Why you should go where few are going | Condé Nast Traveller IndiaJune 4, 2021
Now, more than ever, as travel has been curtailed, we realise just how achingly we’ve missed a refreshing change of scene, the fulfilment of exploring new places and returning to old favourites. Our travels beget adventure, spark curiosity and garner memories. Across the board, I hear people saying that when travelling resumes, they plan on drinking those precious moments to the lees.
A groundswell of guidance is urging us to take fewer flights, offset our carbon emissions, travel light, stay in locally-owned lodging and eat more plant-based, local ingredients. Refillable bottles and foldable tote bags are becoming ubiquitous. We’re respecting the boundaries of wildlife and making more authentic connections with locals. In solidarity with World Environment Day on 5 June, and in awareness of the fact that actions taken by humans are affecting our fragile planet to an enormous extent, we must resolve to live and travel in a far more considerate manner. Generating fewer emissions, having a lighter footprint and a deeper appreciation of the world around us is the way forward.
Travelling to lesser-known, alternate destinations is not just trendy, but also good for us and our planet. Here’s why…
To steer clear of overtourism
Places such as Venice, Dubrovnik, Bangkok Jaipur, New York, Goa and Dubai, are terribly overrun. We must spare their sagging flagstones, choked waters and the stressed procuring and garbage disposal. We must spare the locals from suffering the onslaught of humanity that is making their streets unrecognisable. In letting them be, we also spare ourselves the travail of wading through throngs, waiting in long lines and having waiters mutter darkly in our salads, pressing us onwards. The novel coronavirus has taught us to steer clear of melees. Sights such as the Eiffel Tower, Stonehenge, Big Ben, Christ the Redeemer and the Pyramids of Giza don’t warrant visits. They’re best viewed on our laptops, if at all. We’ve wisely seen through the ads for ‘must visit’ sights and learned to sidestep them. Hurtling to spot the ‘Big Five’ on safari is utterly gauche.
To experience the joy of lesser-known places
It’s not easy, figuring one’s way in a place where no one you know has been, and where there’s practically no literature or online guidance. Yet, often an image or a singular description inspires you to make the leap of faith. A travel company links you with a guide, and you’re on your way. The thrill of exploring these places is extraordinary, and the learning curve deliciously steep. Sailing on a toothpick-like boat with an outboard motor, no cover and only a cane chair for comfort along the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but it brought an alternate universe into sharp focus. None of the people we stayed with had any wind of the news from the outside world, not even of the recent change of Prime Minister. Throughout, we ate nothing but our scenery. Sago, wild sugarcane, banana and palm trees and fish featured in every meal. Four-year-olds paddled themselves to school.
The rush of air when we sped on the river with my feet in it, the other-worldly spirit houses, the scars all along the men’s backs mimicking crocodile scales, the flamboyant birds of paradise and the stories of the locals were burned into my psyche and live deep inside me.
For more genuine interactions
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness,” wrote Mark Twain. Making connections with people in other nations is to build bridges, understand them better and go to bat for them. Once in Lahore, I was peeking into a house in Model Town, which had been my mother’s ancestral home, when a woman came out to see who it was. I tried to retreat hastily, but when she heard it was once our family home, she insisted on showing me around, and made me stay for lunch. Abida and I have remained in touch. The hospitality of Lahoris is legendary, and I was fortunate to experience it first-hand. Visiting Iran is to love its people, to have deep respect for their artistic, architectural and cultural contributions to mankind. In less-visited nations such as Laos, Kyrgyzstan, Cuba and Bolivia, the locals will welcome you with extraordinary enthusiasm and make lifelong friendships.
To encourage conservation-minded communities
When I read that villagers in the high reaches of Ladakh are opening their homes to visitors for viewing wildlife, especially snow leopards, and it is the very economic boost they need to diversify from raising sheep and goats, it became a major reason to head over. Between insurance schemes that pay for loss of domestic animals and income from visitors, the locals’ attitudes have swung around and they now protect the very creature that hunts their livestock. The sightings are remarkably consistent and the status of the snow leopard, once ‘endangered’ is now ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN list.
Similarly, jaguars are being protected by Panthera, a conservation initiative that runs Porto Joffrey Lodge in the Pantanal in Brazil. Costa Rica’s landmass is less than 1% of the Earth and it protects 6% of the planet’s biodiversity. The people of Tonga are sheltering humpback whales and Belizeans are being lauded for looking after their coral reefs.
For the joy of having beautiful vistas to oneself
The human spirit needs places that have not been ravaged by the hand of man. Only the inhospitable, hard-to-reach areas such as deserts, high mountains, the extreme north and south, unconnected areas and precious few others remain free of human presence. Escape to Namibia’s vastness, to camps such as Wolverdans, Hoanib Skeleton Coast and Little Kulala, where giant dunes lead to endless other-worldly vistas and the clear air enhances the twinkling vault of stars at night. The town of Ilulissat in Western Greenland holds particularly special memories for me, for no matter where I was—walking a nature trail, in a restaurant or in my room, a parade of icebergs was always slowly making its way across the bay.
To encounter flora and fauna different from home
Our inborn fascination for creatures and plants and our ability to learn from them (helicopter design was inspired by dragonflies and velcro from burrs) attracts us to places rich in biodiversity. Madagascar is unusual that it broke off from the African mainland 60 million years ago, and the lemur-like animals that washed up there lived and evolved unmolested whereas their brethren were wiped out in Africa by smarter monkeys with opposable thumbs, and predators such as leopards. Madagascar is full of surprises, not least of which are the avenues of baobab trees. The Malagasy people are descendants of Asian castaways who washed ashore 2,000 years ago, and planted rice terraces as they had done back home.
Nothing had prepared me for the sheer plethora of new species I encountered such as lemurs, sifakas, indris as I walked the trails of the primary and secondary forests of Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. The Canadian Tundra and the Bornean Rainforest too are intensely rewarding with their deep and diverse ecosystems.
To encourage recovering nations
Countries and regions are often ravaged by the effects of political upheavals, tsunamis, dictatorships and so much else. Visiting them and putting your money towards their recovery lends a much-needed impetus.
Colombia was riddled with drug trafficking and violence but recently, since the FARC guerrillas made peace with the government things improved dramatically. Educated locals returned home and foreign investments poured in. Cartagena is not just a vibrant and historic town with intact colonial mansions and museums, but it is also teeming with music venues, local design ateliers, restaurants and beaches. The genocide in Rwanda in 1994 sent tremors across the world. When asked if he was Hutu or Tutsi, our driver responded with a smile: “I’m Rwandan”. People from many nations can take a leaf out of their book. Spending time with the charismatic mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park in Rwanda is a truly memorable experience.
You can follow Geetika Jain’s travels on her Instagram