Travel to Unravel

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine.
Dr. Mazda Turel tells you how deeply he believes in this adage.

A wise man once told his disciple, “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.” Luckily, his devotee wasn’t someone who used the daily local train to commute from Virar to Churchgate or he would have given the big guy a piece of his mind. The saint was obviously trying to instil in his followers that to travel is to awaken. For many people, including myself, there is no greater form of enlightenment.


As I recollect, my travels began with summer camps and monsoon treks when I was a boy scout. Prior to that, my parents claim to have schooled me in Germany but I have no memory of that; the only thing I seem to have picked up in German were swear words — a trait so artistically weaved into the gene pool of our community.


My earliest memories were of pitching tents in Dahanu, Boisar and Deolali as a 10-year-old. We cooked food on burnt bricks (which, in turn, burnt the food), tied knots that always slipped, bathed under hosepipes, and sang campfire songs over hot chocolate. As we got a little older, we went rock climbing, rappelled down steep cliffs, and felt the thrill of adventure away from the city as the wind blew in our faces several thousand feet above the sea. Thank God there was no Internet then to while away your Sunday with! There was also no pressure to update our Facebook status or tweet what we were eating for breakfast; something that seems to annoyingly occupy everyone’s every moment.


As medical students, we went into the villages of India running camps for polio vaccination. No matter where we travelled, there was always something wonderfully new to be discovered. Our Ministry of Tourism has pathetically attempted to glamorise life in our villages; a brutal, tear-jerking combination of abject poverty and orphaned smiling faces. But it is only once you’ve shared their meals, played their games and run their errands that you realise how blessed you are. Life actually begins at the end of your comfort zone.


In search of a Neurosurgery training programme, I travelled the whole of South India alone by bus, train and houseboat. I made that trip after having gallivanted all over the United States with one backpack and a friend, while in Medical School. I like to call that transition ‘From Vegas to Vellore’ — a time when my brain altered between being my favourite to my second-favourite organ.


South India has a lovely warmth about it. Some call it the heat. It is not without reason that the lungi is the regional outfit! When you travel alone, you talk to random people, make friends for life, and have the freedom to choose your path. There’s no one who grumbles with you when you’re lost — and it is in this middle of nowhere that you really begin to find yourself. You learn to take quick decisions, trust your instincts, and imbibe the spirit of the place.


I was recently on holiday in Switzerland and not for one moment did I feel that I had left my soil — not because they have now started cleaning up some parts of India but because the only people I saw in the Swiss Alps were Indians! Even the Swiss cows have begun to look like ours; lean and off-white. I’m told this is all the late Yash Chopra’s doing. At the bottom of Mount Titlis, where people rest before they ascend, there is a stall selling samosas, idlis, dhoklas, pav bhaji and masala chai. It’s one of the most crowded eateries at base camp, and guess who runs it? Not just an Indian, but a Parsi! I was suddenly filled with pride when I bit into their vada pao, but some heartache soon followed after I coughed up 5 Euros for it.


And how could I tell that the Ice Palace on the top of highest peak in Europe has been visited by some of our Indian compatriots? Watch out for the paan stains that have beautifully embellished some of the ice sculptures.


While I am on my fellow Indians, my Gujarati and Marwadi friends have completely revolutionised foreign travel. Not only do they pack theplas and chevda to ‘snake’ on, but they have discovered ways to carry homemade food in dehydrated packets to reduce its weight by 80%. All they need to do is add water to it when they want to gobble it up. Sheer genius!


For me, the greatest pleasure while travelling is derived by talking to the people I meet. I listen to their stories and ask them questions, no matter how inane. I want to eat their food, drink their wine, learn their language, take pictures and document my experiences. I would urge anyone who travels not to be a tourist but to be a traveller. And it is when you really travel that you realise, in all this diversity of caste, culture and tradition, the bond of family, the emotion of love, and the nature of friendship are universal constants.


The perfect time to start something never arrives until you actually take the first step. So, pick up a bag today. Travel to unravel. It’ll first leave you speechless and then make you a storyteller for life.


But here’s the contradiction. While we are constantly seeking pleasures in worlds outside and away from us, we need to build our own bliss within us. As the great artist Andy Warhol once said, “You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.” So, instead of wondering where your next vacation is going to be, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.