I don’t know how many of you remember those yellow boxes in our NCERT books. Yellow boxes perched in corner of the pages of our social science text books. Yellow boxes that housed interesting trivia revolving around the subject body of a chapter. Yellow boxes that every teacher emphasized on reading because they made a good opportunity for High Order Thinking Skills question.
I enjoyed reading them because often they were real life insights on topics like colonization, universal suffrage movement and industrialization; sometimes in symphony with the text and sometimes in conflict. Like there was a woman’s speech about right to vote highlighting that when we talk about suffrage it is only for half the human population that is men. There was a letter from a Marathi woman to Mahatama Gandhi explaining that she wants to endorse the Swadesi movement but culture calls for her to wear a sari that measures 9 yards and she does not have the resources to afford 9 yards of Khadi. There was a story in chapter on industrialization of Mumbai and London where the gods come to visit Mumbai and Lord Vishnu ends up being dwindled by a shoe seller. In the same chapter, a yellow box talked about the planned beautification of Paris. It included a remark from a poet that the city looks like ‘a tree, a bench, a kiosk, a tree, a bench, a kiosk and so on’. This line has stayed with me through the years.
I have been in Bangalore for 7 months now. My typical Wednesday looks like googling for a weekend getaway, the modes of reaching that place, the options on the accommodation, the popular haunts, activities in that area and at least one blog documenting the comprehensive travel experience. The catch here is that I don’t go to any of these places. Sometimes I am lazy, sometimes I am confused, sometimes I am scared, sometimes I have another plan and mostly I am not able to understand what I am looking for in terms of travel. But the first weekend of June was an exception because I went to Coorg.
Out of all the weekend getaways from Bangalore, Coorg is the most accessible in terms of the number of night buses that ply to and fro from Coorg and the distance. I was torn between Ooty and Coorg. However, that week I had two people tell me that Coorg is extremely beautiful and I read an article which called Coorg the Scotland of India. So I decided that I will go to Coorg. Amidst the boarding point shifting to 20 kms away, cancellation of my homestay booking, contracting a very inconvenient common cold and a couple of panic attacks later, I reached Coorg at 4:30 am.
With no bed in the foreseeable future, a head riddled with Cetrizine and surrounded by a ubiquitous smell of cinnamon, I settled down on a bench and started making an itinerary in my head. I decided to walk towards Raja’s seat to catch the sunrise which was still an hour away. From where I was standing, the road turned into three different ways ahead. I followed the one that seemed closest to the directions on Google Maps. I continued on the circular path, reaching a point that offered a peripheral view of Madikeri. Behind me was the Madikeri fort and whether or not this was Raja’s seat remained open to debate because the navigation stopped working.
From the make believe Raja’s seat I walked in one of the other two directions. I walked and saw hills and houses, I walked and saw trees and arched ways, I walked and saw temples and churches, I walked and saw ‘Scotland of India’ before me. I looked at the view and remembered the hills I have been to and the landscapes that we find in our drawing books. I walked up to a modest looking eatery cum grocery store and helped myself to filter coffee. It was a small shop housed next to Ganesh Coffee House near the bus stand. It was a good cup of coffee, neither too strong nor too sweet, just the right proportion of everything. The vanilla sponge cake, which I tried later in the day, made for a good accompaniment to the coffee. I paid for the coffee and headed to the Omkareshwara temple.
The Omkareshwara Temple is situated in the centre of a water tank. It was built by a king who could not sleep peacefully after having killed a Brahmin. He was advised by his religious counsel to build a Shiva temple. So the king built the Omkareshwara temple. Barring a woman who was there for her morning walk I could not find anybody else. I wandered there for a little while, offered a small prayer and then found myself a deserted spot uphill that overlooked the hills and the temple.
I stood there and thought about a number of things. I thought about that line on renovation of Paris. That line holds good for the Coorg that you see in pictures. We may not rework the places that we visit but we do recondition them in our pictures. In our pictures, we take the good bits of a place, the good trees, the good hills, the good roads and the good houses. But from where I stood, the air had a waft of cinnamon and a faint hint of dampness, the paints on the houses peeled because of the rain, the roads were muddy and there were open sewer lines. All of which evidence the existence of a community there, all of which form part of the narrative of Coorg. Then why do we use our fancy filters and tweak our pictures? Then why do we omit the less picturesque facets from our travel chronicles? Then why are we so obsessed with our travel destinations conforming to a certain standard of scenic beauty?
Standing there what I understood was that you never see what a place is in entirety until you visit it. No website, no travelogue can promise you the perfect landscape and the perfect vacation. It’s mostly individual. It’s mostly trial and error. That’s why I would like to travel again, for that little thrill of discovery, for that chance of stumbling upon what remains unspoken.
So that was my travel epiphany. What about you? What have you learnt from travelling so far?