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Posts Tagged ‘travel journalism’

I generally respect the NYTIMES travel section and especially like the Frugal Traveler’s blog, but lately there has a been huge disconnect between all of the travel articles written by the travel columnists at the Times.  A few weeks ago, in its time honored tradition of publishing lists that make the most emailed article list, the Times listed its Top 31 places to go in 2010.  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/10/travel/10places.html?pagewanted=3&hp.

I expected great things of this article. I thought I would be inspired to book my next flight and trip, especially given the fact that I was already thinking about where to go for my first wedding anniversary. But, to my surprise, places like Mumbai and Las Vegas made the cut and were included in the Times’ 31 places to go in 2010.

There is nothing wrong with Vegas or Mumbai, but I certainly wouldn’t put it at the top of my travel list in terms of where to go in 2010.  Mumbai (or shall we say Bombay for desis like me) is not exactly the first city I would visit if I were going to India for the first time.  Unless of course you want the equivalent of New York or Miami. Drinks at the Taj, luxurious boutiques, and nightclubs loom large in this city of 14 million people. And while I have family in Mumbai that I love dearly, I would not say that the city’s charms or beauty draw me to returning every couple of years. Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city, but if you are traveling to India for the first time, do you really want to see the Westernized version of yourself? Or would you rather explore the ancient castles of Udaipur (the Lake City) or of Jaipur (the Pink City)? I will admit I am biased towards both Udaipur (where my dad was born and raised) and Jaipur (where the rest of my family hails from), but forget Rajasthan, what about Kerala, the southern beauty of India? Or Amritsar, the site of the Golden Temple for the Sikhs?

After getting over my disappointment with Mumbai, I noticed that Times had listed Sri Lanka at destination number 1.  As an English major, obsessed with authors from Sri Lanka, I have always wanted to travel there, to see a culture so close to mine, yet so different.  The civil war and conflict in Sri Lanka is not news to anyone who reads, but apparently the Times has declared that the “conflict finally ended in May” and that cosmopolitan Times’ travelers should go to Sri Lanka for its “stylish guesthouses and boutique hotels.”  There is so much that is troubling with the Times’ entire description of Sri Lanka that I don’t know where to begin.  But, forget what I have to say, lets here what a Sri Lankan blogger is saying… http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/006074.html#more.

V.V., an author with Sri Lankan parents, cryptically asks whether the conflict is really over when thousands of people are living with the aftermath and questions the wisdom of glancing over the effects of the tsunami when discussing beaches in the same sentence as Sri Lanka.  She goes on reproach the Times, but says:

“Please note: my beef (!) isn’t with travel generally…it’s with travel writing of this kind, constructed for a very particular audience and seeming to encourage people to travel to someone else’s home without any sense that that is what it is. These are places to see, yes—but why not see them, and yourself, as they really are? I don’t want this to be a snark-and-run… but good travel writing contends honestly and openly with presumptions of who is traveling and why… and it does not treat local people as though their lives were just incidental, conveniently or inconveniently producing conditions for others’ escapism. To those who would say, ‘So what? Sri Lanka needs all the business it can get!’—that’s not my point. Sri Lanka does not need to be reduced to writing like this to attract tourism. No country does.”

Her last comments inspire me to blog further on travel to counteract what the Times and other “cosmopolitan” magazines call “travel journalism”.  Travel to see different cultures, to get away, and to learn are at the heart of why I travel. But, if all traveling is reduced to nice hotels and convenient cultures, accommodating to our requests, why travel?

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