinerary.”

Life in cities has forced us to speed up. We’re under constant strain to cram more into each day. “It’s high time we react against this cult of speed,” says town planner from Gurugram Ruchi Marwaha. “And no, these shouldn’t be holidays that just leave you craving for another two days to recoup once you get back,” she laughs, remembering her trip to Hong Kong that left her entire family, “feeling totally drained out”. Now, both she and her architect husband, Shiv, ensure that they don’t go rushing through places but just focus on the experiences they gather at one place.

“That’s how you enjoy and develop an association with it,” says Marwaha, whose recent trip to Sri Lanka was designed to let her whole family slip naturally into a relaxed, languorous pace. “One of our favourite memories is that of spending time with a local boy who showed us how he caught fish from areas close to the shore,” smiles Marwaha. She adds, “I was a geography student but I learnt so much about the habits of not just the people there but also of freshwater fish from that informal interaction”. So, for those who haven’t, it’s time to shift gears into the slow lane and see the world with a more relaxed frame of mind!

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