When I first picked up the travelogue “Holy Cow” by Australian journalist Sarah Macdonald, I had no idea what to expect. A rather sudden introduction opens the story in 1988, with Sarah backpacking through India with her friend. It is made very clear that she hated the place. She vows never to go back there again, but eleven years later she finds herself on a plane headed to New Delhi.
I felt that, initially, Sarah’s relationship with India was that of a stereotypical tourist: she heavily criticized New Delhi, the people living there and their way of life. Obviously it was a bit of a culture shock, coming from a person used to living a western lifestyle and trying to settle in a country that is completely the opposite of what she’s used to. I do believe she transforms into a traveler during the course of her story. She is clear that she hated India when she first arrived, but then describes how she learned to appreciate its many facets. She mentions that she was raised atheist, but I see her as pretty open-minded because she explores many different religions while there such as Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam.
Personally, I think we all start out as tourists whenever we travel someplace and transition into travelers. There is a very thin line between tourist and traveler, and I get the sense that Sarah is a mixture of both during the novel. For example, her opinion on India’s women and their idea of marriage is initially clouded, as she doesn’t really understand how Indians view marriage. She witnesses several weddings of couples she has met and slowly comes to understand the importance of marriage and who to marry in their culture. Even though she may not agree with their point of view, she is open to accept it. This makes her a bit of a traveler. The times when she rants about India’s filthiness and her impatience with beggars can be coming from the tourist side of her.
While reading this book I pondered about my own views on tourist versus traveler. I found that I don’t travel because I want to be labeled something. I travel because I want to have memorable experiences that shape me in meaningful ways. I believe Sarah undergoes this experience while in India because she matures a lot during the course of the story. She goes from close-minded westerner to perhaps a more open-minded, if not accepting, citizen of the world.
Being a tourist or a traveler won’t determine whether your experience some place will be good or bad. After all, a tourist and a traveler both want to get the same thing out of a trip: an amazing experience. How they go about it will be different and their experience will be different, but in the end they will have the satisfaction of knowing that they gained a new adventure.