Food for Thought - Travel and Conscience!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Often I wonder, but today after reading this post by Mitchell on tourism, I felt like voicing few of my thoughts on this matter.  One of my very first encounters with concerns of daily livelihood was outside the Railway Station of Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh. The station was good 4 kms away from the town and we were looking for transport to reach Jagdalpur. An old man with more wrinkles on his face than his age, shiny eyes and a wishful demeanor approached us asking if we would like to take a ride in his man-pulled rickshaw. He said the charge was 10 Rs. 

I was wondering, in this hot summer heat of Jagdalpur, this old man would drag his rickshaw to earn a few pennies. While we as tourists/ travelers revel in the fact that we visited some rare remote places, how does it really look to an unbiased observer? Don’t I risk looking like a psycho taking pleasure in witnessing the remoteness and unbelievably low or non-existent living conditions? 

Travel, while being an eye-opener to some of the most amazing landscapes, it also opens our eyes to some of the harsh realities of life. While one can always choose to ignore the hard hitting facts, sometimes it just cannot be ignored. For instance, while I was traveling close to Indo-Sino border in Ladakh, we drove past a small village of not more than 10 houses set in another world or so it seemed due to its relative isolation and distance from anything that can be remotely called as civilization. Smack dab in the middle of nowhere live few families doing what for their livelihood, I don’t know. It is at times like this I feel a pinch on my conscience. 

Earlier this year, I was at a small village where a school was being built 10kms away from the main settlement. The village was on a cliff edge and the school was being built somewhere way down by the river side and it would suffice to say the walk to school would be an equivalent of a day hike. Far in the remote valley of Suru, Ladakh, a kid was asking me a pen and looked at it with such wonderment; it seemed like even a pen was a rare commodity. Let alone quality education then! Such are the living conditions in mountains and probably worse elsewhere in India. Living with fear or probably living without fear has become a way of life for people in Chhattisgarh and Kashmir as I saw.

I have chosen to be a silent observer so far but the thought surfaces every now and then. 
Could I have done something?  

Seeing the strange desolateness of remote villages perched on plateaus amidst formidable mountains, I wish for them to be just as remote as they are now. I wish for them to preserve their culture however good or bad it is. I seek to see no winds of change here and how insanely selfish is that? Sometimes I do wonder, writing about unknown places will help bring in more tourist traffic thereby generating more revenue and job opportunities finally improving the standard of living. But all of this is a hopeful thought. Who knows how the development will affect the place and if the changes are conducive to preserving the culture and ecology? 

And who is to decide what is good and what is bad development?
To the one who is reading this, it might seem like the post and thought are disjointed and I am just jotting down writings from stream of consciousness. Maybe it is. 

On an ending note, how does travel affect you and how do you cope with the realities of travel?

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13 comments

  1. wow!! something other than greatness of photography or trekking :P
    neways nice post.. you should now diversify into "travel for cause" :D

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  2. While I like the general thought flow, I have to say this. This "opening" of eyes needn't happen only when one travels. How often do we really look around our daily spaces, and try to soak in the everyday realities? We are an apathetic lot; as long as things work fine for us - personally, individually, do we really care?

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  3. heya, I like this post! Its really thoughtful. Even I sometimes think that when I go to remote places. I do like the remoteness, the beauty, the people, the culture yet at the same time feel really bad that these people work so hard for their livelihood! I truly understand your contradictory thoughts. I think it is the people who should ultimately decide what development they should see and not bureaucrats who are far away from the realities that these people face

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  4. ## ajitha - he he.. yea, that's what I thought.
    :P
    Maybe time for Voluntourism..

    ## Yamini - very true. Every once in a while when situations around me come to my notice, I feel bad but I do nothing. But for me, these problems become much more noticeable when I am traveling.. for I soak every detail when I traveling as opposed to being lost in my own world back here.

    ## Vinod - yea.. contradictory thoughts!

    ## aakanksha - Hey! Welcome to my blog. Exactly, that's what I am talking about!

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  5. Hi Neelima! Wonderful post!! Happy Deepawali!!

    After four posts, Blogtrotter Two is leaving Algiers 2009 and missing your comments... ;-( Enjoy and have a great weekend!

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  6. good one!! i so agree with you... and am full of disjointed thoughts too.. which is always the way when i face these issues... cant help thinking about development and maintaining our rural heritage at the same time...

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    Replies
    1. I hope there was some way for the thoughts to be put in action!

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  7. Hi Neelima,
    Your encounter with the old man in Jagdalpur reminded me of an incident that has stayed with me for some years now. The marketplace in Moradabad can only be accessed on foot or by cycle-rickshaw. A resident of the town took me there, and to enter the market, started haggling with a couple of rickshaw pullers over a sum of 5 rupees! And this, when our shopping bill exceeded Rs 5000/-. I still can't forget the look on the face of the young rickshaw puller - so angry and helpless...
    Another time, an old boatman at Nalasarovar near Ahmedabad, beamed with such evanescent happiness when my friends and I gave him a generous tip - I have yet to see such a big smile on anyone's face :)
    You are right - sometimes, certain unremarkable incidents that occur during travel stay in one's mind far more than stuff that takes place on a day-to-day basis...

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    Replies
    1. I know! Exactly what I am talking about. It almost feels a sin to even travel to such places spending so much money. :(

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  8. I will try to put in my two cents..I have traveled mostly in the mountains and every time i see porters carrying the heavy loads on their backs for facilitating our treks and mountain climbing expeditions,the thought that i will go back,boast about my mountain experience and how tough and mind blowing it was,makes me uncomfortable..On the other hand,I see that these same porters and sherpas,who are themselves illiterate,are happily sending their kids to schools precisely because they can earn more thanks to the increased tourist and trekking activities..their kids or may be the next generation will not have to lift loads to earn their meals..there are many prominent mountaineers,who ,after decades of passionate mountain climbing,have adopted some mountain villages,opened schools and in general tried to or hv been trying to improve the living conditions of the people living there..I guess,the only way to kill our dilemma is to actually do something about it,the way we want to.For a mountain climber,it cud be mountain villages.May be a photographer can raise money by selling exotic photographs ,a writer can create more awareness by writing about what he/she feels and sees,a CEO can hire experts and sponsor some programs .. something like that.I am sure everybody can find his/her own way of helping make things better.

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    Replies
    1. I agree with you Neha, but it would've been lovely if I could act! That's the point, if only I could do something about it. Let's hope someday in future I can help the cause.
      Till then all I can do is rant. :)

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  9. as a friend of mine had pointed out to me,we all go through these thoughts and sentiments and then simply move on;without attempting to do anything or postponing it for some future date.I guess thats true.

    and i think i have been ranting too much.
    Thanks!

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