The art of travel


Why do people travel? asks Nikhil Katara, as he describes a wonderfully curated festival called ‘Sandscape’ that he attended in the deserts of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Here, travel, folk music, and visual arts came together gloriously to create a most magnificent experience for tourists.

Why do people travel?

It is a question that is, and forever, shall be intriguing. People leave their homes and go to places far away to seek what? Some people probably seek a new culture, one that they have never witnessed. Some people travel to learn new things, and expand on their knowledge, whereas others just travel to be alone, away from the lives that they’ve lived. Travel is that escape into the unknown that everyone is looking for, into beautiful sunsets, landscapes, and new realities. In this case, everyone is an ‘Alice’ looking for their own wonderland. Now we don’t really know what wonderland might offer, and when it surprises us with magic, we are happy to be surprised. One such unique escape is the Sandscape.

The Sandscape experience

The Sandscape is what the name suggests. It is a travel experience to escape into the dunes of Rajasthan, and even though the breathtaking beauty of the desert is enough for many to be speechless, the Sandscape is not only that. It is much, much more.

Tourists at the unique Sandscape festival

If one were to, in simple words try to explain to someone what it is all about, it would be difficult, because of the variety of experiences it provides. But the keyword here is amalgamation; a coming together of art, culture and tourism. Its founders are Indian and European artists who were interested in creating an experimental space where music, dance, creative visuals and installation art become one living breathing person, all in the sands of Jaisalmer.

So when you pack your bags and leave your homes and travel all those miles to reach the desert, you might think that you have reached your destination. But that is precisely where you’re wrong, because this is just the beginning of the rabbit hole, and wonderland is on the other side. When the music kicks in, you travel a little more with it, and when the dance kicks in, so does your imagination, and the installation art transforms the dunes into another world itself. Let’s say even if you imagined these things right now, the wildest of your imaginations can’t take you to a world close to the one created by these artists.

When being quizzed about why they started this festival that combines music with travel and visual art, Nelson OJ, Head of sound and music at Sandscape, said, “Sandscape started from a dialogue between local cultural activists and backpacker artists. The general discussions were, and still are, around protection of the local artist communities, environment, and heritage. We also thought, what if we create a collaborative platform to experiment? What if we blend the local traditional art forms with contemporary global art? What if the local folk artists would get the credit of their hard work, worldwide? What positive impact would a festival have, if it is done with a respectful approach?” All these thoughts came together in the desert sands to create Sandscape.

The Tao of Travel?

In the book The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road author Paul Theroux quotes, “The wish to travel seems to me characteristically human: the desire to move, to satisfy your curiosity or ease your fears, to change the circumstances of your life, to be a stranger, to make a friend, to experience an exotic landscape, to risk the unknown…” All the curiosity that the mind has to offer needs to find a release somewhere. Some find their escape in music, some find their escape in travel, some find their escape in art, and some find their escape in stories. But what if there was one route to escape into all of them together? What if you could move, ease your fears, be a stranger, make a friend, experience an exotic landscape, see the unknown, all through music, art, and stories? Would that be a worthwhile travel experience? Would that satisfy the mind of the vagabond? Some people escape with traveling, some people escape with art, but what if you escape through travel and art together? Is it the ‘Tao of Travel’?

The mind of a traveler is that of a seeker, the one who is always ready to breathe in an air that will transfer a sense of relief to the traveler’s soul. The one where imagination has often promised, but reality is rarely delivered. The seeker is looking to gratify all the senses. The sense of touch, the sense of sight, the sense of taste, the sense of smell, and the sense of hearing. The more the seeker gets, the more the soul is satisfied, for it, even if ever so briefly, experiences what was once imagined. The Sandscape is that promised land. In the middle of the desert lives an oasis of music, art and humanity, which is so far away from the reality we inhabit, and so close to the dreams we dream.

A jugalbandi

The music itself is an amalgamation, the artists like to call it a ‘Jugalbandi’. Experiments, workshops and residencies have yielded a new form, where folk music, electronic art, alternative urban music acts have all found a new rhythm that starts to beat when the sun sets and goes on till the night has darkness in it. The artists who curate sandscape also ensure that each folk musician gets the royalties they deserve for the music they create, this just adds that much more value in traveling into the dunes, because you know that the people who make the experience magical, the folk artists of the desert, are being respected, honoured, and paid, for the rare form of music that is found so specifically in this part of the world.

At some points when you are in the dunes and your eyes wander, you see the moonlight and the many stars that stare down at you, and you wonder how can the night sky have so many lights. Then your eyes wander to the visuals that the artists have created around you, and you wonder, how do human minds create something so still, yet so moving. Your ears latch onto the music and the breath finds the same rhythm, and you do take a moment and say ‘Life is good.’

In that moment you forget bills, expenses, responsibilities, problems, inhibitions, and fears, for you are that little girl Alice, who went down the rabbit hole and found everything to be “curiouser and curiouser!” The definition of time alters in so many ways and the past is forgotten, the future hasn’t arrived and you live in the present, which seems like ‘‘now’ for the first time. The sandscape is that side of the rabbit hole that everyone should escape into once in a while, for the desert is all music and stories… once in a year.

Nikhil Katara

Nikhil Katara initiated his journey as a writer with his own production titled The Unveiling, a science fiction drama in the year 2011. To strengthen critical learning he initiated an MA programme in ‘Philosophy’ at the Mumbai university with optionals in Kant, Greek Hellinistic Philosophy, Feminism, Logic and Existentialism. His play Yatagara- su opened at Prithvi Theatre in 2016. He is a consultant facilitator at J’s paradigm (a novel performance arts institute) and writes book reviews for the Free Press Journal.