Sangla Valley in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. (Photo: Gurinder Osan)
A famous English mountaineer and author, Joe Simpson, described it as "the beckoning silence of great height". Some kind of "inverted gravity" that attracted people to climb massive mountains. And if you ask the new-age travellers in India flocking to the hills, they’ll swear they’ve felt this pull too.
It’s not just the closest hill station that’s on the radar of the Indian traveller anymore. The desire to explore has fuelled the search for less frequented trails. Destinations that are "offbeat" have grown in popularity with each passing year, with more people willing to expand their travel horizons than ever before.
But at what point did this urge to head off for the mountains become so irrepressible that it became a trend? Or is it all an old romance given the twist of modern love?
Anil Nair, news editor of The Outdoor Journal, a publication which specialises in stories related to the outdoors, thinks this ‘trend’ has been there since the ’70s. "But such travel choices were limited to single-minded adventure seekers or travellers... there was no collective ‘movement’ as such," he says, and adds, "Now with the Internet and blogs, people are able to pen down their experiences. That has contributed to this wave of new-age explorers."
When asked what draws him personally to the mountains, Nair promptly says, "Solitude and pure air... and no traffic jams!"
For Sankara Subramanian, a popular travel blogger (Be On The Road), it’s the sheer size of the mountains and their all-encompassing vastness that attracts him. "It’s so humbling. Also, there are so many stories in and of the mountains, the people are so warm, always welcoming."
He says it’s always advisable to travel with a partner, especially if you’re driving or motorcycling to far-flung places. "I avoid travelling in large groups though. I like to meet new people, make new memories, and just be with the solitude of the mountains."
Also read:Tales from the travel diaries of those bitten by wanderlust
This affair with the hills can sometimes be so torrid that many contemplate leaving their jobs, just to be able to travel. But that’s obviously not practical. Dheeraj Sharma, founder of the widely popular online travel community Devil On Wheels, says he routinely gets a lot of queries from people who just want to quit and travel.
"I always say that you should take a sabbatical instead. I have been travelling for close to five years and I’ve managed to do it without quitting my job. You just need to learn how to plan your leaves five or six months in advance."
One facet of travelling into lesser-known destinations is the effect it can have on the immediate ecosystem. Mathew Kurien, art director at The Outdoor Journal, says that one must understand the dos and don’ts while travelling and most importantly, not pollute the environment.
"First-time campers should keep sanitation issues in mind. We’re doing a series, on how to poop responsibly while camping – you can just dig a six-inch cathole about 200m from a river while answering nature’s call. The point is to be responsible for the environment while travelling."
Another often overlooked aspect, when it comes to travelling to offbeat places, is – a bit ironically perhaps – how a zealously guarded remote place becomes victim to mainstream tourism.
Photographer Abhishek Bali says, "As an ardent traveller, I do feel that some places should be left as they are in their natural pristine state, that they should not be commercialised. But it is our habit as human beings to travel to all corners of the earth, to explore, to discover."
And perhaps it is this inherent, basic instinct that’s driving more and more people to seek out destinations that were earlier just a mere blip on the tourist radar, to explore beyond the obvious, to not just see but also experience, feel and remember.
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From HT Brunch, June 14
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