The last time I wrote something here was August of last year. From that time to now, I have wandered some more, climbed some more and also got into a small skiing accident that has kept me indoors for 5 months. Traveling to new places has not stopped ever since I moved to the vast land that US is and yet sometimes, I have struggled with not being able to write anything about such travel experiences.
When I say travel in US, I mostly am referring to my jaunts into some of the most popular national parks in this country. US has so much to offer in terms of variety – every national park is unique in itself. From grand limestone cliffs of Yosemite to stunning hot water geysers of Yellowstone to panoramic continental divide of the rocky mountains to deep gorges of the Grand Canyon to lush green rain-forests and craggy coastline of the Olympic, US has no dearth of options for a hiker and a nature lover like me. I visited these places and a few more and yet, I haven’t been able to document much about those trips.
Not sure why I didn’t write all this time but somewhere I had begun to feel that I probably don’t have a whole lot to write about. I was seeing new places, yes; but the experiences were not evoking the kind of emotion that would make me pick up my metaphorical pen. I was hiking into places of immense beauty and grandeur but on many levels, traveling in US had begun to feel like a predictable sequence of steps to be performed, only the last step of which – taking in the terrain and absorbing the scenery – changed from one place to another. Everything else – choosing a national park, booking of flights, reserving hotels, renting a car, paying the national park fee, camping in pre-reserved camping spots and hiking on extremely well documented and well structured trails – made one feel that the element of unpredictability and adventure was getting lost in such trips.
In a way, I was missing the Indian experience of trekking in the Himalayan valleys , where you can plan only to a certain extent and then you have to let the experience unfold one day at a time, playing it by the ear for the most part. Sure, you still have to book your flight or trains or the hotels; but you don’t always know everything about your destination. There’s never enough documentation for you to know the exact nature and difficulty of the route, there are no trail markers (that’s why you have to take a local with you)or sometimes even trail heads, you don’t know the weather, where to camp, what exactly to do in emergencies. You don’t always know where you would end up pitching your tent, there are no ready-for-camping food packs that you can buy in a store and you don’t really know much about the local people till the time you interact with them in a bus or a shared cab or pass by their villages while walking on the trail. At times, locals help you out unexpectedly. At times, they play thugs and you improvise on the moment; you change plans and the environment allows you to be flexible. You are allowed to make a few planning mistakes, and still be able to ‘manage’ and have fun. When you begin your journey, you are allowed to have just vague ideas on which you can build upon as you go deeper into the journey.
Somehow, you don’t get that freedom in US. Emphasis on individual safety and preservation of environment, coupled with idiosyncrasies of the American culture of self-sufficiency, result into ‘structured’ experiences of places that are meant to awaken the wilder parts inside you.
As I write about the contrast in my experiences, I do realize the pros and cons of wilderness traveling in both the countries. The exact set of rules and regulations that seem to be the spoilers to me, keep the nature protected and preserved from the madness of unregulated nature tourism (think India). These rules have gone a long way in ensuring that each new generation gets to experience and enjoy the serenity of the vast beauty the land has to offer and it’s heartening to see tht a majority of hikers and travelers in US are genuinely invested in the same objective. India needs to follow along the same lines – the rivers are dying, forests are thinning and mountain systems are deteriorating at an exponential rate.
But as I wish for India to emulate at least a part of this ‘well-oiled-machinery’ of rules, regulation, planning and structure, a part of me still wishes for the Indian chaos to stay as is, so that the child in me can go back and experience those remote, wild experiences again and again.