by Jyothi Murthy
This summer, we visited Sikkim. We had spent the past few months browsing the internet with a vengeance to find the right holiday destination. With a plethora of options, we had a mini war at home before the family – my husband, myself and the two kids – zeroed in on Sikkim. Next in line was to decide on the package. The sheer options made us go dizzy with confusion. Once we decided on the destination and package, the trip was booked online and we got all set to go.
But not before each one of us embarked on “know your destination” session on the internet.
It was perhaps just to satisfy our curiosity or “to be prepared,” but it was a competition of sorts at home to know more about the place we would visit. After all, you didn’t want to be the only dumb ass when everyone else knew everything about the destination. We checked on the history of the place, the sights to be covered, the best way to check out each sight so as to not “miss” anything out. Google maps became our best friend in our virtual tour.
We checked the best things to buy in Sikkim. Compared their rates online and made a mental list on what was cheaper to buy in Sikkim and what could be ordered online.
At last, the day arrived when we landed in Sikkim. It was déjà vu!
We knew the exact taxi fare from the bus station to the hotel. We knew everything about the monastery we were to visit, its history, its greatness and even the route around the monastery! The “view” points around the hills were all too familiar. We endorsed what the internet had presented to us.
There had been no necessity of pesky guides or locals fleecing us. It seemed well planned, safe and on the whole a well-prepared, organised trip where we were totally in control of the expenses, itinerary and the schedule.
We saw all the sights that were listed and clicked enough pics to fill up Facebook and Instagram. All nooks and corners listed on the internet had been ticked off. We shopped in the right places which had offered competitive rates. At the end of the picture-perfect holiday, sitting on the flight back to Bangalore, I ended up reminiscing about a similar summer trip undertaken by my parents and me to Kashmir three decades back…
In the summer of 1987, when Kashmir was still the Scotland of India, my parents had planned a trip to Kashmir. There had been no discussion on options for possible holiday destinations. After all, Kashmir was where every film had been shot, so it had to be Kashmir! As simple as that!
My dad contacted his colleague who had visited Kashmir, and everything Uncle told was carefully jotted down. After all, he was the only one in our circles who had visited Kashmir. It was a different story that Uncle had visited Kashmir ten years ago and did not remember much more than Dal Lake and Shikara Ride!
On the designated date, we piled on to the Karnataka Express which took us on a three-day journey through the length of India to Delhi. The language and the food changed every two hours and it was a treat just seeing the railway stations of all the places I had seen on the map so far. In the searing heat of Delhi, we changed our trains to go to Jammu and from there a beautiful twelve-hour journey through the Himalayas to Srinagar. The highlight of the twelve-hour trip was passing through the then longest tunnel – The Jawaharlal Tunnel.
We reached Srinagar, carefully checked out every single place told by Uncle and found a dozen other places to visit while talking to the locals. Uncle had recommended three places to visit and we ended up adding another ten to it! It was a discovery of sorts and we were proud to have covered so much in the Scotland of India.
At last, we finished our last shikara ride on Dal lake and started walking back to our hotel. But alas, as fate could have it, we lost our way in the labyrinths of Srinagar by-lanes. An argument ensued between my parents as to who took the wrong turn and misled the rest of us. My dad was fast losing the argument, so he decided to take the help of a local chai wallah. The charming chai wallah offered us piping hot tea to calm our frayed nerves, calmly told us the history of the by-lanes, Kashmir and what not. Invited us into his house so that we could see a proper Kashmiri home and gave us some homemade sweets. Only then did he draw the map to our hotel on a piece of paper. This map delightfully lead us through more by-lanes, filled with carpet shops, shawl shops, dry fruit shops and what not!
My mom and I went berserk at the sheer variety of goods displayed. We went on a mad shopping spree and bought shawls, carpet, dry fruits, etc. There was loud bargaining between my mother and the shopkeepers. Gifts were bought for relatives and friends on the spur. After all, mausi would like the cream shawl and how could you gift a cream shawl to bua ji too?! That would be scandalous. So off we went, looking for more options and bargains. She looked like Jhansi Ki Rani after each bargain and had long forgotten that we were lost.
I staged a mini dharna in front of a shop selling fur coats. Who would need a fur coat in Bangalore? Well, I needed it; after all, only then could I prove to my friends that I had visited Kashmir, right? There was no Facebook to inform them, you see. After we bought it , I wore it to school like a badge of honour even on hot summer days!
After shopping for hours, my dad stubbornly said he had finished all the cash in his pocket (cashless had not been dreamt about then) and we had to absolutely return to the hotel. Only then did we earnestly search our way to the hotel.
This chaotic, unplanned afternoon has been my most memorable part of the holiday. In between planned trips, booked hotels, Google maps and online shopping, did we miss out on the essence of visiting a new place and discovering its culture?
In our quest to be prepared, have we lost the child-like curiosity in new things? The internet has, no doubt, opened the horizons for travel, but somewhere I feel the good old days of visiting without “preparation” and with only half-informed parents for company were more exciting than going with teenagers who considered information on Google to be more important and authentic than local knowledge.
Maybe we should try visiting a place without using so much of the internet so we can actually savour a new place, discover and enjoy the diversity and vibrancy of a new place Enjoy the fun in asking “yeh rasta kahan jaata hai” to total strangers rather than opening up Google Maps at the first instance.
My next family trip will resolutely be using the internet only to book the essential travel related items and refrain from being “well-prepared”. Though it’s going to be a tough task to explain the fun to teenagers!