Ten types of terrible (fellow) travellers
The swelling tribe of the solo traveller is no fluke and has more to do with whom you go with than where you go to. Your fellow traveller is unfairly vested with the power to make or mar your trip. To mangle it or make it memorable. A well-travelled fella who isn’t garrulous is a godsend; a brooding hot one and St Christopher is your daddy. Then for most of us a lot of bad karma gets sorted on the road – flat tyres and forgotten luggage, revolting bowels and innocuous looking/smelling country liquor that turns out to be one Thor of a hangover. Even then you must’ve been a real badass to have one of the guys below as a fellow traveller.
He claims to have traversed from Kargil to Kumarakom, traipsed over Kuari and the Kalindi. With such a been-everywhere-and-done-it-all guy, you do not get away with generalisations. Make a statement like ‘the dhabas of Punjab make great paneer burji’ and it’s your funeral. He will tell you about some fauji dhaba exactly three-and-half kilometres from the Wagah border, its precise seating arrangement and even the secret which made it delectable: “The milk comes from ‘across the border.’” Beginning with a “What-do-you-know-klutz!” his wisdom gems are followed with a ‘Do-you-get-it-klutz?’ wink. One retractable – drunken, usually – moment, he reveals to the klutz his alter ego (Hot Travelguru 007) and gloats over the amount of information that can be garnered from trawling forums.
You are travelling on a desolate highway, headed towards the boonies; lunch is late by four hours. You haven’t had breakfast yet. The sight of an eatery – let’s call it ‘Maggi Point’ – however derelict, is as welcoming as Kim without Kayne. The owner – still in a drunken stupor – whips up noodles. Everybody is busy slurping it down, the way noodles usually go, which the whiner says is because of too much water. The other option is wafers from China which is a no-go as ‘they put MSG in everything.’ The owner – now swaying like a pendulum – begins eyeing his khukuri beneath the counter; in the haste to leave we have overpaid.
The valley is calm, serene. The quiet is as comforting as an embrace. The views are breath-taking. You are sitting by yourself, variously just happily lost or engaged in a long overdue introspection. Suddenly the deodars and pine trees begin squealing ‘Baby doll’; the sod really believes he is brightening up things by unleashing his playlist on everybody. “The place looks a bit, well, ghum!” He goes when you glare at him. Well buddy, if not your earphones next time, bring Sunny Leone herself to really brighten things up.
This guy is actually an enthusiastic guy; only that the enthusiasm is muddily concocted with ignorance and indifference to fellow suffering. He wears his trekking boots right from Day 1; only that in Day 1 we are just travelling about 300 km over 15 hours in the van! Nine hours later it dawns on him that it might be a tad too early and he doffs them and puts his feet up!! If you cannot partake in his desultory happiness manifested by the furious intertwining of fingers through wool sock-clad toes unleashing a potent microbial offensive, arch your head out of the window. Better lose it to an electric post or passing traffic.
Your trek has been serenading the winding bank of the stream since morning. The gushing water body has been thundering by right next to your ears and bottoms for the better part of the day. By now you must have at least a dozen photographs too – of the cataract, the glistening boulders fringed by froth, the low hanging boughs and hollowed out trunks flanking the flow. But the pointer still cannot resist, well, pointing it all out to you. “Hey look at the stream,” he yells at you. After making sure you have taken a good look he will ask: “You are not taking pictures?”
Be it a butte or crag, a bird or lass, a snotty kid even, the recounter will tell you about a bigger crag, a more colourful bird or prettier lass and a snottier kid. Life with all its innocent anecdotes and simple incidents is a call to battle for the recounter, pushing him into a game of one-upmanship. The tragedy is that most of the time this is an involuntary kind of reflex. You are not spared even if it was a skull with movable mandibles; three years ago he saw one which actually sang!
These guys are stalkers in the technical outcome of the term. But by saying so we might be scaring ourselves out of a good time. The latcher clings to you like er, cling film and follows you around like the puppy in an old telecom ad; though not so cute from the second day onwards. The reasons may not be that drastic even – just a need for security, harmless bonhomie or just genuine coincidence that you look like his long-lost brother or favourite uncle who is (wrongly) serving a sentence for flashing. There is no call for consternation but just watch your back. And leave a false trail when you head to those bushes.
As you soon as you succeed in hiding that beaming pride welling up and clear your throat for the authoritative views about to erupt, square your shoulders and start replying one-by-one to the dozen interested queries about your travels and adventures, you realise the interviewer really is least interested in what you have to say and has in fact barged in impudently as you barely completed your second sentence from which he has springboarded to reel off his own travel accounts which are, by the way, more rocking than your own; to be pointed out unabashedly in case you don’t admit it yourself preferably by nodding vehemently.
The pine forest from the perspective of different pine trees. The river from various elevations, the stream from every cutting bridge. Every nimbu-mirchi totka, every stone on the chorten…you get the drift. The shutterbugger is incredibly gung-ho about not just taking scores of similar photographs but equally pumped up about taking you through each and every one of them, engaging you in a non-stop commentary on the subtle differences which you, mere mortal, have overlooked. Kill yourself later but savvy this now: Art is not for everybody.
The Borrower didn’t forget his toothpaste but has always felt that your Sensodyne is better than his Colgate. “Oh, your phone has signal? I’d like to speak to my wife.” The good thing is that your phone is actually your backup camera as there is no charging provision in the campsite, but the best part is that his wife is ‘visiting her folks in London’. Now the incident which really nailed this post: Dusk was falling fast and the gale was getting stronger and chillier. The borrower, who had his fleece gloves on asked me, in a pair of leather gloves, if I had extra. I didn’t. Came the clincher: “Can I borrow the ones you got on?
Sounding off the ‘ten types’ to a good friend and sometimes fellow traveller I was asked, “So which of these are you?”
“I guess I must be all of them,” I said and laughed.
“No, no, no, I don’t think you are.” I hoped she’d say. Instead she maintained a studied silence.
One more: The Nutcracker.
Photographs of the terrible (fellow) traveller shot by Raushni Abraham; filmmaker, photographer and media student at Birmingham City University, UK.
A slightly tweaked version of this story appeared in the New Indian Express.