Travel

The single word that has our hearts thrumming.

My partner on Two Blue Pencils, SR, associates travel with discovery. “The discoveries you make outside lead to so many inner discoveries about yourself. Nothing can be bigger than that,” she emphasizes.

An ex-colleague, SV, finds travel to be synonymous with freedom. The notion of getting away from the grind of daily life appeals to her. Journalist ND has a few words running through her mind when she thinks about travel. They span a few essentials such as “friends, the sun shining on the face, petrichor, wine at 11:00 am, history and walking.”

For some like lawyer NSG, wanderlust revolves around the idea of seeing a place like a local.

A freelance-multimedia-travel journalist, ADM, who authors Lonely Planet guides, notes: “The idea of leaving behind the familiar and venturing into the unknown, meeting new people, learning about new cultures, exploring new spaces, etcetera, all that put together is an immense learning experience. To go away, only to return home with a bagful of newly acquired knowledge, experience and wisdom.” He refers to the Satyajit Ray film, Agantuk (means The Stranger), that was released in the 90s. “It is quite that whole kupomonduk hoyo na (translated roughly, ‘don’t be a frog in a well’) impulse when Utpal Dutt comes back to his niece’s house after years of being away, and tells her son to go out and see the world.”

Different folks, different strokes. Yet a common thread runs through them – that we are all explorers at heart.

I was born in the Sultanate of Oman. I mention it because the first eight years of my life, spent in Salalah, filled me with the yearning to be out on the road. Memories filter through – of my father driving my mother and me through the rocky Jabal mountains, and then ploughing through the Empty Quarter, a direct translation of its Arabic name, Rub’ Al Khali. The dunes of Rub’ Al Khali then seemed to stretch on forever.

 

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Psst: Those are camels though the husband insists that they resemble giant lizards on the move.

Every time I think of the Rub’ Al Khali, I recall a camel lying in the desert, upturned and quite dead. I have not seen such a sight again. I have always wondered since if camels do die in such a manner.

These memories are mingled with the adventurous expeditions of an elder brother who would spend his boarding school holidays in Salalah, playing with the bald pates of Omani boys. As a result, he would be the recipient of solid spankings from my mother. On our days out to the beach, he would climb up mountains in the rugged Jabal ranges and thereafter get stuck up there.
On most weekends, we used to set off in my father’s precious white super saloon, its mini fridge stacked with chilled, soft drinks. We would explore the ruins of Queen Sheba’s palace (the biblical Queen of Sheba is said to have frequented Salalah for frankincense) – the ancient city of Sumharam by the sea shore in Khor-rori; the coastal town of Mirbat; the small town of Thumrait which lay on the Incense Route that charted a caravan route from South Arabia to the Mediterranean roughly between 7th century BCE and 2nd century CE; the harbour town of Raysut; and the airport town of Marmul – all in the Dhofar region of southern Oman. We spent time exploring Muscat, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah and soaking in the quintessential Middle-Eastern experience but of those my memories become vague.

When we got back to India, we settled into a quiet existence in our suburban house in Calcutta. My father, however, did return to Salalah in the mid-90s at the insistence of his former Omani colleagues. In 1995, he came back home with a terrible story. He was lunching in a restaurant in Salalah, on a certain afternoon, when a big car pulled up on the street. Out of it emerged four Jabali tribesmen, armed with Sten guns. In a matter of a few minutes they mowed down the largely South Indian populace on that street. Their grouse was that their jobs were being taken away by these foreigners.

Qaboos bin Said Al Said, the reigning sultan, turned his face the other way. It is said that he keeps peace in his kingdom by not messing around with the affairs of the Jabalis. Going back to Oman, for my father, was not an option after witnessing such a bloodbath.

For me, Oman remains an oasis. I snuggle into the warmth of those memories – something we tend to do with things that are a precious part of our pasts. Because travel, in my books, is about developing a connection with a place – which is why I have a penchant of going back to a place more than once.

Every time I travel, I leave a piece of me behind.

2 thoughts on “Travel

  1. Whoa. I didn’t know your dad witnessed a brutal killing like that. That’s awful. I’ve been to Oman several times for work and to Salalah twice. It was such a slow, peaceful sleepy lil town. Cant imagine something as horrific as that happening.

    Good to know you still harbour good memories of the place. It is quite lovely, especially during July-August

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    1. It is odd, right. How there might be such stories associated with any place? I mean, I can never imagine it because the Oman I remember is golden in its beauty. My memories can never be tainted. Some day, I hope I can go back and make new ones there.

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