“And 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’ll accumulate lists, but I won’t learn much. Truman Capote would dismiss it out of hand: “that’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.