Being there, seeing that By Bishwanath Ghosh You visit or move to a place — especially a new place — because you either have to or want to. There’s no middle path. The list of situations because of which you have to set foot in a particular place is pretty long: new job, transfer, official tour, business meeting, marriage, wedding of a friend or relative, illness of a loved one, school or college reunion — basically obligations you cannot wriggle out of. But what makes you want to visit or move to a new place? In my opinion, only three things: movies, photographs and books/travel pieces. The population of Mumbai would perhaps be half of what it is today had many of the popular Hindi films not been set in the city. I can bet on my life that its population went up significantly after Johnny Walker sang, “Yeh hai Bombay, yeh hai Bombay, yeh hai Bombay meri jaan.” Likewise, Shammi Kapoor single-handedly boosted tourism in Kashmir in the 1960s. Just as Kahaani, in recent times, restored, to some extent, the glorious past of the much-maligned Kolkata. Just as the Tamil film Kandukondain Kandukondain seduced me into shifting to South India 15 years ago. As for pictures, we no longer need a Steve McCurry to entice us into booking tickets to a hitherto-unvisited place. Come to Chennai and post pictures of steaming idlis resting on a banana leaf — and you will have at least 10 of your Facebook friends mentally adding the city to their must-visit list. And as for books, travel writers have served as brand ambassadors of places since time immemorial, and travel writing, even today, remains an evergreen and a safe genre. A brilliant work of fiction might sink without a trace, but a book about places is bound to have takers, simply because we are all born as nomads: some undertake the journeys, others travel vicariously. Trevor Fishlock’s Cobra Road is one of the many books that I keep rereading, with the burning desire to visit the places described in the book. Darjeeling, the queen of the hills, had been on my bucket list right from the time I watched, as a teenager, two films of different kinds: Aradhana and Satyajit Ray’s Kanchenjungha. After remote-romancing it for nearly three decades, I had to like the place when I made my maiden visit last week, even though the Darjeeling of 2016 is not at all the same as the Darjeeling of the 1960s, when these two movies were made. You cannot not like a hill-station at such an altitude: even the new and ugly concrete structures sprouting in such pristine locations cannot prevent clouds from entering your room. But clouds can also be the biggest enemy of a visitor to a hill-station, because they invariably draw a curtain over a breathtaking sight when you least expect them to. I got lucky, however, when I set out at dawn one day to Tiger Hill, to watch the sun rise and shine its rays on the five peaks of the Kanchenjunga, the third-tallest mountain in the world. It was difficult to decide whether the Kanchenjunga was hanging from the sky or rising to the sky — the snowy peaks appeared suspended high up in the air (at 28,000 ft, Kanchenjunga is four times taller than Darjeeling). I took pictures, but the camera simply failed to capture what my eyes saw. I imagined writing a piece about the experience, but simply couldn’t think of the appropriate words to describe the sight of the Kanchenjunga. Did I fail as a photographer, as a writer, in describing the moment, or is it that what I saw was too surreal to be captured in words or on a mobile phone? I believe it is the latter. Movies, books, photographs — they all present distorted images of a place. For example, even the most spectacular picture of the moon cannot replace the sensation of watching the full moon yourself from the terrace. In other words, you have to be there.