Gaining respect for cultural difference

Saif Omar and Faiza Khan

Travel – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller – a clichéd yet profound quote by the renowned explorer Ibn Battuta; a quote that wonderfully captures the allure of travelling. As social animals, we tend to fall back on the words and recommendations of friends, acquaintances and experts for most things before making informed decisions, and travel is no different. The idea of The Musafir Stories came out of a conversation with one of our friends from Kerala when asking him for tips, hacks, recommendations and advice while planning a trip to Idukki in Kerala.

Being avid podcast listeners, we realized that there was a vacuum in terms of content that relates to local travel experiences and thus The Musafir Stories was born. The idea was to capture travel experiences through conversations with travellers and publish them on the Internet in an audio format that is freely accessible on mobile phones, tabs and computers. These conversations are aimed to pique one’s interest and imagination by giving the listener a feel of travel experiences in the country, without overwhelming him/her with an information overload. In these conversations, our guest travellers share firsthand experiences to make these trips more enjoyable and wholesome. Not only are these conversations casual, informative and fun but they’re also unobtrusive and ‘light on the ear’ making for a pleasurable listening experience.

The Indian subcontinent has been blessed both with nature’s bounty and a rich heritage thanks to the diversity of the indigenous people and the foreign invaders who left some of their cultural imprints to form the delightful concoction that is Indian history. As a result, there is no dearth of experiences, stories, sights and sounds for someone looking to explore. Be it enjoying the mountains in Uttarakhand or going on a solo monsoon ride across Maharashtra, volunteering at the Deer Park Institute in Himachal or cycling on the beautiful Divar river island in Goa, from feasting on fried fish on the beach in Kanyakumari to sipping kawah or Kashmiri tea while on a shikara ride on the Dal lake, India offers a variety of experiences to curate one’s itinerary from.

The authors at Gandikota
The Tourism Ministry of India recently estimated domestic footfalls at tourist spots at over 1.6 billion and with improving infrastructure, accessibility and growing disposable incomes the numbers will grow manifold in the years to come. While pleasure is one of the perceived outcomes or objectives of travel, there is more to travel than just ‘going’ and ‘seeing’ places. From time immemorial, one of the many reasons man has travelled is for learning and self-development, without limiting this to acquiring academic knowledge.

There is much to learn while travelling; one only has to look beneath the surface. One of the things we personally ensure to do before we travel to a place is to learn as much as we can about the history and geography of the place. We do this by reading books, guides or blog posts, by watching relevant videos or by talking to someone who knows the place. This gives one a much better orientation and understanding of the place, its people, commerce, and how past events and people have shaped its current state. From the history of the Cholan temples of Thanjavur to their similarities with the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, from the spice trade of the port city of Kochi in Kerala to its Portuguese and Arab connections, there is a lot one can learn from the history and geography of a place. Learning about the history, geography and people of a place is an important pre-travel ritual that can enhance the overall travel experience.

While travelling, one also learns to respect cultures and traditions of different regions, from Delhi’s Diwali to Chennai’s Deepavali, from yak butter tea of Arunachal to the filter coffee of Karnataka, from the Rabari nomads of Gujarat to the nomadic Changpas of Kashmir, one learns to appreciate the diversity and embrace the commonalities. Travelling also teaches you to empathize with fellow humans and coexist irrespective of race or language. We as a country, are blessed to have such a diverse collection of ethnic communities all under one umbrella, travel teaches you to see the world through another person’s eyes.

Travelling is also an excellent way for both young and old to learn to conserve and preserve nature’s resources as well as the legacy of our ancestors. Be it learning from a naturalist about dangers caused by plastic to wildlife while on a safari or how vandalism and poor maintenance has left some beautiful forts of Maharashtra on the verge of being lost forever. Travelling teaches you to appreciate these gifts and think about how one can prevent further damage by being a responsible traveller.

One learns about compatibility while travelling, be it the choice of music for your road trip playlist or trusting your navigator to guide you through the lanes of Goa. Travel makes one adaptable, thus building long lasting relationships. Travel teaches you that there is life beyond technology and gadgets while you are camping in the remote village of Changthang or enjoying a hearty conversation with the monks in a Sikkim monastery. Technology is an enabler, not the goal.

Travel is also a great way to learn about oneself, one’s strengths in the face of adversity – from being stuck with a flat tyre on a road trip to finding out you’ve lost luggage on arrival in a new city, travel tests one’s limits and helps discover hidden talents. Travel teaches you to get out of your comfort zone, be it pushing yourself physically to complete a trek to the holy peak of Shrikhand Mahadev or getting out of your shell and talking to new people you meet at your hostel – travel always pushes the boundaries.

One learns how insignificant man is in front of nature’s forces while on a white-water rafting adventure on the Beas river; one realizes that man is but a tiny speck in the universe while gazing at a million stars on a cold starry night in Spiti; travel teaches us to be humble and thankful for all the resources that we’ve been endowed upon by mother nature. It is in our hands to preserve this and pass this treasure on to future generations and The Musafir Stories is a humble attempt to share this underlying message through some delightful conversations that we hope will inspire more people to travel responsibly.

Travel, share and inspire!

The authors co-host The Musafir Stories travel podcast. (Visit https://themusafirstories.com/ to know more.) Saif manages operations at his family-owned enterprise. Faiza is an engineer with an IT services firm in Bangalore and loves baking and soap making while not travelling! They can be reached at themusafirstories@gmail.com.