Depending on their destiny, adventurers are either fools or heroes of their stories. I have no illusions as to which one I am. In my writings elsewhere, I have professed as much, admitting to more folly than valour. I storm in when caution is called for, swing big and miss bigger. But even during my most colossal missteps, I never lack chutzpah. In a more reflective light, my bravado is as entertaining as it is sobering.
Physical daredevilry, which I am less prone to, affords its own kind of Sisyphean theatre. At the limit of your body’s endurance, every judgement you make is in doubt, especially by that little voice in your head. Aron Ralston, the American hiker whose life became the basis of Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, had a comical back-and-forth in his mind minutes before chopping his arm off. Obeisance to nature has a high price. The hordes of mountaineers stranded in avalanches or sailors taking on deadly tides will certify that.
For a majority of travellers though, adventure isn’t usually this dramatic. There is no life-or-death expedition to the end of the earth. No lost-at-sea survival sagas. Adventure in travel these days is achievable if your health and wallet are willing. They are now about ticking off bucket lists. What also motivates modern thrill-seekers is fun not fear. A sense of mortal peril, if at all, can only help shore up bragging rights later.
My appetite for adventure travel is questionable at best. However, my colleagues and fellow writers are less intimidated. They boldly went where I wouldn’t, returning with thoughtful and moving retellings. One of them had her head in the clouds after skydiving and bungee jumping in New Zealand, another described her trek to Auden’s Col in India as a near-religious experience. A father, who recently turned 60, journeyed to South Africa to dive with sharks whereas a dispatch from La Paz in Bolivia packed in more action than I could imagine. In each case, accomplishment was the goal but the conquest of inner demons became the unexpected reward.
My personal summit this time last year was to create a National Geographic Traveller India that held the boundless promise of adventure; not just an excellent travel magazine but a superior read that competed with the best in the business. Despite being in uncharted waters, my team’s ambition held it in good stead. If success guarantees glory, then we can rightfully lay claim to our fair share. In the process I was, as I have stated often, happy to be more playful than heroic.
Adventures, in the end, leave you satisfyingly depleted. Perhaps, everything didn’t meet your impossible expectations. Surely you could have done more. But once you have hoisted that flag or surfaced from the ocean, it’s time to catch a well-deserved breath. In the words of Jay Z, “Onto the next one.”
Shreevatsa Nevatia never travels without his headphones, coloured pens and a book. He is particularly fond of cities, the Middle East, and the conversations he has along the way. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India.