Saturday, January 21, 2012

pack your bags!

One of the joys of travelling is in meeting new people – and for me, discussing the peculiarities of our individual countries. I’m in Australia right now, based in Melbourne, but trying my best to explore as much as I can. The Great Ocean Road, my latest adventure, is like walking into a geography class. The journey, which I started from Melbourne, takes you through a number of small beach towns, some more tourist friendly than the others. One in particular, Lorne, had a tradition of a ‘Pier to Pub’ race there participants would jump of the pier, swim to the beach, run across the road, into a pub, and down a pint! The winner would… well, I’m not sure, but they’d sure have fun! Going along the drive, you come across stunning limestone rock formations, caused by years and years of erosion by the sea.

The Twelve Apostles (actually 8), Lock and Gorge, London Bridge… the visuals are maddeningly beautiful! Lock and Gorge, in particular, has a story about two people who were caught in the caves after a shipwreck, the only two survivors of a 54 people ship! The caves are then named after them. There are similar stories of great adventures and tragedies which dot the coastline, but the precise way in which the Australians have demarcated these areas for tourism is most impressive. Australia also owes part of its formation and look to volcanoes, and I actually stood in the crater of one such!

And where there are beaches, there must be a forest? No? Well, surprise, surprise! The Grampians National Park is just notch in the countries stunning visuals belt. But to me, the story of the aboriginals who lived there (and still do) was what remained with me. Gariwerd – the original name for Grampians – belonged to these old tribes when the British arrived in 1788. Much like the story everywhere, the British snatched their lands, stripped them of any rights, and treated Australia as it were up for grabs. They tried to poison them, kill them, and even as recent as the 1900s, took an entire generation away from their parents and raised them as ‘white’, leaving them with no sense of their own history. The current Australian Labour government has actually official apologized for the treatment of the tribes – and there is a heated debate going on in this country about whether the constitution should actually state that this great land belonged to the Aboriginals to begin with. In terms of history, belonging, and power struggles, it is certainly fascinating.

For an Indian, British colonization is easy to understand. What is even more exciting – just as a mental exercise – is to compare their experiences with those in other parts of the world. Draw a straight line from the Southern tip of Australia and at some point you’ll reach the Southern tip of South Africa – another place I had the pleasure of visiting a few months ago.

I had been there before, but when I was little, so it was like looking at the country with fresh eyes. Cape Town, where I landed, was a modern dazzling metropolis, and I was in awe of the fact that it was so well held together. That enthusiasm dampened a little when we started driving down the Garden Route and we passed about 20km of shanties on the way. That is where most of the blacks and colored people live – even today – while the Dutch and British settlers built cities and homes for themselves. As recently as 1970, non-white representation was abolished in SA, and everything was segregated. It is only in 1994 – when I was 11! – that apartheid was abolished, but it’s clear to see that people still live in the social order that has dominated this country for so long.

As we drove down the beautiful Garden Route, watching the landscape change from stark brown to beautiful vineyards to the beach towns, it struck me that I could have been in a European country right now. This didn’t have any African flavour to it – unless you count the African staff serving an almost all-white tourist flock in the areas. Our driver was of mixed race, and when asked about his German heritage, he angrily said he did not want anything to do with that. It’s easy to understand – many soldiers raped local women, and left them to deal with the newborn aftermath.

The law of the jungle seems to apply right here in people-world, and its not a fair fight. The Western concept of a developed society is something, by and large, the world has accepted but does it mean that everyone else’s views of the world need to be mocked and dismissed? I know, I’m just stating the obvious (if you have a heart!) but when you stand and look at the natural beauty of these places, and so many others I’m sure, you understand why someone wanted to live here, till you realize the blood price that was paid for it. So brutal.

So, in respect to those who were there when nature was making these places beautiful, have a little read! There is a story about how Australia, or the Gariwerd anyway, was formed. They are called ‘Dreaming Stories’ and you must go and read them here.

As we travel – and if the agenda is slightly beyond hotels and bars – you begin to marvel, (sometimes in disappointment), at the world we have built for ourselves. But it’s always the people you meet who bring back the color. Everyone has a backstory. I was hanging out with a guy who lives in Nuremburg, and whenever he told anyone, sheepishly he’d say, I suppose you know that is. But he was great, and like so many people who just want to travel the world – to SEE it and ENGAGE with it – and it makes me feel better about where we are headed as a people, and how much we will be able to understand eachothers cultures. That is, till you get network coverage again, and start reading the headlines!