Where Are All the Pilgrims?

I’ve been trying to get out of a trip with friends to Bangkok that’s hyped to be filled with alcohol, strip-clubs, drugs, techno-music, hallucinogens, women and a bit of gambling. I’m trying to get out because I, obviously, am an idiot and have no regard for inebriated debauchery and gyration.

Fullmoon parties on the Islands (photo: fluxmag)
Fullmoon parties on the Islands (photo: fluxmag)
Bangkok & Pattaya (Thailand) parties are notoriously addictive (photo: pattayaup2u)
Bangkok & Pattaya’s 24/7 parties are notoriously addictive (photo: pattayaup2u)

All evening, I’ve been trying to convince this friend to travel instead to Petra, Jordan: it is History in the flesh, majestic, economic (airfare-wise) and pretty much an all-round miracle. Think of the culture, the tongues, the people! – I pleaded. How, if we don’t experience the Other, can we really reflect on our own selves? Let’s get lost in a bazaar! Let’s find out how and more importantly, why that bazaar is different from our markets. When has one, who has never been lost, found anything of worth?

Petra, the Nabatean Rose-City dating back to 312 B.C. (photo: ANHM)
Petra, the Nabatean Rose-City dating back to 312 B.C. (photo: ANHM)

He couldn’t stop laughing. Who wants to go to freakin’ Petra! You and your esoteric fantasies! Undaunted, I ask him what better destinations he’d prefer to travel to. He replied: Las Vegas, for some good poker, Barcelona, to catch an epic game of football, Amsterdam, to taste their weed and nightlife.

I tried pointing out that we’ve done all of those things to some extent: played poker online, watched great games of football on TV and tasted local weed & skunk for years on end. Why not venture into the unknown? Fine! Your destination preferences are higher/better than mine, he jeers and then adds, plus I’m xenophobic.

Petra - a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock face (photo: Zaman Tours)
Petra – a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock face (photo: Zaman Tours)

To take a giant leap from an ordinary after-work conversation: are we increasingly attracted towards the idea of traveling? Destinations & activities which fit social expectations and look good on Instagram? Oh! You didn’t eat at Kuru Fasülyeci? You’ve missed it all! You did and didn’t check-in? That’s like it never happened! It’s like there are preconditions for a socially-marketable and enviable trip these days: beach-sports, nature lodges (air-conditioned of course), night-club with the most scantily-clad girls, restaurant with priciest Veal, unique landmark and at least 7-year old wines. Miss any one of them and your trip will drop a couple of notches in terms of Enviability. I wonder what part of our travels are dictated by what others think of us as a result of pictures and status-updates that follow from it.

While it’s principally wrong to judge destination-preferences, it feels like young people these days will opt for a structured getaway where each activity or landmark has a particular social significance back home. They have this irrepressible need to know exactly what their money is buying and how that acquisition stacks up compared to their peers’ escapades. Getting lost or immersed in a foreign culture, where no one knows your name and where the indigenous culture is mundanely exotic, is an archaic ambition. Following the old pilgrims’ path is a lost art.

Maybe I should consider putting my Petra journey on hold and submit to drunken stupidity in some sleazy Pattaya nightclub.

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16 comments

  1. I enjoyed your post immensely and excuse me for being nosy but I just wanted to say that if you’re friend has such a vastly different taste to you, could you really be friends? and if so, is it a good friendship?

    • Hey Zaffa, thanks for reading and especially, commenting. You know what, my friend and I are exact opposites. But we see things similarly (though choose differently) and have managed to remain dismally good friends. I don’t, however, know if its a good thing.
      P.S. any plans of traveling to Jordan soon? 🙂

      • I think your friend possibly has a great sense of irony; whereby he subjugates himself to admire the vagaries of the vacuous art of modern traveling. I think its easy for him to see beyond the escapist nature of these package, wish fulfillment vacations (both kinds) and he holds close to his heart, this notion of an idealistic vacation where you don’t have to choose between the alarmingly self- aware bohemian trips and the hedonism of these artificial prosumer harems.

      • Hahaha …thanks Mir, that’s a great comment. I have no idea what it means though. But, the way you pepper your sentences with words like ‘prosumer’ reminds me of someone I once met …one Angshuman. Did you study under him by any chance? Thanks for reading. Please come by again.

  2. You should go to Petra. It sounds amazing. Why not go alone? I have traveled a little in the past, but it has always been with a companion, and although it is always great to experience something new with someone, travelling alone can really open a new awareness into yourself. And then you’ll be able to see what you want as well. In the near future, I hope to one day go to Petra.

    • Hey, thanks for the moral support. Petra indeed is a unique destination – I’m just a little apprehensive about traveling by myself because I’m quite the dreadful introvert. But you are right – it has got its rewards 🙂 Either way, I hope you end up in Petra some day too.

      • Everyone would be a little apprehensive travelling by themselves, especially if they had never done so before. I myself am in the same boat. But I know someone who spent months backpacking Europe by himself, and he told me that it was just what he needed to break him out of his shell.
        and thanks! I’m putting Petra down on my list of places to visit, definitely!

  3. “Following the old pilgrims’ path is a lost art.” …I can assure you that its not a lost art 🙂 There’s still a few practitioners right here in our city 😉 Petra sounds amazing and what did you mean exactly by economic? I have been looking for destinations to visit, I really need a break and Petra has been on my list for a while now.

    Btw, all that sleazy clubbing, whether it is at pattaya or amsterdam.. after a while, even the so called peers that your friend is stacking up against, will not hold as special.

    • Hey Arman – thanks for reading. I’m so glad its not a lost art …I just get frustrated sometimes. And hehehe …’economic’ was part of my argument to convince my friend. But I’ve been eyeing http://www.flydubai.com (budget airlines). If you can book 2/3 months in advance, I understand you get a round-trip to Jordan for as little as $500! And yeah, at the risk of sounding snooty, I hope my circle/society manages to get out of superficial vacations and invests in true journeys.
      I hope you end up visiting Petra.

  4. I have invented a word,’Facebook vacation’ which means travelling to exotic destinations that are popular & clicking pics in typical touristy places to look super cool & post them on FB and tag everyone possible. The main objective of such vacations is to make people feel jealous or at least think i wish i had his life .. hehe

    And you, Go Petra Go!

    • Hahaha Deepa, ‘Facebook vacation’ is exactly what I was grumbling over! Nicely phrased. You know, I miss that we have mostly turned away from aimless travels that are as much about new places/people as they are about inner journeys. But every time I say that out loud – it comes out sounding pretentious 😦

      But thanks a zillion for the moral support! 😀 I feel a sense of purpose now!

  5. This is a common modern trend. People want experiences served on a platter so that they don’t have to seek them out. Good post.

  6. This was quite an interesting read! One question though: why not just embark on a solo trip to Petra if you can’t get your friends to come with you? In any case, hope you do get to tick Petra off your bucket list soon. Cheers!

    • I am mustering up the courage, my friend, for a solo trip (I feel nervous because I have trouble starting or continuing conversations 😦 – but I guess its something I must face) Thanks for the encouragement though! I really need it.

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