© 2024 KALW 91.7 FM Bay Area
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

vix Vacare

A couple does a yoga pose for their Instagram feed.
Sandip Roy
A couple does a yoga pose for their Instagram feed.

My sister had been invited to a destination wedding in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe by close friends in California.
The programme was eminently bucketlist-worthy. The hosts had planned excursions to see the famous waterfalls and go on safaris. Then my sister realized to her dismay that it all meant getting up at the crack of dawn every day. It was a vacation but there was no sleeping in.
The very word vacation has its roots in vacare or to be unoccupied. But in reality vacations are anything but unoccupied.
Recently I was in Pokhara, Nepal. The room faced Mt. Annapoorna. We set the alarm to wake up before sunrise and then stood in the balcony with a cup of tea watching the Annapoorna massif turn pink and then gold. Outside I could see the city waking up and hear the sounds of roosters.


It was breathtakingly beautiful but greedy for more we decided to go up to nearby Sarangkot the next day for an even better view.
That required getting up earlier, at 4 AM, finding a taxi, racing to catch the first cable car, stumbling through people’s backyards in pitch darkness to get to the watch tower. By the time we reached the viewing point huffing and puffing, it was already filled with photographers armed with tripods and cameras, huge lens pointing menacingly into the darkness, a ring of paparazzi ready to capture that first spot of magical sunlight.


The United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s World Tourism Barometer says international tourism had reached 88 percent of pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023. They predict a full recovery by the end of 2024. Europe hit 94 percent of 2019 levels, Africa 96% and the Americas 90% while South Asia recovered 87%.
As if to make up for the pent-up demand, the sunrise watchers at Annapoorna were working extra hard to be picture-perfect. As the sun rose, I saw people rolling out their mats and striking yoga poses with the Himalayas as their backdrop while birds chirped.


People formed precarious human pyramids at the edge. An influencer changed her outfit twice for her photoshoot. Even musicians performed.


We were all on vacation but no-one had a moment to relax.
This is not new. The human fascination with the sunrise, whether on the sea or the mountains, is infinite. I have done my fair share - Nanda Devi sunrise, Angkor Wat sunrise, Con Dao islands sunrise.
Torturing yourself while on vacation isn’t new but in an age of social media, bombarded by the glossy feed of travel bloggers, the fear of missing out is far more acute.
My partner drew the line while traveling in Luang Prabang in Laos. Early in the morning the Buddhist monks, many of them child novices in orange robes, walk the streets outside the temples while devotees silently place food in their begging bowls. Sai Bat or morning alms is an old Buddhist tradition but now it’s a tourist attraction and a photographer magnet. Our hotel faced a monastery but my partner refused to get up at 5:30 in the morning. “This is not even a sunrise, I am not getting out of bed to watch monks get food!”
If we wanted to see monks we could see them at far more civilised times of the day whether in Luang Prabang or Nepal.


Instagram is filled with these beautiful images thanks to all the travel bloggers out there. We marvel at the image but rarely realize the pain (and filters) behind the perfection. I have stayed at boutique hotels because the rooms looked lovely but had little chance to enjoy them because I would leap out of bed as daylight broke to rush off on yet another checklist mission.
I was determined to sleep in while staying at a lovely restored hotel in Chettinad on a travel junket. There were no mountains or ocean there and hence no sunrise pressure. But the manager cheerily announced they had organised a special picnic for me among temple ruins but we needed to set out at daybreak before it got too hot. I didn’t have the heart to refuse.
That’s why I approached a travel assignment to the newly opened Taj Guras Kutir near Gangtok with some trepidation. The hotel’s USP was Kanchenjunga views which meant sunrise calls in 3 degree December cold. But then I discovered that you could watch the sunrise from your bed, wrapped in your blanket, doze off and then wake up to watch it some more.

I finally felt like I was having my vacation cake and eating it too.