Why am I a Slow Traveller?

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“Travelling makes one modest – you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” Gustave Flaubert

I feel privileged to have travelled a bit across India and a few places around the world. I have experienced being:

  • stared at by a lioness in Mikumi National Park in Tanzania
  • scolded by a Bedouin in the deserts of Egypt for taking his picture without seeking permission
  • rebuked by a police officer in Washington for asking directions without saying “Good Morning” first
  • given a virtuoso performance by thousands of flamingos in Lake Nakuru in Kenya
  • treated to a dinner inside a Parliament in an East European country

The list is long but the common theme that runs across my experiences is their immersive nature. Over the years, I have somewhat unconsciously moved from ‘I have been there’ or  ‘I have done that’ syndrome to prefer experiences over sights.

I have realized that travelling slowly is a state of mind and it depends purely on the choices I exercise to make the most of my time. I have learned the art of standing still, even if it is for a brief duration. Every time I do that, I realize that the new destination reveal a new story for me to experience.

So what is slow travel? To me it entails tailoring my own trips, connecting with people (locals), removing the rush to do more and most importantly moving out of my comfort zone.

Sounds interesting? Here are a few things that you need to keep in mind before you jump in:

  • Slow travel is a mentality and may not suit everyone
  • Do less – soak in more from your experiences
  • Connect with the locals and act like a ‘Roman in Rome’
  • Throw away your travel guide and explore the unchartered paths
  • Do not be compelled to put a tick mark against the must-sees
  • Be prepared to explore Airbnb and Couchsurfing

If this still sounds appealing, watch a snail cross your nearest playground! If you can survive the test, pack your bags and Welcome to the Club!

 

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The Elephants of Rajaji National Park

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Till a few years back, a gentle pachyderm roamed the jungles of Rajaji National Park. The gentle giant, aptly named Tipu attained iconic status by displaying a unique brand of personality. He was fearless, he was a chronic crop raider, he was electrocuted by humans from which he recovered miraculously, he was radio collared which he dutifully discarded after a few years. He lived up to the age of 65 amidst all the dangers that tuskers experience as they struggle to adopt to the growing greed of human beings and the unbalanced need for development at the expense of forests.

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Source: wpsi-india.org

Tipu’s feats attain extraordinary proportions when one considers that he was born prior to Independence and grew up amidst extensive grasslands and forests. As he grew up, large tracts of his habitat got gradually taken over by crop fields and human settlements. However, contrary to common wisdom, Tipu did not consider humans as his enemy. He simply readjusted and added the sugarcane and paddy grown by farmers within his home range to his menu. And he never killed a human being during his long life!

Unlike his peers, Tipu was not apprehensive of crossing the road and railway track in the Chilla-Motichur corridor area which served as the bridge between the two halves of Rajaji National Park. The exponential increase in vehicles and railway traffic in the corridor made most of his peers apprehensive but Tipu remain unfazed. He stuck to his usual routine and showed complete disdain to the vehicle movement while moving from one part of the forest to the other. It was largely due to him that the Chilla-Motichur corridor was saved by leveraging the knowledge gained via his radio collar. He was indeed the catalyst who reiterated the exceptional ability of bull elephants to move across disturbed areas and maintain the link between fragmented areas.

At his prime, Tipu governed a range close to 800 sq. km and it is extremely likely that his legacy would continue for a long time via his offsprings. Tipu was born free under colonial rule and breathed his last in Independent India. However, his end did not come via a collision with a train or a truck plying at high speed. Nor did he succumb to the stray bullet of a poacher. Tipu sustained severe injuries while confronting a much younger bull over a young female and fell down from the Motichur railway bridge. For a wildlife lover, Tipu epitomized the hope that man and elephants can co-exist after all. And for a romantic, he embodied the free spirit, the ability to live one’s life as per one’s own terms. Tipu does not have an epitaph that he can call his own but if he ever gets one, the following words would be apt.

“They say that somewhere in Africa the elephants have a secret grave where they go to lie down, unburden their wrinkled gray bodies, and soar away, light spirits at the end.”
― Robert McCammon, Boy’s Life

As we planned our trip to Rajaji National Park, my mind was preoccupied with Tipu’s exploits across the length and breadth of the national park. I was brimming with excitement at the prospect of seeing young bulls who may be the torch bearers of Tipu’s legacy. I read and re-read Anita Nair’s beautiful travelogue “The elephants are coming”. I hoped our sojourn to the forest would replicate these lines from her travelogue “In Wayanad, the road to celebrityville begins with the elephant. Everyone, almost everyone has an elephant tale to tell. Elephant wisdom to disseminate; elephant theories to propound and an I-don’t-know-how-I-lived-to-tell-you-this-encounter with an elephant”.

And we were not disappointed. Elephants were everywhere! Our taxi driver narrated stories of his numerous elephant encounters during our back breaking journey to the forest resort. The stories continued to pour in from the resort staff, guide and practically anyone we met and interacted with.

Rajaji National Park lived up to its billing of being the host to one of the largest Asian Elephant population in the country. As soon as we entered the forest in the morning, we heard the rustling of leaves and soon enough we could sense their presence. We did not get a good view of the animals but our guide assured us that we would have plenty of opportunities to see them in the afternoon.

We decided to shift our focus and were not disappointed. The birds of the park enthralled us. The Bee eaters, Kingfishers, Hornbills, Eagles took our breath away and for a while we stopped thinking about elephants.

Following a quick lunch, we were back at the park. The first encounter with Tipu’s clan came via a baby elephant who seemed to have strayed from her mom. While we could not see her, we could almost sense her presence and her stern voice “back off”.

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We headed forward and came across a young family on the river bed. The setting sun, the presence of a pair of Spotted Deer and the family’s nonchalant walk towards the bush made it an almost surreal experience.

But our Tipu moment arrived when the guide stopped the jeep abruptly as we were coming down from the cliff. He pointed to the lone bull happily munching grass on the river bed below. The languid posture of the bull, unhurried and unfazed by his surroundings gave us a glimpse of the aura that Tipu was associated with.

As we were about to leave the park, we came across a herd of 8-10 female elephants. As we watched them carry on with their feeding and bonding session, I could not but help thinking what would it take to ensure that we carry on with each other’s’ lives without getting into a conflict.

I reminded myself that Tipu never retaliated despite being on the verge of losing his life at the hands of humans. I also reminded myself of the extraordinary tale of South African elephants paying homage to the man who saved their lives. Here is an excerpt from the article which deepened my respects for Tipu and his clan.

For 12 hours, two herds of wild South African elephants slowly made their way through the Zululand bush until they reached the house of late author Lawrence Anthony, the conservationist who saved their lives.

The formerly violent, rogue elephants, destined to be shot a few years ago as pests, were rescued and rehabilitated by Anthony, who had grown up in the bush and was known as the “Elephant Whisperer.”

For two days the herds loitered at Anthony’s rural compound on the vast Thula Thula game reserve in the South African KwaZulu – to say good-bye to the man they loved. But how did they know he had died March 7? Read more here

 

Knowledge Managers in the age of AI and RPA

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“One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin”. Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka
This is a story of a fictional Knowledge Manager who has been experiencing his Gregor Samsa moment of late! Let’s call him A.

Over the past few months, A has been struggling! The phrases AI and RPA have robbed him of a good night’s sleep and he keeps wondering if he would wake up one morning and be told that his skills around networking, fostering collaboration, transforming data into stories and most importantly stimulating conversations would no longer be considered as essential skills for practising KM. A is at his wits end thinking if he needs to reskill himself or if it is time for him to test new waters.

Throughout his KM career, A has been an ardent fan of LinkedIn and had used it a lot to introspect and decipher new concepts. He turns to his old friend and within a few minutes, extracts insights to motivate himself. The two articles that catch his attention and imagination are RPA to AI: the intelligent automation journey and Knowledge Management That Makes a Difference.

The RPA to AI article is an eye opener for him. He understands that we are on a journey to automate intelligence using robots. The first stage of the automation process sounds familiar to him as he has been involved in process optimization activities that aimed at cutting costs and increasing efficiencies and accuracy. Rather than feeling apprehensive, A starts to feel energised as he realizes that this brand of KM is not alien to him. Over the years, he has evolved from a backend data collector and aggregator to a business analyst who attempts to provide knowledge based solutions based on stakeholder needs ONLY. He realizes that the first generation Robot could be his friend after all!

A takes cautious steps towards the second stage which comes to him as a huge surprise. Despite his best attempts, A has never been able to extract insights from unstructured data like emails, scanned images etc. due to human and technology limitations. He had to resign to the fact that “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge” (Megatrends by John Naisbitt). Now he feels optimistic realizing that the Cognitive Robot in stage two can help him create patterns from repetitive processes around inputs and outputs. It strikes him that the second generation Robot using natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning could accelerate the process of experiential learning within an organization.

Moving on to the third stage, A feels like seeing himself in the mirror. The intelligent chatbot or the third generation Robot appears to have assumed his persona that he has painstakingly developed over the years. A has always strived to enable interaction with his stakeholders by steering them in the right direction in their quest for knowledge. However, a few years ago, he did start to acknowledge that the process takes disproportionate amount of his time and despite his best efforts he can help a limited set of stakeholders only. He had secretly started hoping for a magic wand powered solution that could automatically learn from conversations, improve over a period of time and take over his mantle of human GPS in the KM ecosystem.

Approaching stage four, A begins to feel cautiously optimistic about his chances of remaining relevant in the KM discipline in the foreseeable future. He is completely bowled over though as he comes to terms with the real power of artificial intelligence in this stage. He recognizes that at this stage the robot would be able to mimic human intelligence and would comfortably be able to turbo-charge mission critical activities. And going by the same analogy, the robot should be able to address the requirements of extracting and then documenting the critical knowledge of experts quite easily. It would indeed be the Holy Grail for KM!

A realizes that this stage is still largely conceptual and it is likely to take considerable amount of time before it becomes a reality. Realizing that he would be able to earn his bread for a few more years after all by complementing his skills and embracing the robots from stages 1-3, he ponders “will there be no human KMs when stage four finally takes off”.

He flicks over to the second article “Knowledge Management That Makes a Difference” gives him hope. Digging deep into his own experiential learning, patterns created over the years and supported by the golden principles highlighted in the article, he arrives at a conclusion that stage four would still need humans who would facilitate the art of collaboration and sharing. They may not be called Knowledge Managers but as “the Bard” had once said “What’s in a name?”

And here are the golden principles that have been borrowed directly from the original article:

  • Connection before content                                

  • We learn when we talk

  • Knowledge is created and shared in conversation

  • Learn in small groups integrate in the large group

  • Asking opens the door to learning

  • Experts are used to stimulate thinking not to provide answers

 

Atop the Benog Hill

“[Walking] is the perfect way of moving if you want to see into the life of things. It is the one way of freedom. If you go to a place on anything but your own feet you are taken there too fast, and miss a thousand delicate joys that were waiting for you by the wayside.” — Elizabeth von Arnim

The trek to Benog Hill Top offered the weary travellers (WTs from hereon) what they had set out for. They had craved for a basic B&B lodge which would act as their base prior and post the short trek. And they had hoped that the trek would allow themselves to be “free” for a few hours.

They were lucky that their initial plan to scale the Nag Tibba peak was ditched by a well-known hiking company. The setback facilitated an interaction with the affable Vipul from Yeti Outdoors who was sympathetic to their simple demands and put them under the stewardship of Manish, a local youth bubbling with energy.

The WTs were picked up by Manish from their lodge in Hathipaon which is conveniently located around 5 KMs from the hustle and bustle of Mussoorie and on the way to Benog Hill. A quick drive to the Cloud End Forest Resort marked the start of the trek which was a steady climb and took around 2.5 hours including all the pit stops along the way to soak in the sights and sounds of the hills and forests.

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Your destination is at the top!

With spring around the corner, Mother Nature offered the WTs with a red carpet welcome. The hills were awash with the Rhododendron flowers. While the WTs marvelled at the red hills, Manish urged them to act as locals and bite and chew the flowers. The taste was more pungent compared to the Buransh (local name for Rhododendron) juice that they had tasted in other parts of the hills. The Buransh tasting session slowed down the travellers considerably but neither they nor Manish was complaining.

The climb upwards slowly opened up the beautiful vistas of Hathipaon, Doon valley, Aglar river valley and the distant peaks which were not clear on the day of their trek (on a clear day peaks like Chaukhamba and Bandar Punch can be seen). The climb continued and before the legs got too heavy and the alarm bells started ringing, the Jwalaji Devi Temple appeared and signalled the WTs that they were close. And wasn’t the climb worth all the panting and the money spent on newly bought trekking shoes from Decathlon? The views from the temple and the top was mesmerizing!

The cool breeze, the emptiness of the place and the 360 degree alluring views provided the WTs a perfect opportunity to relax and introspect. The WTs, despite being seasoned travellers, were taken aback when Manish opened his rucksack and offered them Frooties and Dairy Milk. The surreal combination of the offering and the Manish’s gesture on top of Benog Hill reminded the WTs the need to experience the simple pleasures of life.

As clichéd as it sounds, all good things come to an end. After frequent stops to turn back to take one last look at the blue sky atop Benog Hill, the WTs were back to where it all started in another two hours or so. They promised to be back in the hills and Manish vetoed their decision wholeheartedly.

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Manish can be contacted at 9634187759.

 

 

Memories from Mukteshwar

As the sun peeked out from behind Shiva’s matted tresses, he glistened with pleasure at what he saw. The demon lay defeated at the Lord’s feet praying for his forgiveness. Shiva in all benevolence granted him ‘Mukti’ or liberation. “Lord” said the sun “You have displayed your unparalleled greatness yet again”. Shiva gave his divine […]

via Tales of Temples and Treks in Mukteshwar — SoWeTravelBlog