“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” 
Saint Augustine

The Road Taken

It may seem curious that we chose to dedicate this number to something as banal and as commonplace as travelling. It is true that for a large percentage of the world population, travelling is a way of life. We travel for work, for pleasure, for commitments towards family and friends and for a host of other reasons. Also, more and more, we travel out of compulsion because that is the thing to do. Discussing exotic landscapes and strange cultures, swapping stories about good or bad experiences, sharing tips and tricks for successful holidays have become a way of life almost everywhere. Keeping up with the Jones’ is as important as other reasons. No sooner we are back from a travelling vacation, we start planning the next one. Tourism has become one of the most important industries in many countries and travel agencies are thriving almost everywhere. The hot tourist spots are swamped by visitors from all over the world almost throughout the year – be it famous monuments, historical places or natural wonders. The Internet is full of travel blogs written by the conventional and the adventurous - the latter travelling uncharted routes and territories where tourists would flock within a very short time and all kinds of businesses will flourish catering to them.

Yet, we at Songsoptok think that this is not a banal topic. Communication technology has brought the world to our doorstep. On television, there are umpteen numbers of channels dedicated to travel and voyage. Impenetrable jungles, the deep sea, the mighty mountain tops, the arid deserts, the uninhabited islands, the Arctic and the Antarctic are just one click away. Google and other search engines can and does provide anything we wish to know about the farthest corners in the globe. Why then is travel so important for us? Why do we need to spend time and money and energy visit unknown places and countries, near or far, ready to go out of our own comfort zones?

I think the desire to travel is innate in human nature, even for the least intrepid and adventurous. We are attracted by the unknown and we want to experience it first-hand. We want to see everything with our own eyes and nothing else – even the best made documentaries or the prize winning pictures – can compare with that. We want to walk the streets of strange cities, brave the arduous trekking trails, put up with eventual discomforts and hazards of modern day travel. We want to discover new lands, new people, new societies; we want to listen to the foreign tongues spoken all around us even when we don’t understand it, we want to taste the local cuisine, we want to discover the local culture. How well we actually manage to do all this depends on each individual. There is no universal recipe, and the same place may be magical to some and nightmare to others.

However, traveling does not necessarily mean crossing frontiers and braving the unknown. We often travel to discover our own country, to see it in a different way, through the eyes of a traveler. Such journeys are incredibly revealing – we discover treasures that we had not taken the time to see before – a sunrise or sunset, the myriad of stars in a sky we thought we knew well, an incredibly beautiful village just off the motorway, a lone musician playing in a valley just for himself. We also rediscover our own countrymen – their kindness or indifference, their tolerance or the lack of it, their way of life. Such voyages are real eye openers, provided, of course, our eyes remain wide open.

Are our eyes always wide open when we travel, whatever our destination? This I think is the crucial point about traveling anywhere. Are we able to shed our prejudices, our complacency, and our own points of view to appreciate what we experience? Do we always have the tolerance to understand the strange and the unusual? Do we have the equanimity to face the eventual hazards of modern day travel which are often numerous – delays, lost luggage, misunderstandings, incomprehension and a host of other things that can go seriously wrong? Can we prevent our own value systems – political, religious, social or economic – from clouding our observation? Some of us can, and they are the real travelers – embracing experiences both good and bad, without being judgmental. That really is the essence of travel, where each step takes us down the road we have chosen to take, revealing wonders around every corner, making us forget about the travails. And for them, in the words of John Steinbeck, ‘many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased’ which is how it should be.

Editor In Charge
Aparajita Sen


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