While discussing potential places for a short vacation, a friend declared that all she was looking for was a place with clean, fresh air. I suggested she go to the car-free hill station of Matheran near Mumbai. One of my favourite travel memories is of sitting with friends on an end-of-summer night at Matheran’s Echo Point. Pulling my jacket’s hood over my head I recall the joy of feeling the wind lifting up the valley, and smelling the sweet scent of the earth as the first drops of rain hit the hill station’s red soil.
I’ve often heard that vast numbers of urban Indians are deficient in Vitamin D—which we should in the normal course of life get from sunshine. Increasingly we have forgotten that the simplest of health benefits can come from spending time outdoors. On a vacation, what many of us often need most is not an exotic locale or five-star amenities. Instead, perhaps we need to find time to occasionally explore a forest, a mountain, a clean beach away from the city: anywhere really, where the outdoors will refresh our lungs and with that our bodies and souls.
In recent years, Tasmania has done a good job of putting itself on the traveller’s map by promoting itself as a place with the cleanest air. And my friend looking for clean air could well head there. But really, we don’t need to travel to Antarctica or a remote Pacific island to find a breath of fresh air, there’s no reason why we can’t find it almost anywhere.
My husband firmly believes that if you have a cold or flu in the city and you head to the hills of the Western Ghats, you will get better quicker. And often enough I’ve experienced just that. I’ve heard a mother talk of her child’s acute asthma where he hadn’t gone a day in ten years without using his inhaler pump. She was shocked that while on an activity-filled outdoor camping trip not a wheeze had afflicted him for four whole days.
Knowledge of the health benefits of travelling to places with fresh, clean air is not new. While I was travelling through Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park in August, my guide spoke of the high quality of mountain air and how people have come to this region since the 1800s seeking its invigorating effects.
In the town of Estes Park where we spent a night, we heard stories of the inventor and businessman F. O. Stanley who built the region’s most famous colonial hotel, The Stanley Hotel. Incidentally, it inspired the fictional Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s bestseller The Shining. But instead of ghosts and haunted buildings, what I found most interesting was the tale of how Stanley, who was suffering from tuberculosis, came here in 1903. Like thousands of others from the east, he’d arrived on the advice of a doctor who’d told him he had only six months to live. The story goes that the clean, dry atmosphere of the Rocky Mountains and time spent outdoors helped Stanley’s ailment, and he continued to visit every summer for the next 40 years. My time in this U.S. national park though all too short was uplifting. Fresh air has that easy ability to put a smile on my face.
On a pleasant summer’s day a few months ago, travelling along the Irish coast, we’d stopped for a day at the village of Waterville, which sits right on the seafront on the Iveragh Peninsula. There’s nothing here I’d thought when I surveyed the quiet town; it wasn’t even bustling with pubs or great restaurants. However, the locals like to point out that Charlie Chaplin loved it and brought his family to vacation here every year for ten years from 1959. That’s hardly reason to visit, I’d mused, surveying his bronze statue.
Later that evening, walking along the ocean-front promenade I stopped at a bench. Sitting there enjoying the crisp sea breeze, not a cloud in the sky, I gulped fresh Atlantic air. Unanticipatedly, I understood why Chaplin came to Waterville over and over again. Sometimes a revelation rides on a breath of fresh air.
Appeared in the September 2016 issue as “Breath Of Fresh Air”.
Niloufer Venkatraman ’s idea of unwinding is to put on boots and meander through the wilderness or the by-lanes of a city. She is obsessive about family holidays and has already instilled in her young daughter wanderlust and a love for the outdoors. She is the former Editor-In-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India.