I have been living in Gurgaon for the last 5 years. 5 years! in Gurgaon! I never thought I would end up staying this long here. In my head, it always was just a transit camp - to earn money to fund travel to Himalayas, come back and refill, go back and chill.. repeat until one figures out a way to break out of the cycle.
For the first 2 odd years that reflected in my lifestyle - My house was small and barely functional, a temporary base camp to return to 'home' in the hills. That 'home' was among strangers in the farthest corners and alleys of small villages in the hills. The home was not peopled really. It had no walls. It was the crisp cool air of the hills, the majesty of Himalaya, the clarity of sun's rays, the hot vapours rising from the ginger tea and the never ending walks in the forests, up the hills, down the valleys and through gullies and alleys of small villages and towns. When I was alone, that's what home was for me: A living breathing intimate experience with nature. And that is what is missing in Gurgaon. Completely.
We now have a lovely home in one of the greenest places in the city. It finally feels like 'home', largely due to Amrita's love and her homeprettification.
But I still miss out on the pleasure of walking around. Gurgaon is terribly polluted. My office is barely 3-4 km from my home. Ideally, I would have walked to the office everyday. But that is simply impossible in Gurgaon. If I decide to walk, I will have to fight the oppressively hot and abrasive dust that is as aggressive as the people of Gurgaon. I will have to fight these very people too, who would much rather mow a pedestrian down than slow down. I will have to fight the bikers who take special fancy towards riding on walkways (for the 2% of roads where they do exist) rather than the roads. My lungs will have to fight the exhausts of the diesel pajeros and jugaad-autos and past-their-expiry-date buses. My ears will have to fight the incessant honking and screeching and yelling. My eyes will have to fight the sight of a decaying, decadent Indian dystopia.
I would much rather not fight. I am a peace loving person you see. I do not fight, unless I must fight. And the 'must' fights can't be had everyday.
And hence I end up losing everyday a simple walk.
What is a city if it can't afford its citizen's a decent walk? NCR has bloody turned itself into a dystopian 'mad max'-esque car park.
Every good city is 'walkable': One can walk through it for work or leisure.
Why else do people love European cities? Would they be even half as lovely, if one couldn't walk through them? Berlin is so amazing because of its streets and the public spaces. In the 3 days that I was there, I walked daily for atleast 8-10 hours through its many straßes. I witnessed a roadside theatre, a political procession, a cyclist's meet, dancers, historical structures, quirky cafes... It was alive with its people stoking the city's heart with energy.
Kemijarvi, a small town in Arctic, on the other hand is a very different kind of lovely. It is beautiful with that typical silence and stillness of Finland's open spaces - its lakes, its parks and even its city centers. Finland has a certain beautiful rhythm to it in the summer - with people out walking their nordic walks in the afternoon by the lakes, in the parks and even by the train tracks.
Obviously, smaller towns and villages are more livable and walkable. I would love to return to Tsagkarada in Greece or Rothenburg in Germany for example. The walk in places like these have a deeper charm to them. Rothenburg has the cobbled pathways through history - it makes you feel like a traveler, a voyeur peeping into an alternate time - walking at a junction of past and present. Streets in Vrindavan might be dirty with overflowing garbage, but it still retains a certain sense of awe - homes, people even cows bathed in spiritual rituals. It has it's own rhythm that slows down in small gullies and picks up speed at intersections and markets.
Dhankar in Spiti is unlike anything you would have ever experienced. The first sight of Dhankar will unhinge your sense of reality. 'Which part of Solar system is this?' 'Am I dreaming?' The first walk around the town might induce vertigo. As you walk by the lake, you would wonder which way is up and which way is down - perhaps a hole in the mountain is betraying a sky of the secret world inside it. Even a simple green pea from the local farm might induce orgasms or hallucinations. (You must taste a fresh green pea from Dhankar once in a lifetime. You must.)
Oh, how wonderful is life and we are wasting it by not walking through it. One must walk to truly taste life. And walk with curiosity. The curious walker has better odds at witnessing reality and the cracks in reality. When you walk you appreciate existence because you may get to witness the frayed edges of existence. When you walk you locate yourself among 'us'. Walking pacifies the frenzied soul, it unbuttons the jacketed human. Walking untangles the complication of everydayness. Walking is what humans are made for, and we end up wasting our lives away seated in chairs 24x7.
One must walk about to truly live.
Here's an idea - Rate cities by their 'walkability' - how convenient and pleasurable is it to walk in that town?
From a 0 for Gurgaon to 2 for Mumbai to 4 for Nasik to 7 for Berlin. Which city is your 10?