Waterfalls and Locals

I have been travelling for the last couple of days. It is in a hilly area and the forests are thick. When you live in such proximity with nature as the locals here do, you tend to respect it a lot more. And if you travel to these parts, it is best to do as the locals do. I see a lot of outsiders trying to bend the rules, or to get away with more than they can when they travel.

Let me give you an example. In the parts we were driving through, one crosses many waterfalls. The urge to go bathe under a waterfall is very natural, and I am sure a lot of us have had it from time to time. But, if you’ve ever been around, you know that the locals always advice against it because it is dangerous. There are always things falling along with the water – and if any one of those things hits you, it is going to be a painful ride back home. Despite this sage advice, I almost always will find someone attempting to bathe under a waterfall. Now, there isn’t a lot I find irritating, but this disregard for the local wisdom is certainly one of them. At this point, the no bathing under waterfalls isn’t even local wisdom. I’m sure this is a very generalized piece of advice.

Let me give you another one. There is a river here which is considered holy by many. It has an interesting backstory. There was a great man who lived here way, way, way back. His father made the unhappy discovery that his wife was cheating on him with another man, the king no less. Enraged, he asked his eldest son to murder his wife (the boy’s mother). Naturally, the boy refused. Whatever the crime, killing your mom for it is, well, extreme. The father asked his second born son to do it (the great, learned man I told you about), and he (creepily, and in a decidedly un-learned manner) agreed. He went and killed his mom, beheading her with an axe. So great was his sorrow and anger at having killed his mom (but never once believing his actions to be in the wrong, surprisingly) he went on a killing rampage (remember that this is supposed to be a learned man). He targeted members of the ruling class more than anyone else. But no matter how many men, women, and children he killed; his axe remained stuck to his hand. He couldn’t get rid of it. Finally, he came to a river (the river I visited) and did some crazy penance, as a result of which he could let go of his axe (a metaphor, I think for the sorrow and anger he felt). The axe split the river in half, and you can go see if you want. Now, many people of my faith believe that if you come to this river and take a dip in it, you must leave behind an item of clothing. Also, you cannot bathe in the river if you have living parents. I have no idea how this superstition came about, because none of the locals, including the guardian priest of the river, support this idea. Regardless, people will travel for miles to come and dirty the river with their clothes. It makes no sense at all.

I see this disrespect for the place you are travelling to, and the locals who stay there, most often in the way people treat a cuisine they are unfamiliar with. In my opinion there are good travellers and then there are people who hanker after the food they are used to at home even when they are on vacation. The second kind should, ideally, stay at home. There is no way you can experience a culture fully without eating their food. After language, it is maybe the most important aspect of any culture. If you have allergies, or beliefs (say you’re vegan or a pescatarian), then yes eat whatever you can. But if you don’t, you really have no excuse for looking down on, or even refusing to try new stuff. I’m not saying I enjoy every new food item I try, a lot of the times it is stuff I will never willingly eat again. But why travel if you’re unwilling to experience a new thing even once in your life?