Covid-19 has put in a spanner in travel plans for most of us. All we can do is, look at photos from the trips in the past and sigh, longing for those days of easy travel to come back. I was flipping through my Facebook memories recently and came across pictures from our trip to Udaipur in 2018. This holiday was memorable as it was the first holiday, hubby and I had taken sans children in almost twelve years. Looking through the pictures brought a smile to my face. It was a wonderful holiday where we both could reconnect without getting bogged down by the nitty-gritty of life. As I reminisced about the places we had visited in Udaipur and the people we met there, I remembered Mr Negi. Mr Negi was the guide we had hired to show us that beautiful city. He had turned out to be such an excellent conversationalist that we lost track of time. Thinking about Mr Negi then made me remember all the family trips we have taken and the guides who have helped us along the way.
Our family has a habit of booking a guide whenever we plan a trip or when visiting landmark monuments. Some might say that in this day and age of google and audio guides, what is the need for a physical guide? Why spend extra money on something that is usually available for a minimum amount or even free. Especially since we are usually on tight budgets for the holidays. Our reason is simple. We prefer the human interaction that a guide adds to the whole experience.
Guides not only tell us about the monument/landmark we are visiting, but they also add their own quirks and idiosyncrasies. In quite a few cases, they help us understand their country better, for instance, Mr Sampath in Sri Lanka. Or, they keep us entertained with their stories, like with Mr Negi in Udaipur. A good guide can enhance the experience to an unforgettable one. Or, it may drive us to give that landmark only two stars on Tripadvisor ( yes, we have had that experience too). During our travels, we have met quite a few guides who made our trips memorable. There is, however, one guide who inspired me to write this post.
A few years ago, on a family wedding trip to Agra, we decided to indulge in some sightseeing before the relatives descended en masse. We started with the furthest most monument on our list, the Fatehpur Sikri. A landmark that both hubby and I had already visited when younger. We weren’t sure whether we needed a guide for a monument already seen. For some reason, our hesitation was taken as acquiescence by our driver and he quickly secured a guide for us. With a hennaed beard, green kurta, kohled eyes and a skull cap on his head, our guide was the quintessential old man from the inner city. Looking at him, we were a little apprehensive whether his rustic dialect would be understood by our anglicised expatriate children. We later realised how wrong we were. Even though he spoke in Hindustani, he kept us entertained with his facts, his re-telling of stories, his continuous stream of chatter. His enthusiasm in making us pose for pictures, his insistence on us, taking the right picture at the right angle, was infectious. He even convinced the younger one, not usually the most interactive fellow, to pose for the touristy photo of pinching the spire of the building (ala Taj Mahal). On an extremely hot, dusty April afternoon in Agra, he made us smile and forget all the discomfort. Our memories of Fatehpur Sikri are now conjoined with him showing us the monument. In my memories, I cannot separate the two. Yet, the irony is that I do not even ask his name ( he was a government guide hired by our driver).
Nowadays, travel has been romanticised as art to re-discover yourself etc. etc. Many people shudder in horror when they realise that we usually take the help of a guide to discover a place rather than explore it ourselves. However, I realised that our memories of a place are not only about the landmarks/sights we see or the new things we experience. It is also about the people we meet. The guides, who became friends for a short time and yet, are forever entwined in our memories. The people who showed us, not only the sights but also, a glimpse into the country they belong to.
And who knows, maybe, it was one such guide who left such an indelible imprint on R.K.Narayan, that he wrote “Guide”.
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Psst I have recently published my first book “Xanadu: Three Souls Searching For Their Paradise” on Amazon, do check it out