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Pack your bags, but take it slow

Indians are opening up to the idea of taking travel slow, swapping packed itineraries for relaxed, immersive trips

Paramita Ghosh

In the 1980s, a young Italian, Carlo Petrini, lover of all things local, organiser of a folk festival, food critic of a few Communist newspapers, decided to defend the food of the Italian mamas served in neighbourhood cafés against mass-produced American burgers. The opening up of a McDonald’s in the heart of Rome had given him a jolt. He had visions of Italians wolfing down mounds of bread when, so far, they had been doing quite well eating the slow-cooked pastas and polenta or spearing a steak with a knife and coaxing meat onto the fork.

The culture of slow – slow food, slow city, slow living, among others – has a few mascots. One of them is Petrini. The slowest of creatures, the snail and the turtle, are the others. The champion of slow travel, an offshoot of these movements, in 2020, is surprisingly enough, the Indian tourist, as per the Skyscanner APAC Travel Trends 2020 Report.

The principal idea behind slow travel is that in an age of speed, travel must be about slowing down. If you can ditch the flight, take a train. In places where you can do without a car, walk. The process of travel must be long and unhurried; the pace of the holiday must be like the life as lived by locals. One must be open to discoveries, travel disruptions, cultural differences. And there should be no micromanagement of pleasure, no overarching master plan.

So, no more hitting the crisis button if parasailing from 9 a.m. does not get over by 10 a.m. in time for a dash to the curio shop before lunch begins at 12 p.m. Slow travel, at its basic, is more about the mindset and the choices you make during a vacation. It is an experience as well-suited to a big city as to a small town or even your own hometown.

In slow travel, there are no exact rules: you can go anywhere, anytime, and prolong the experience of being without a plan.

Deepa (she does not use her surname), a slow traveller, puts it this way: “There is no need to conclude anything. There is a deep commitment in the moment and in the people you meet in the course of your journey. Travel in this way makes you open to receiving many kindnesses along the way.”

In an essay on the subject, travel writer Pico Iyer says putting a pause on the pace that one is used to in daily life and concentrating on the process and experience of travel are his takeaways of slow travel.

“Slow travel comes to seem ever more tempting in an age of acceleration,” says Iyer. “This can take the form of simply unplugging; but it also speaks for the special, everyday allure of setting out on foot, of going to one place (and not 10) in 14 days, and sometimes of going somewhere to do nothing at all. This used to be known as idling, but in a multi-tasking world, in which we seem to be living at a pace dictated by machines, going at human speed suddenly begins to look like sanity and freedom.”

In India, more and more travellers are ready to switch their gear and take it slow. And some have done even more: changed their lifestyle to erase the difference between their life and their travels.

“There is a feeling of being stationary”

Sona Mazumdar, the chief partnership officer of an entertainment company, for instance, follows the basics of slow travel seriously. Put her on a ship and she is a happy girl. “You are captive when you are sailing,” she says. “Meals go on for hours, so does on board entertainment – everything is contained in a single space. A ship is like a floating city, I can roam around and make myself comfortable anywhere and yet there is a feeling of being stationary.”

Last year, she did a cruise with a focus on Spain and had the time of her life sailing down the Mediterranean Sea for seven days, and then getting off the ship for her places of choice: Madrid for its history; Barcelona, for its buzz. A mother of two, Mazumdar, who is in her forties, has grown to like taking her holidays slow though it wasn’t always this way, she admits. “But slow travel, in case you are travelling with family, means working through consensus. The kids need their bit of action too,” she says.

Bordeaux over Paris

Seth, in her mid-thirties, is an entrepreneur from Delhi. Till a few years ago, she would travel at a hectic place. “I would return home from a vacation feeling I’d travelled at the pace of work. So, the direction where I look when I now go on a holiday has changed,” she says. It’s now Scotland rather than England; Bordeaux instead of Paris. “Paris or London is now more a transit point. I don’t holiday there,” she says.

On a recent Scotland trip, she visited Campbeltown. “Though we flew, the plane had just five passengers! It gave us a sense we were going to a place with few people, which was perfect because we were looking forward to a slow, quiet time,” she says.

The idea of doing a slow holiday, she says, is also to keep all activities low-key. “I usually rent a little house, visit a winery, eat at the little cafes in the countryside where we are served food that feels like it has been made with greens picked at a farm in the morning”. All this she found in Bordeaux.

Treating time as luxury

When Prerna Uppal, a Mumbai marketeer, was younger (she is 41 now), maximising her trips was top of her mind.

“I wanted to see six countries in seven days,. as if it were possible… I was rushing in and rushing out fast, I doubt if there were any lasting impressions,” she says. Now, she travels to “emotionally connect” with a place rather than just be satisfied by seeing a country’s stamp on her passport. “Slow travel, to me, is about sparing the time to look around. The biggest change for me is treating time as a luxury,” she says.

The last time Uppal went with a tour operator was with her family in 2009. They stopped at seven places in a day. “It converted me into a solo traveller and I like moving at my own pace on holiday – slowly,” she says. “Slow travel makes you self-aware. I’ve learnt that multi-tasking is not always a good thing. Better to pick one thing and do it deeply, make it have meaning.”

In 2019, she visited Jordan. The “most pleasurable time” during her six-day trip was at the Wadi Rum desert where she lived for two nights in a tent with a transparent roof.

“I had amazing conversations with two young ‘Bedouin guides’ who turned out to be Punjabis from Gurdaspur…. Had I done the usual trip with my family – they mostly want to shop – I wouldn’t have realised an aspect about my own state, what young people have to do to earn their bread,” she says.

“I let the universe takeover”

On her Facebook page, Pipilika, Deepa notes life on the slow in Iran, where she went in 2019: solo cyclists spending days riding and camping along the coast; families with motor homes driving across the country; and the many acts of generosity that strangers showed travellers like her, who were travelling rough. A free haircut from a barber; a free meal offered by a courting couple; ice creams from the ice-cream vendor.

Another memorable trip was in Meghalaya where she sat on steel bridges for hours imagining how they fare in the monsoons when they are submerged in water.

“I visit one place or max, two places if I am travelling for a week or so. And I don’t read up or plan anything other than at which point to enter the state/ country. I also do a lot of gratitude journeys, ie travel without phone and money to understand life and people at various levels. I just walk and cycle and let the universe take over,” she says

Green travel is a part of slow travel. “I would not add trash to the place I am visiting. I didn’t buy anything in plastic in Iran except one candy which could not be bought loose. I had taken a flight into the country (as I could not get a visa to Pakistan to cross into Iran) but by creating hardly any plastic trash, I think I may have brought down the flight carbon footprint,” she says. “If you live green, you will travel green.”

In mid-March, Deepa and three of her friends are planning to walk around the world without money for over two years. “A life on the road, is a life of gift and intuition,” she says. Needless to say, she will also be without her telephone.

(HT Media)

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