Note: This is a highly biased piece of writing. All views expressed are my own and I get to moderate the comments!
I know the Indian government has invested huge sums of money into the Incredible India Campaign to encourage tourism in various parts of the country and I also know that tourism forms a sizable part of almost every big and small economy across the world. Yet, I have a deep seated discontent for tourists. Having lived the first 18 years of my life on a hill station and a noticeably favoured tourist spot, I have seen the dark underbelly of tourism and have hated tourists from the time I looked up the word in a dictionary after reading it on a Taxi renting place near my house.
For those who know me/ follow my blog will be surprised; for I have been an avid traveller for as long as I can remember. But I would like to clearly point out here; there is a world of difference between a tourist and a traveller.
Here are a few hallmarks of a Tourist:
- They are loud! They are noisy! Irrespective of where they go, they DO NOT believe in staying quiet! They just HAVE TO keep talking, yapping and jabbering about almost anything and everything. And almost always the ‘anything and everything’ is not related to the place where they are.
- They are check-list people. These guys have a check-list of tourist spots. Their aim is to touch each place, click a few pics of themselves with the said attraction in the background and move on to the next spot. They don’t actually care about the significance of the place and don’t even believe in absorbing the essence of the place. Historical places have an aura of time; naturally beautiful places have a sense of mystique all of which evade their blunt, careless senses. And they don’t feel like they’ve missed anything as long as they have a picture to prove that they were there.
- They’re unadventurous. They won’t go to places that are not mentioned on the ‘must visit’ section of the tourist brochures. They believe that those places are neither worth their time nor worth boasting about the trip to people back home. Basically, they don’t think anything other than the ‘tourist must visits’ are good enough to serve as a background for their pictures.
- They are Photoholics. They are uncontrollably obsessed with their cameras and are incurable posers. No seriously! I mean how many poses can you hold? They refuse to believe that no matter how many times they say ‘cheese’ and stand with their arms around each other they will still look just the same. Rarely do they notice some beautiful butterfly, or a uniquely coloured rock or something enchanting in their self obsessed photography.
- They’re gadget addicts. I am not referring to people’s love for gadgets; I’m talking about their dependency on them. They will not switch off their phones, they will not keep away their iPods and don’t even get me started about the cameras. It is like they need these to reassure themselves about their existence; never realizing that when they walk through a national park with their life support systems plugged into their ears, they just exist, not Live.
- They suffer from selective amnesia. A few months down, the most they’ll remember is the name of the hotel but they’ll need prodding to remember the names of the places, people (if they bothered to mingle with any) or anything else that they didn’t pay a huge sum of money for.
- They are remembered for all the wrong reasons. They become a faded part of the memory of locals as yet another family/group who noisily visited the ‘spots’, sprinkled them with a few empty chips packets and headed back home.
And these are exactly the things that differentiate a traveller from a tourist. A traveller will be something like this:
- They are peaceful. They are people who know when to talk, even yell out loud; but they also know when to keep quiet. They know the importance of the sound of silence. Often during a trip, when they talk, it is not too much about the next episode of some series or some crap like that.
- They Experience. These people believe in experiencing every place they go to. They touch the stone walls of the ancient caves, breathe in the ‘time’ in that space. They close their eyes and allow nature to permeate their senses when on a forest walk. When they go to a place, they breathe it in and allow the place to settle in the very core of their being.
- They’re adventurous. They often opt for the path less taken. And as Robert Frost would say, that is what makes the difference. They don’t mind treading the rocky road to places rarely seen. They don’t need to boast of their trips; they’re content with the knowledge of having been there.
- They are Photographers. Once they’ve spent time in the place, they take a part of the places with them as photographs. Not with the place as the background but as the prime subject of the images. They take those pictures so that they may see them later and remind themselves of how it felt in that moment; not to show off.
- They can and do switch off. They know when to switch off the gadgets and take on life unaided. They know that often, there is better music on the wind than the iPod. Sometimes, the eyes take better pictures and videos than any camera can take.
- They remember the details. For years after their journeys, they remember the details of their trip. Even things like names of monasteries, names of the people they interacted with or stayed with.
- They make memories. No matter where they go, they leave behind memories. They make an impression on local people of being something more than just tourists visiting the hill top. They become names and even friends rather than just blurry faces passing by in the season. They are memorable people who will always be welcomed back with open arms to the places they’ve visited.
I may sound very sceptical about tourists and very ‘holier-than-thou’ about travellers and I may even be wrong about some of these things. There may be tourists who’re different and there may be travellers who may not fit into the points here. But then again, don’t we all describe life the way we’ve experienced it? And thus far, I haven’t had any great experiences of tourists and have travelled with travellers who give me reason to believe that one is much better off being a travelling hobo than a touring millionaire. At least the hobo is Alive where the millionaire merely exists…..