Perhaps our idea of a camping trip changes as we age.
At one time, decades ago, we would mumble something to our parents about spending the weekend with friends, then meet those same friends at the close of work on a Saturday afternoon and speed off on our motorbikes and scooters into the wilderness.
Often we did not have a specific destination in mind. We were just happy to be together, away from the staid atmosphere of the bank where all of us worked. We would stop for a tea or a cola at a village shop. We would linger beside lakes and rivers and when it was approaching sunset, we would settle down for the night.
We had no tents or sleeping bags. We just spread ourselves out on a sheet and if someone had thought to bring sandwiches or other snacks, we would share those out. Food was low on our list of priorities but I don’t recall ever being hungry on those impromptu camping trips. Sometimes, we would carry a saucepan and boil water for tea or even stop a passing milk vendor as he went by on a bicycle — and not only whiten our tea, but also take out what we had in the way of “ingredients” and made a delicious rice “kheer” or vegetable “halwa”.
We never thought of snakebite and creepy-crawlies. We never bothered about clean water and clean surroundings. If we did want a wash, we pulled our trousers above the knees and paddled in whichever body of water was nearby without giving a thought to the current or the undertow or anything of that sort.
By Sunday afternoon, we would head home, refreshed in spirit and ready to be back at our desks on Monday morning and take on all the irate customers and the pages of numbers we had to deal with. (Nothing was computerised in those days!)
I am pretty sure that there was someone else impersonating me on those trips into the wilderness, because now, decades down the line, there is no way I would do anything remotely similar to that type of camping.
“Glamping” on the other hand, seems acceptable: a fancy air-conditioned tent, actual beds on a cemented floor, an attached bath, service on call, and so on.
On a recent trip to our beautiful Himalayan neighbour, the kingdom of Bhutan, our itinerary included a 24-hour camping trip and I was certain we would have all those perks. Imagine the shock when the campsite beside a clear, gurgling river, showed small tents lined up on the banks — and very little else. Definitely no cemented flooring anywhere and no toilets or baths attached …
I baulked at the thought of spending a night ‘roughing it out’ in the open.
But, because there was no going back that evening, I made a closer inspection of the campsite — and discovered that each tent was an almost watertight unit. It had a smooth plastic “flooring” that eliminated the possibility of creepy-crawlies; there were two layers of zippers to keep “undesirable” wildlife out and a netted window to let fresh air in; there were mattresses and clean sheets and blankets; there were small individual lights for each of us; there was a kitchen tent nearby from which a wonderful aroma wafted out and delighted our senses, there were even makeshift “His” and “Hers” toilets a short distance away.
The initial shock began to wear off. A delicious meal, familiar music and exchange of memories helped too, and when at last I slid onto my mattress, it was so comfortable that I was loath to leave the tent the following morning …
Apparently, my ideas had changed overnight. And while extreme comfort wouldn’t hurt, perhaps I would happily settle for these “basic” amenities again …
— Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.