Ghumakkad Shastra is one of the popular books of noted travel writer Rahul Sankrityayan. He has single-handedly written the biggest corpus of travel books in India. His most popular book is Volga Se Ganga, where he takes you through the journey of a common man from cave to about the last century. I really enjoyed his Ghumakkad Swami which was a kind of reverse journey of a traveler.
Ghumakkad Shastra is supposed to be a Shastra or a scripture like our ancient scriptures. He believes the future of human species depends on travel. The author has written it with an intent to be a reference document for future travelers. He begins by saying – Ghumakkadi se bada koi dharma nahi hota. That is there is no bigger religion than wandering.
He gives clear categories of travelers – first class, second class, third class, and general. It seems he was inspired by the railways here. He proposes pyramidical like a structure of these categories with a small number of first-class travelers on top.
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Book is specially targeted at younger travelers for the author thinks the earlier you start traveling, the better it is. I agree it is easier to travel in your 20s than in your 40s. But then everyone has their own tipping point to start traveling. He wants girls to travel but has slightly different rules for them. While he wants the boys to travel solo, he recommends girls to travel in a group of 3. The logic is well explained.
The book begins with the glory of travelers and why the world needs them. He talks about travelers who spent their life traveling and writing about it. That definitely includes himself in the list. The author talks about them being driven by ‘curiosity’. He says ‘to be a good traveler one should be carefree and to be carefree one has to be a traveler’. He compares the problems during travel to chilly in the food.
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He tells you or rather warns you about the things that will hold you back from traveling. First among them being your family, especially your mother. Second is the marriage or commitment which he keeps telling his young travelers to stay away from. Unless they can find someone equally interested in travel. In that case, too he thinks there would be hurdles but to marry someone who is not interested in travel would be a disaster. He repeatedly talks about the courage you need when you travel solo.
He prepares future travelers by talking about the potential problems they would face. They would loneliness, they would get attracted to fellow travelers, there would be places that would try to bind, but a traveler must move on. He does say stay for a few years at one place if need be, but eventually, keep moving.
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The book tells them the essential skills to gain before you step out. He advocates getting a degree, learning a few languages, learning to read or draw maps, learn photography and few skills that can earn your bread on the road. He emphasizes the importance of health for the traveler, and I can not agree more with him.
Rahul advocates staying with the tribal communities for some time, in their tents or traveling with them to understand their lives. He goes to the extent of sharing the names of all possible tribes in India and outside. He talks in detail about what one must gather about the communities one is visiting to know and understand them. At the same time, he tells them what you should carry along with you to the destination. You are never alone, you carry your culture and your values. You are bound to leave your impact on the places you visit. He warns against thinking one culture is better than the other. It can limit you as a traveler.
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My biggest takeaway from the book and something that I strongly believe in is – Move with abandon, but always have a larger purpose in mind. Travel for the sake of travel will not evolve you or the world. You must have a larger purpose to your travels, even when you wander carefree. At one place he says that the best travelers return home as great writers, artists or poets. Some even start their own religions.
The language of the book is simply rustic and beautiful. His metaphors tell you about travel in a way that you can feel them even if you have never stepped out. I would not rate it at par with the Shastras, but it is a very good attempt towards that. There is a tinge of wit and humor here and there. You see his huge bias towards Buddhism and Buddha, his chosen religion though he may have called himself an atheist.
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A lot has changed since Rahul Ji wrote Gumakkad Shastra. Maps are on our fingertips, so are languages and their translations. Everyone is a photographer in their own way. Travel has become a lot easier even when there are pauses where you cannot even step out of your homes.
As Rahul Sankrityayan ends the book – Jayatu Jayatu Ghumakkad Pantha – Long live the tradition of Travel.
Do read the book Ghumakkad Shastra.