I log on to Matador ; browsing through pieces by their writers and come across an article titled, “Five travel lessons that I learned from my Dad.”
What have I learned from traveling with my parents?
FIRST FAMILY HOLIDAY
The first clear memories of travel with my parents are of a stay in a tiny hill-top town near Mumbai, called Matheran, when I was about eight years old. We stayed in an old colonial-style bungalow called Greenwood in the middle of a dense jungle. By modern standards, it would fall grievously short. No room service to roust up at one a.m. for an icecream-sundae, no housekeeping staff to regularly clear the verandah of leaves every morning and only a rusty-but- trusty water heater for hot water. But it was one of the most memorable holidays of my life. With no preconceived notions of what to expect and nothing to compare it to, I enjoyed every single minute of walking to all the must-see points, the horse-rides, the spooky walks back at night.
The eggs boiled by my mother over a kerosene-stove every morning and eaten, while seated on a lounger on the verandah to the accompaniment of chirping birds, is perhaps the most delicious breakfast that I have ever had.
Over the years, we visited many places as a family. If I could put down what has stayed with me over the years, I would say these are the three most striking-
1.) BUDGETING IS NOT A DETERRENT TO A GOOD HOLIDAY-Given that we were a typically middle-class single-income family, living in India in the seventies and eighties, we were constrained by finances for our travel, but never for the desire to travel. There were no plane-rides or luxurious hotels, but train-rides with food packed from home (to prevent gastrointestinal disasters), shared hotel rooms to reduce the hotel bills and of course, loads of camaraderie. Meals were not exotic, but tasty and plentiful, often the local specialty at a hygienic outlet. I remember the fish-curry we ate in a little family-run place in Goa, the Bisi-bele Bhat(Savory rice) in a small hotel in Bangalore, the temple catered food in Sravanbelgola, and many more, all ending with the soft aside by my dad, “Almost as good as your mom’s”
2.) THE SURPRISE ELEMENT and ENTHUSIASM FOR WHAT YOU WILL SEE GIVES THAT ADDED ZING-The travel industry in India did not have the flamboyant presence and glossy brochures that it does now. So we always looked at every place with new eyes devoid of preconceived notions, raptly listening to the guide, entranced by each new narration and enchanted by every ruin that we were led to. Indeed, the travel articles and photos that flood us now, after a destination is chosen, take away the element of surprise from modern travelers. Very few travelers suck in their breath, when they see a beautiful sunrise over a hilltop in out-of-fashion Matheran (near Mumbai) or admire the fairy lights at the Vrindavan gardens near Bangalore, as we did, simply because they have already seen it in some picture somewhere.
3.) SAVOR THE EXPERIENCE – Our family holidays were slow-paced, basically a lazy break, combined with sight-seeing. I particularly remember a week-long visit to Goa, where, as Hindus, we could stay in a quiet temple dormitory, being there for the daily temple rite, followed by using the rickety local transport to travel around at our own pace. Many Indian travelers (I do not know any other) seem to be gripped by the urgency to see everything possible in the cities they visit, giving scant time to the beauty of each. It probably has to do with the age of scarcity that we grew up in and the need to hoard things in preparation for a rainy day.
THEN AND NOW
I have my own bucket-list of places to see, but the lessons that I learned from my family-holidays always stay with me. I plan in advance, but am also open to chance and surprise. I am obsessive about budgeting and I always try to keep the schedule relaxed, in case I want to go back and enjoy a painting in a museum, a square, a church or café all over again.
Most of all, what we do most of all is enjoy each other’s company, albeit in a different venue.