‘œAnd this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world.’ – John Steinbeck
My life really got going the day I finished formal education. I began enjoying learning at about the same time, when I began wandering the world. Knowledge became gold dust. No longer was I learning stuff merely to regurgitate it in hot exam halls. I do appreciate the benefits of the little bits of paper I earned, but school on the road is different. Geography, culture, history, politics, religion: the way of the world begins to fit together. And the more I learn the more I learn how little I know.
Travel far from home and even mundane, ordinary events become out of the ordinary and fascinating. Knowledge and exciting fresh perspectives are thrown at me all the time. This doesn’™t happen when life’™s normal routine is ticking over. But I do have to caution myself to travel slowly. If I rush my journeys, one eye on the clock, eager only to tick off miles, countries or sights, then I’m™ll accumulate lists, but I won’™t learn much. Truman Capote would dismiss it out of hand: ‘œthat’™s not travelling, that’™s moving.’
But backpackers and other holiday makers will learn at least as much about India as I will on my walk. And I hadn’™t even particularly cared whether I did this walk in India or any other place on the planet. So I am not really doing this to learn specifically about India. What I want to learn from this experience, spending time amongst lives very different to mine, is about myself and the direction of my life. The slowness of a walk is a good chance to reflect on the past and contemplate the future, two things I never get round to doing at home. I am yet to find a better recipe for really learning about myself than a physically difficult, uncomfortable adventure thousands of miles from home.