Checklists. I always had one of those every time I travelled to a new place when I was younger. Exhaustive lists of places to go to, to eat at, to buy things from. I realised soon enough that my checklists were a sham, and all I was trying to do was fit in with the crowd. Because once I got to my destination, all I really wanted to do was bum around, eat some food, look at things and while away time. I kept denying myself the wholesomeness of wasting time on a break because intermittently I’d rush to see a thing/space/structure/ruin, in order to tick it off my mental list.
The two times that my checklist did make a difference to my life was once when I went to the killing fields in Phnom Penh with two of my closest friends, and the other time when I saw The Garden Of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch at The Prado. The killing fields evoked emotions that I hadn’t ever experienced before, and yet made me feel incredibly calm. I remember walking around the grounds with headphones on, listening to the audio tour of the space. My friends had dispersed, having found their own pace. At the end of an hour, we met at the exit, right at the beginning of a breathtaking sunset, and without saying much we got into our tuktuk. I know we all felt lucky, privileged even, to lead the lives we do in such freedom, without the horrors of war or genocide, but I also felt fortunate for the company I had, for friends I could travel the world with, see things with and have these experiences with.
The painting at The Prado was at the peak of my obsession with surrealism. With very little money in my pocket, I made the reckless decision of extending my backpacking trip to include one day in Madrid so I could see this masterpiece from the 16th century. I was overwhelmed and overjoyed, and I had used Madrid for just this one reason. It meant nothing to me after that (mostly because I had just about enough €€€€ to get to the airport and leave the country).
All other times, my checklists have been a task. I’ve gotten to a place on my list and immediately wanted to be elsewhere. So, at some point, about nine or 10 years ago, I gave up. I gave up the idea of seeing/visiting things that one was expected to see and visit when at a new place. I never went to the Opera House in Sydney. I have never seen the Taj Mahal or been to the Louvre and I didn’t even trek up to the castle in Edinburgh even though I was there just for just that. Did I know a city less because I hadn’t eaten at Lonely Planet? Did I regret not going to the Matrimandir in Auroville despite having spent two weeks there? No. Not one bit. I’m sure I’ll get to all these places at some point in my life (or maybe I’m just kidding myself), but I’ll wait for that to happen in a manner where I don’t have a box to tick.
All other times, my checklists have been a task. I’ve gotten to a place on my list and immediately wanted to be elsewhere. So, at some point, about nine or 10 years ago, I gave up. I gave up the idea of seeing/visiting things that one was expected to see and visit when at a new place. I never went to the Opera House in Sydney.
On a recent (first) trip to Berlin to meet some friends, I asked my husband if there was something in particular he wanted to see in the city. “Not really. I’d like to walk around a little, maybe get a great breakfast somewhere, see how the city lives and breathes. Maybe get some drinks,” was his reply. As an urban designer, what mattered to him most was the immersion into a city, to see it as part of it rather than as a visitor. We did go to the Berlin Wall and I took a panorama photograph for my father, but we also found an amazing breakfast place, a perfect bratwurst stall outside a train station, an empty beer garden near the canal and a grocery store the size of a football field, among other things.
At 20, the one place I wanted to visit most was Machu Picchu in Peru, because it was amazing, it was a ruin, and because it had so much history that it would be amazing to tell tales of my trip. At 35, I want to go to Siberia. I know about Lake Baikal, but aside from that I’m pretty clueless about what I’ll find there and who I’ll go with (all friends and family have politely asked for a postcard) and that’s what’s got me thrilled about it.
Juhi Pande has been travelling and collecting stories her whole life. She likes mathematics, chewing on bits of plastic and Björk. Her point of view is a patchwork of odd perspectives, naiveté and (occasionally) insight.