IN 1962, I WAS in Nasik, after completing my postgraduation in psychology, when I chanced upon some old travel brochures at home. That day, my father told me how he always wanted to travel and see the world, but could not afford it (we were five siblings)and had compromised by collecting brochures and photos instead. His words moved me. I knew that somehow, I wanted to help fulfil his dream. Alas, that was not to be as he passed away a year later. But I decided to pay him a homage in my unique way – by seeing the world.
In 1973-74, I visited England, Scotland and Europe on an educational tour during a one-year stint at the University College, London. This experience broadened my vista, stoking my desire to travel as much as possible, and to know the people, places, nature and cultures in different parts of the world.
I would make a list of short and long breaks in the year and start planning my travels as soon as I received the new year’s calendar. Before I became computer literate in 2006, I would do all my planning and research through books, and pack in as much sightseeing as I could, at a minimal cost.
To maximise my experience, I would read about the people and the countries I was visiting beforehand so I already knew what to see and where. I would try and cover a number of countries in back-to-back trips, and never feel tired. I would practise early morning yoga even during my travels. Though I’m a vegetarian, food has never been an issue. I can subsist on bread and butter, as I did during my 15-day Antarctic expedition in 2012.
I have visited 75 countries and more than 575 cities across the seven continents so far. I am still fascinated by the striking similarities and differences among various cultures – the Pyramids seen not just in Egypt, but also in Mexico and Indonesia; and the fact that nature Gods are worshipped by Egyptians, Indians, Greeks, Romans, Persians as well as in Machu Picchu. I realised that humans of a certain era thought and acted alike during different phases of their cultural development.
There are adventures that I will always remember. The thrill of an extremely hazardous 60-hour return voyage from Antarctica brings back nightmares. At the same time, the eerie silence, and the pristine sight of the virgin earth there turns you into a sublime philosopher. The powerful nature of the volcano in quake-prone Iceland makes you revere the beauty of nature. The ostrich ride at Oudtshoorn, South Africa, where the bird throws you on the hay, brings back fond memories. The minimal choice, no-stress environment of Bhutan is a reminder of peace. The rugged and robust nature of Norway and New Zealand makes your jaws drop in awe, as does the human craftsmanship of Catherine Palace in Russia.
I maintain a diary during each of my travels, recording what I see, think and feel. Being able to tell the story behind every picture adds to the thrills of travel. I’m 77 now, and a bypass in 2012 slowed down my pace, but not my wanderlust. Next on my list is the Trans Siberian rail journey, including Siberia and Mongolia. I have plans to travel in the high-altitude train from Beijing to Lhasa and also discover Galápagos, Columbia and Venezuela.
We have one life, and must choose to enrich it with knowledge and experience. And whenever I see the beautiful world outside, I feel that my father is experiencing it through my eyes!
Arun Sabnis is a former college principal, who at 77 continues to be bitten by the travel bug
From HT Brunch, August 21, 2016
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