Take the classified advertisement section of any newspaper and you’ll find quite a few pages devoted to travel and leisure. There are trips advertised varying in terms of length and destination. If a website is mentioned and you decide to browse you’ll probably get the details. So it’s not just a country or a city that you will be taken to, but specific places that could be of interest on account of scenic beauty, opportunity for shopping, archaeological or historical significance.
So there are tours of Europe, the UK, Egypt, Singapore, Thailand, Nepal, India, Jordan and half a dozen other destinations. And there are ‘Sri Lankan tours’ that are advertised for foreign tourists. Hotels also offer sight-seeing packages for guests. Sri Lanka is a relatively small island so it is technically possible to arrange 2-3 day trips to any place from any hotel.
Again, you’ll find details. It’s not just ‘Kandy,’ for example. They would write in the Pinnawela Elephant orphanage, the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens and other must-see places and things in addition to the Dalada Maligawa and the Perahera (if it’s that time of year). The University of Peradeniya, for example.
Must-see. That’s the key term here. And that’s what misleads most, for there is the known and celebrated and the unknown, unheard of and unheralded. That’s all off the beaten track. Off-road places are fortunately or unfortunately considered inconvenient. Anything that involves trekking along barely visible paths or climbing that makes one break into a sweat is not exactly welcoming. Maybe that’s a good thing. Less access usually means better chance of preservation. At least until society evolves to levels of responsibility, appreciation and accountability that mitigates the threat of vandalism of one kind or another.
Must-see is what captures attention. That’s what helps trip-planners, be they tour operators or even that inevitable family member tasked to handle logistics. ‘Must-sees’ come with boxes that are meant to be ticked off.
‘Saw that, box ticked, done!’ And you check the list, find the next place and rush there, ready to ‘do it’ and then tick the relevant box. So we have box-ticking travelers or box-tickers and we have boxes-to-tick travels.
Nothing wrong with that. Photographs are uploaded with captions drawing oohs and aahs and innumerable queries that take the form ‘where is this place?’ or exclamations, ‘I want to visit this place!’ Yes, they make people unconsciously create must-see maps or maps made of the must-sees, complemented with boxes to tick. And even years later the box-tickers can recount the box-ticking tours and make audiences gasp in wonder. Good stuff.
Now box-ticking travelers are not exactly blind to off-track destinations. Between one boxed-place and another there are probably unmistakable signs that indicate some less-known archaeological site. A chance comment from a fellow-traveler might pique curiosity. Anything could ignite memory from a long ago — something someone said, something that was read by chance, a photograph that was etched in mind but stored in a less-visited corner or even an unusually melodious place name.
Typically, they are all neatly or carelessly filed under a special box labeled ‘Next Time.’ Only, there’s seldom any next time. We move to ‘Oh! Well!’ We put it down to practicalities. We offer the impeccable logic, ‘if we “did” all these things or even one or two, we would have to forego this, that and the other!’ Yes, we can’t go home with even one box unticked, can we?
That’s one way to travel. Better than not traveling at all, one might argue. True. But then again, perhaps we don’t wonder enough about that which does not and cannot get into the classifieds.
The point is, side-trips or unplanned excursions can’t all be named and categorized to enable box-ticking. Such magic as there could be or rather tends to be resident just seeps into heart and being unannounced and remain unnamed. Not unknown though. They are not made for boxes. They are embroideries of sacred landscapes delighting in the gentlest of ways. Too tender for the classifieds.