The difference between the traveller and the tourist

I’m currently reading an amazing book by the British entertainer Mike Harding titled “Footloose in the Himalaya”. It’s an interesting account of his journeys through the Kingdoms of Zanskar and Ladakh, and then on to the foothills of Everest. He writes wonderfully about his experience, and it is a fascinating description of the people of this isolated location, and the ruggedness and harshness of this area. What follows is a particular quote of Harding’s that I thought is quite pertinent. (The book was published in 1990, so despite a few words that have gone out of use, the sentiment is the same).

“The traveller doesn’t expect to be provided with the comforts he has left behind. He tries to journey amongst the people, meeting them and living to some extent as they do, for a while at least. He will never become one with them because his cultural background and language are so different that there will always be a gap between himself and the people he is travelling amongst but he is trying to see and experience their world without changing it. In his travels through Arabia Wilfred Thesiger lived amongst the Arabs speaking their language, eating, drinking and sleeping exactly as they did. He is a good example of a traveller. The tourist, on the other hand, is jetted round the world, bend double with Pentax stoop, his fists full of touro-dollars, his video camera rolling. His sole object is to collect images, T-shirts, antiquities and ‘experiences’. Because he is too stupid to try and understand it, the culture is debased and packaged for him… the world is becoming a stage where the rare and beautiful is corrupted for the grinning fools who don’t seek to understand but want only to go home with a camera full of Kodachromes for the neighbours to gawp at, tut over, marvel at and squeal ‘How could you stand it?’ ”

 

 

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