The Chinese had Fa-Hien, the Arabs Al-Baruni, the Africans Ibn Batuta and the Europeans Marco Polo – world famous travellers all, who put their respective lands on the travelling map of the ancient world. In this melee of ancient international travel, India stood aloof. No one from India travelled or explored. Maybe some like the sea-farers of the west coast did – but no one wrote about it and certainly no one became famous. Nope, we never had our ‘travellers’. Ancient Indian (read : Indo-gangetic, brahminical) texts talk of becoming a mleccha (an impure person) upon crossing a sea. Maybe this was the reason – but in any case, Travel in ancient India was not a cool thing to do,
Funnily enough, the other way for people to discover lands in ancient times was by marching off for conquest. In antiquity, the Mongols did it in Asia, the Romans & the Greeks in Europe – conquest of foreign lands was certainly cool for most of the world. But except for a brief period when India’s eastern kingdoms used their maritime power to spread the Indian idiom to East Asia, India has not done much conquest abroad. We seemed to have been pretty caught up with ourselves.
Strange as it may sound, India’s most powerful ‘conqueror’ of antiquity was probably Gautama Buddha, who brought the entire peoples of China, Japan & much of Asia under his sway. And his credo was, ‘don’t kill anything, not even an insect!’
As I do more travelling, exploring & writing, I am starting to sense a real opportunity here. All I have to do is to travel a lot (not too difficult), write about it (do-able) and get famous enough for everyone to know my name after 500 years (ahem..). If I can do that, I will be the first Indian ‘traveller’ which means a historical minority of One.
Now, isn’t that cool?