Between seeing and seeing again lies an entire universe of change. Changes happen faster than one blinks an eye. What this means is that one visit is never going to be enough. Not ten. Not even a hundred visits. There will always be some new addition or some perceptive insight that wasn’t there in past visits… there have been times when walking up to a location from a different direction makes it appear completely new. Those who travel a lot will know why they may never say no to going to any place more than once.
Obviously then, it isn’t necessary to adopt vastly different travel plans every time. It sounds somewhat funny when I hear a lot of people say: ‘Oh! I have visited this place. Must go somewhere else now.’ And then they pack their bags for a fifteen days trip to Europe… or to Greece or Turkey or Thailand or wherever else they think they have not visited yet and where their budget can take them to. This attitude is, at best, defining some sort of restlessness or a wish to show that they are one-up on other not -so-lucky people in their circle of friends and relatives, and has nothing to do with a person being a travel enthusiast. Years back I was sitting with a doctor friend working with Air India and noticed that he was talking about Paris and London like someone who knew the cities as well as someone who has stayed there for long. He knew every street name and never once in his conversation with that Londoner friend of his did he appear to falter. In fact, there were times when he managed to surprise that expat with bits like: ‘Well, this road opens to the left of the South gate of this museum where not many tourists go… but they miss out on clicking a picture with the grilled gate there that was installed a hundred years ago.’ His friend was making his notes while talking to him.
Later, when we were alone, he revealed to me that he has never been to London. ‘But,’ he said, ‘that doesn’t mean I cannot read maps thoroughly and go through travelogues and articles. Well, they are just visitors but I am a reader.’ This was, as I have already mentioned, before googling for facts became a common pastime. What the incident does tell me is that visiting with the mind closed cannot possibly be better than reading books or browsing the net or hearing podcasts or even watching travel programs on the television. Will Rogers, an American political sage, once wrote: ‘There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence to find out for themselves.’ We see so many people rushing out to ‘visit’ places today without having explored the other options of reading, hearing, browsing, and watching that when they come back full of horror stories one can only remember Will Rogers and the electric fence in his quote.
Let me take the example of the monuments that are in Delhi. People hop from the Red Fort to Qutub Minar to Purana Quila to Ugrasen Baoli to the ruins in Mehrauli and lament later, ‘Well, when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.’ These are the kind of people who are forever ticking a check-list in their hands, clicking selfies with crumbling fortifications, intricate arches, and domes and then sharing them all on the social media and then restlessly asking, ‘Any other places to visit here?’ They can call themselves tourists or travelers or whatever term they come across, to me they are just people who must read more.
Talking of reading, there is a set of books that I would recommend to anyone if they need to really understand this city.
These books are ‘City of my heart’ (Rana Safvi), ‘Top 10 Baolis’ (Vikramjit Singh Rooprai), ‘Delhi by heart’ (Raza Rumi), ‘City of Djinns’ (William Dalrymple), ‘Delhi – pages from a forgotten history’ (Arthur Dudney), ‘Delhi – 14 historic walks’ (Swapna Liddle), and ‘Delhi – a thousand years of building’ (Lucy Peck) and a lot more no doubt, but the point that I am making is that reading takes a person a step towards being more than just a visitor. These books will also take you to read more and a ‘visit’ will then magically transform into making one an informed travel enthusiast and not just someone who bumbles into a monument and wonders what he or she is doing there staring at things that appear similar to so many others spread all over.
Exploring a city becomes so much more meaningful when one comes across forgotten stories and facts that are linked. An evolved traveler hardly ever says that he seen it all because there will always be so many more things still waiting to be discovered. So yes, even so far as Delhi is concerned, there is so much remaining to be explored. Only when this realization hits will one be really #GoingPlaces.