Being a traveler or a tourist?

1 Little Revolution
5 min readJun 27, 2019

My maternal uncle came to Delhi last year. They were on a budget and wanted to see all that was to see in Delhi. Most Bengalis from smaller towns are challenged when it comes to the Hindi language, therefore they need a tour guide from the family to tow them around the city, naturally, I was chosen, and I had to follow orders. Thus started the great Bengali touring ride! First stop Lal Quila, my cousin and her dad (my uncle-will call him mama) swiftly moved through the museums like Harry Potter on a broom. My aunt (called as mami) had the patience to read through the descriptions which made my heart melt a little. Mama having done his job, sat on one of the chairs waiting for us to finish ours. Soon all of us were quite done, so we went to refill our stomachs. Post Lal Quila, we visited Lotus Temple, Jantar Mantar, the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, the Church in Connaught place (name) and ended the tour at Akshardham.

Serving as a tour guide my sole purpose was to book the Ola or Uber and take them from point A to B. I was never asked about the history of the place or any ‘why’ or ‘how’ questions. We rushed like Dhoni rushes between wickets when he needs to pull India from the depths of defeat. Having checked most boxes, I heard him saying “Na beshi kichu dekha hoe ni, ek 2 ekta dekhei chole eshechi.” (No, we couldn’t see a lot of places; just saw a couple that’s all.”

If my therapist were to ask me after the tour, ‘What was your feeling at that point of time?’ I would have said, with my teeth gnashing, ‘ANNOYED! & IRRITATED!’ If I am to look deeper into my feelings then, I would say I felt these emotions for two reasons, one for not being thanked (or paid) as their tour guide and second for them waltzing through these beautiful monuments without wanting to know what they stand for!

Over and over, I have seen my relatives and other tourists insisting on roaming through a lot of places. They are also adamant that they need their ‘maach bhaat’ and some ‘poshto boda’. For that matter, a woman I met during my stay in Tabo (again a Bengali!), who has apparently trekked through all of east, west, north and south of India, kept whining about ‘atop’ and ‘shedo chaal’ (boiled rice).

Copyright: archanaskitchen.com

I must confess, my knowledge of these historical places is quite shallow or at least having the brain that I do, even after reading every epitaph, every description with peace and patience I can’t remember the details of its history. There is evidently a fault in my approach too. That is because history demands to be heard and repeatedly so.

Say, for example, on a beautiful Sunday evening, when the family has gathered over a cup of tea and your mom or dad, begin to tell a tale. They have only uttered the first word, and you have already understood where this is going. You know the story, you know the emotion with which each of those words will be told, where the voice would go up and where it will slow down. Interestingly, you also know your response, the very response that your brain has now trained itself to give whenever the story is narrated.

The good thing about the knowing the history of these monuments, visiting a new place and understanding its culture is that you can (mostly) choose to do this at your own pace and not be bound by someone’s nostalgic impulses. The monuments, shops, monasteries, temples, war memorials are all waiting for you to come when you want to and be with them as long as you wish (or mostly 5 o’clock).

In a particular visit to Baghela in Rewa, a writing on the wall said something in the lines of ‘history took time in making, so we should give time to understand it.’ In the same visit, I saw two school teachers struggling with
50–60 odd 4th or 5th class students, trying to keep them quiet and in line while giving them a tour of history. I must confess, I went raging at the poor teacher for molesting the sanctity of the place and the historical experience for the children. The issue in this excursion tours is that it takes away the experiential aspect of learning that the children can begin to develop, therefore ruining chances of them revisiting these places on their own as adults.

Baghela Museum, Rewa.

What we need right now is to introduce a process in education that focuses on developing an aesthetic sense in learners by helping them ask curious questions, observe, be mindful of the space they are in and allow the experience of visiting space to change them. These experiences also need to be repeated at regular intervals from time to time to create and sustain the experience and grow their knowledge organically and holistically.

For adults, one of the ways of introducing a holistic experience of visiting a place can be developed by introducing guides who also have an eye and ear for these experiences. Courses for college graduates can be developed, who can then take jobs as guides, which will not only help the new visitor but also help the economic growth of these fresh graduates.

These interventions are in need because we have now become the selfie-taking, chips eating and littering tourists, who cannot connect with these beautiful historical places and the local culture. The loss is immeasurable because even though the country is benefitting from people roaming about from one landmark to another, the lack of empathy for its locales, and lack of interest for the local culture, language, food is leaving the tourist empty and the locations dirty and polluted.

They say that travel changes us. It surely does, when we let it change us. The change only happens when we allow ourselves to receive the places, the scenery, the people, the culture, the language, the food, the etiquette and mannerisms and many more things to do its magic. O

On my way to Tabo, a fellow passenger named Akash said something wonderful. He said, ‘most of us are tourists and not travellers’. These two words spoke to me and told me of the vast differences they hold between them.

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1 Little Revolution

This is an attempt to understand the various ways the threads of life touch us & we as humans touch it back.