It’s not particularly a happy memory, the first time I lost my camera. A decade ago, I travelled to Manali for the first time with friends. On my way to Delhi’s famous Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT), Kashmere Gate I lost my 3-day old camera. The next 12 hours to Manali were torturous and I wept soullessly. While our stay in Manali was only 3 or 4 days short, I remember very few moments from it. In retrospection, I feel like it was a vacation I took to get over a heartbreak. Nothing impressed me about the beautiful hill station of Himachal Pradesh and all I wanted to do was sleep.
There are many theories related to travelling. Some of them being that it sets us free, that it broadens our horizon, that it makes us aware of other cultures and even that it makes us better and happier people. Honestly, I have met people who have travelled across the world and have none of these qualities or embodied any of these theories. Because truth is that travelling does none of this. It solely lies in the nature of the traveller.
In my first visit to Manali, I was so consumed by my loss that I didn’t comprehend a simple fact of life that ‘I will never be here again.’ Likewise, I have met so many travellers who travel to destinations and take back absolutely nothing from the experience or worse, come back with petty complaints and negative feedback. I will not delve into the popular tourist vs. traveller argument. I have always felt strongly against it because I feel that both are incomplete without each other. Fortunately, I quickly learnt from my dissatisfied Manali experience and travelled many more times to make up for my miss.
Hence it didn’t come as a surprise to many when I chose the Himalayan hill station as a quick stopover during my first solo trip in 2013. Because my consecutive memories of happiness associated with the place made me feel comfortable and safe.
As we all know that travel makes us happy. There have been numerous surveys and studies on this and we have experienced it countless times ourselves. Whether my travel is in the initial stages of planning, or while I’m sitting in a quiet unknown place staring at the trees or when I find my food during my trek—all constitute to my happiness. But how often have we travelled because we are happy people and we want to share that joy with others?
The world and the different cultures aren’t meant to contribute to our every day pleasantness or create favourable memories for us. We have to do it ourselves. It is a different perspective but it is true. Sure, we travel to occasionally help ourselves from depression or distress, but I highly doubt that that will be a smooth process for a pessimistic individual. So it would be safe to say that if I chose to associate Manali and my loss, it would remain a gloomy destination for me. However, because I have chosen to recreate memories in the place and the people, I suppose I have allowed my optimistic self to get the better of me.
Perhaps, just like we travel to lose ourselves and get acquainted with other cultures; our interaction with them should also enrich their lives. Travelling is seldom a one-sided relationship. But how many of us have actually given or contributed to those lives we’ve met during our travels?
Happiness is infectious and it definitely shows when we associate with others. Every time I have met someone I try and spread this positivity because as a traveller, I need to give back to the people of the land. Even though that seems like an impossible task in its entirety (since I’m continuously learning from all these friends I have met on the road), I try in my own way. Whether it means listening to their stories, following their culture or just sharing a good joke with them, I try and express my gratitude. Because travelling isn’t selfish. And no matter where we go, we’re always coming from somewhere. And as travellers, we ought to be the messengers of happiness than recipients.
How do you give back?