Are you a traveller or are you a tourist? Do you like going to the places that are recommended or do you like going off the beaten path? Recently, I read From Heaven Lake, my first Vikram Seth, and I was fascinated. He travels into the remotest parts of China and speaks about the culture and his interaction with the local people, and it reminded me of the travellers of ancient times, who would venture out into the world. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy at having the freedom to go anywhere because even though a part of me wants to just ‘get up and go’, I can’t. I have responsibilities that I cannot shirk and a little person who looks to me for his daily needs. But if I could be an explorer, then I would certainly be in Tibet. When the world creeps into me, and like Godfather said, “pull me back in”, I yearn to run away and live in the mountains. There is something thoroughly enticing about living in the mountains like an ascetic, in some distant monastery on an overhanging cliff like in Tintin in Tibet. So, when Heinrich Harrier, played by Brad Pitt on screen finds himself in Tibet for seven long years, despite his hardship and all the cultural barriers he faces and all the troubles he goes through, the rawness of the adventure appeals to me. The harsh and barren landscape depicted in the movie Seven Years in Tibet (based on the eponymous book) is very different from the winter wonderland of Hergé’s Tibet. Nevertheless, the country tugs at my heartstrings. When I had sat down on the shores of Pangong Tso, I had felt a connection with my soul. I feel the same when I visualize Tibet in my mind. I wish to be where the sky is endless and the mountains stand tall, like guardians at the gates to another world.
Recently, I have come to realize that there is a word to describe this intense love I have for mountains. I am an orophile, a lover of mountains. So it will surprise very few who know me that it is a different world I was transported to, when I read The Immortals of Meluha. I suppose I have always been enthralled by the figure of the meditating Shiva. The all-knowing and yet apparently detached and oblivious to everything is the mental state that I aspire for. It is the perfect state of homeostasis. And this leads me to Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar. Travel these days has become terribly affordable and ‘easy’ with helicopter services to Mount Kailash but wouldn’t it be more exciting to hike it? The mind is the greatest wanderer of all and I constantly crave some stillness and something about vast open spaces, especially amidst high mountain ranges and alpine meadows “fill my heart with the sound of music”. I wish I could fly over the Alps like the first aerial shot in The Sound of Music and then swoop down like a great big bird on those lush green alpine meadows and sing like Julie Andrews till my heart would burst with joy. If the film adaptation of Lord of the Rings is a tourism advertisement for New Zealand, I would say that it was nothing compared to the Bollywood movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which blatantly does the same with Spain. I love both movies, by the way, but Peter Jackson used the landscape as a backdrop for a story that was based in fantasy and I would willingly suspend my disbelief and fall prey to the allure of the landscape. I feel no shame in it.
And why should I? Movies provide the visual means through which we can escape into another world and live vicariously through the struggles and triumphs of the protagonist. Travel for me, is also a means of escape. It is an escape from the mundane. It is an escape from the monotony of the everyday. But then a thought creeps into my mind. Would I have fuelled my wanderlust if my life would have been different? Or do I yearn for this limitless travel because I know I can’t? How would life be like if I could simply point to a place on the globe and gone there? The idea is fascinating, to say the least. The freedom to go anywhere and whenever I want is stuff that dreams are made of. And what about a teleporting device? I would just close my eyes and wish and I would be there in a blink or a flash. And what about those times when I so wish to be near a friend? I could just say, “Put the kettle on!” and before you knew it, I would be sipping tea and reliving fond memories with my loved one. And what about time travel? Wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to travel to the time of Marco Polo and travel the world with him or just travel to the time of the Incas and see them build the ancient city of Machu Pichhu? The options are endless if we can overcome the fundamental barriers of time and space. But I digress. Given my constraints, I instead, find solace in charting out routes for road trips or checking flights to different cities of the world, every few days. To slip into the possibility of the possible is something that keeps me going and the Before trilogy, the pack of three movies do just that. Before Sunrise begins the tale with two strangers who cross paths in the beautiful streets of Vienna and the viewer wants to believe that love is possible; that serendipity can play a role in finding the love of one’s life. And if it is Vienna, then surely, love is just around the corner.
But nothing compares to Paris in this regard. Most certainly, the city is not made of bricks and mortar but roses and chocolates. Like the two lovers in Before Sunset, who would not like to explore the streets of the city while talking about each other’s lives? Walking, I believe, is the best way to understand one’s immediate environment, be that a city or a countryside. No wonder the Romantic poets spent so much time walking in the Lake District. Nothing inspires more, or connects more, than the very physical act of putting one foot before the other. And Amélie shows us that Paris, like London and New York, is a city built for walking. She takes us through the sepia-coloured streets filled with accordion music while trying to create a quirky world filled with imagination, wonder, beauty, and happiness for others. You cannot escape falling in love with the two most extraordinary and unique characters in the movie – Amélie and Paris.
Where am I going, really? Nowhere, apparently, and yet, everywhere. I would like to walk in the Cornish moors of the Victoria Holt novels or escape into another time in Scotland with Claire and Jamie from the Outlander series. I would like to ride with Che Guevara on a motorcycle through the South American countries in Motorcycle Diaries. I would love to explore Egypt of the Wilbur Smith novels. There are myriad places that I would love to visit in this lifetime and the question as to where I am going is a deeply philosophical one which leaves me mostly baffled and more confused than ever. Instead I have attempted to skim the surface with some of the places that are close to my heart. My bucket list of places I want to visit before my life’s journey ends is a long one and this one blog post cannot do justice to all the places I want to go to. But let us not lose heart because like Lao Tzu, the great Chinese philosopher wisely said: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And I, intend to keep walking…