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Responsible Travel-The Travails of a Fretful

The Travails of a Fretful
The Travails of a Fretful
Conscientious Traveller

Certainly, for most of us it is about taking that first step, overcoming that last tiny bit of doubt, and taking that final leap in a moment of blinding enthusiasm. The greater wisdom of using public transport (as against using one’s private vehicle) is not an argument that can be won solely on the basis of reducing carbon footprint. The convincing has to come from within, because each one of us has our own set of mental barriers to deal with and these are not just the traffic situation or the state of public transport or the personal adjustments that will be required. 

Gouthami, CEO and co-founder,

Travel Another India 

While in school in Chennai, a whole bunch of us commuted by public transport each day. As any school girl will tell you, public transport in India was and is hazardous for women and girls. On one of those days, I took an oath that as soon as I could afford it I would buy a car and never ever travel by bus again. Those were the good old days before the Bruntland Commission and the Montreal Protocol, or even the phrase ‘climate change’. (Solely at the aspiration level, you wanted a car if you travelled by bus. Apparently, now a developed country is one where the buses are so good that the rich travel by them!) 

So, as my life progressed, I made sure that I always owned a car. I hadn’t stepped inside a bus in about two decades when the green bug bit me. How could I justify sitting alone in air-conditioned cars when there were so many other ways of travelling with a smaller carbon footprint? I struggled quite a bit before I decided to at least try. 

The airport in Bangalore being thrown way out of the city limits helped. The taxi fares were very high initially and there were these beautiful Volvo buses that were inviting you on board. The conductors would help with the luggage, the buses were empty, and there were certainly no eve teasers on board. After that first step, travelling around Bangalore by bus became easy. You buy yourself an all-day pass on the AC buses and try to figure out from the moving signboards on the bus where it is headed. And if you get on to the wrong bus it doesn’t matter because you have an all-day pass. So you jump off this one and get on to another one. In Bangalore traffic, buses are the fastest way to get around. All traffic just gives way to them. It needs a bit of planning time-wise and you can’t wear your fancy sandals and you need to limit the bags you carry, but the green halo around your head grows much bigger after a day on the buses. And the best part is that it is easy on your wallet as well!

Having conquered Bangalore, I decided to try Delhi the next time I was there. What is truly green here is that there are cycle rickshaws run on human power. While you bask in the green, the poor chap is sweating to lug your weight forward. Once you get over that, it is quite pleasant actually. I know there is a lot of debate on whether the metro is the best way to be green and connect a city, but since it is considered to be both in Delhi, I will go with the popular opinion. Using the metro in Delhi is really easy. The eve teasers are kept at bay by the ‘ladies only’ compartment in front. At every station there are cycle rickshaws and auto rickshaws waiting to take you forward. All that walking and climbing stairs helps to lose weight, and overall I think it is now possible in Delhi to use a car sparingly. The buses are quite easy to use, too – and unlike in my college days, they actually stop at the bus stop. The special bus lanes are also a good way to make sure bus travel is faster than using personal transport.

The challenge remained in my home town of Chennai. The bus system is superb and I am now old enough to shout and punch anyone who comes too close. The problem is that for the most part buses are quite crowded in Chennai. I decided to try out the share-autos first. After a couple of hair-raising trips, I went back to the bus. For short distances the share-autos are fine, but for longer trips the bus is way more comfortable. Of course, it helps that I know Tamil – I am not sure how easy it would be to use public transport in Chennai without knowing Tamil. 

In Mumbai I am told that it is really easy to use the train. I am paralysed by the crowds when I enter one of the stations. So the only time I dare to use the train there is during off-peak hours. I haven’t figured out the bus system either. So I end up using either taxis or autos – not ideal, but there it is. 

Have I stopped using a car? Of course not! I love to drive and it is one of the few things I do well and enjoy thoroughly. 

When do I need to use a car? When I want to dress well and wear impossible footwear; when I have several things to carry; when I want to go to many places; when my schedule is tight and I can’t depend on someone else; when I want to pamper myself; when I want to just be and not analyse my every move. Yes, sometimes I do get tired of always trying to do the right thing – however, I realize that there is increasingly no choice before us. If I am to leave anything at all for the next generations to enjoy, then I have to start minding how I live.

It Is about the Journey As Well

Sitting in Goa, I often hear discussions from people who have driven in from Bangalore or Mumbai about how quickly they reached Goa. Usually the claims are as exaggerated as you can imagine them to be. However, I always wonder what the tearing hurry is. If you are going for a holiday, why are you stressing yourself out over making it in the shortest time possible? Why not take the overnight bus or train if driving is that stressful? To me, an ideal driving trip is where I can drive for six hours at an even pace, enjoying the amazing landscape of this country.

And that usually applies when I am at the destination as well. Zipping around in speed boats, jet skis, et al, and messing with the eco system doesn’t thrill me so much anymore. Recently I was in Amritsar – we went by horse tonga to the Harmandir Sahib. The whole experience was ethereal. Going up with the click-clock of the horse put me in the mood to actually feel the peace that lay within the gurdwara. When we were testing out the bullock-cart ride in Pranpur, I suddenly realized that I was seeing the place anew. Riding on a cycle rickshaw through Chandni Chowk gave me a view that even walking did not. And in each case the income goes to a local person who owns the tonga, bullock cart or rickshaw – a win-win situation all around.

Yes, I fly from city to city as part of my job. Yes, that increases my carbon footprint manifold. And yes, I am looking for alternatives. Train and bus are fine for up to 12 hours – after that I plead to boredom and many years of slow travel. I know I should try harder, but till then I am going to plan my travel carefully so that I am not making needless trips.
Travel Another India works with rural communities to set up accessible destinations that make you, your hosts and the earth happy. Here’s the website: www.travelanotherindia.com. Do share your thoughts and experiences by writing to gou@travelanotherindia.com.

It needs a bit of planning time-wise and you can’t wear your fancy sandals and you need to limit the bags you carry, but the green halo around your head grows much bigger after a day on the buses.

ON THE STANDS