A Lone Saunterer in the Age of Destinations

Article excerpt

LOCAL residents have gotten fed up with offering me lifts on the road to our hilltop bank and post office. They typically drive up the steep road to Landour in third (or is it fourth?) gear, see me plodding along on foot, and out of the goodness of their hearts, stop and open the door for me.

Although I hate to disappoint them, I close the door, thank them profusely, and insist that I am enjoying my walk. They don't believe me, naturally; but with a shrug, the drivers get into gear again and take off, although sometimes they have difficulty getting started, the hill being very steep. As I don't wish to insult them by reaching the bank first, I sit on the parapet wall and make encouraging sounds until they finally take off. Then I renew my leisurely walk up the hill, taking note of the fact that the wild geraniums and periwinkles have begun to flower, and that the whistling thrushes are nesting under the culvert over which those very cars pass every day.

Most people, car drivers anyway, think I'm a little eccentric. So be it. I probably am eccentric! But having come to the Himalayan foothills over 25 years ago in order to enjoy walking among them, I am not about to stop now, just because everyone else has stopped walking. The hills are durable in their attractions, and my legs have proved durable too, so why should we not continue together as before?

The friends who once walked beside me now have their shiny new cars or capacious vans, and seldom emerge from them, unless it be to seek refreshment at some wayside tea shop or cafe.

Now I'm no fitness freak. I don't jog either. If I did, I would almost certainly miss the latest wildflower to appear on the hillside, and I would not be able to stop awhile and talk to other people on the road - villagers with their milk and vegetables, all-weather postmen, cheeky schoolchildren, inquisitive tourists - or to exchange greetings with cats, dogs, stray cows, and runaway mules.

Runaway mules are friendly creatures except toward their owners. I chat with the owners too, when they come charging up the road. I try to put them in good humor, so as to save the mules from a beating.

Most of the people I have mentioned are walkers from necessity. Those who walk for pleasure grow fewer by the day.

I don't mean long-distance trekkers or high altitude climbers, who are almost professional in their approach to roads and mountains. I mean people such as myself who are not great athletes but who enjoy sauntering through the woods on a frosty morning, leaving the main road and slithering downhill into a bed of ferns, or following a mountain stream until you reach the small spring in the rocks where it begins.... But, no - everyone must have a destination in mind, for this is the age of destinations, be it the Taj Mahal, the casino at Cannes, France, or the polar icecap. …