How I discovered a connected world traveling through six continents
Our ancient experience confirms at every point that everything is linked together, everything is inseparable.
― The Dalai Lama
From December 2014 to April 2015, Shruti, Kanav and I set off to travel the world. As I thought about what I got from these travels and what would stay with me for life, many things came to fore - discovering the answer to what I call home, coming to terms with my programmed need for new experiences, building a lifelong bond with my son without missing a moment of his most memorable years, internalising the notion of financial independence while garnering the courage to live by it, and renewing vows (so-to-speak) after a decade of marriage. Besides personal things, I observed how Internet and mobile technologies have become a universal language and drive the behaviour of youngsters worldwide regardless of their mother tongue and culture.
Yet, the larger revelation of the world travels was the discovery of how connected the world is. Our shared histories and socio-economic ties are far deeper and more profound than I had imagined. Here's how.
Our trip was planned in two parts, each a loop starting and ending in Berkeley, California, where we lived at the time. Loop one was USA => India => Morocco => Spain => USA, planned around our commitment to spend New Year's with friends celebrating their 10th anniversary in Morocco. Loop two was USA => Chile => New Zealand => Australia => Hawaii => USA, planned around our family commitment to watch the Cricket World Cup Final together in Melbourne at the end of March. A friend observed that we would touch all six inhabited continents of the world in four months, and get as close to Antarctica as we could - without actually being there - from the extreme south of Chile and then again from the southern tip of New Zealand. We did not expect this trip of randomly selected places to be as integrally connected as we would soon find it to be.
First leg: The Spice Route - India to Morocco
Considering the ancient spice route ties, we should not have been surprised by the country’s similarities with India but we were. European traders found both countries strategic for doing trade, as both were gateways to lucrative markets. Islam first came to Morocco around the same time (7th century) as in India. The Muslim population is primarily Sunni in both countries. The history of Jews in both countries is similar and from a similar time, resulting in the Jewish ghettos looking alike. The medina of Morocco’s second largest city, Fes, seemed a larger version of the Jaisalmer fort. The hustle and bustle of the Moroccan cities with cultural glimpses of ancient desert tribes (Berbers) took me back to Rajasthan. The Riads in Morocco are similar to our own traditional North Indian houses with aangans and windows of surrounding rooms opening into the garden. The rectangular terrace on top of the rooms in our Moroccan Riad took me back to my childhood summer holidays with my North Indian joint family.
In Spain’s Andalusia, we were surprised with its similarities to Morocco. The Roman Empire had created strategically located cities in both countries in the 1st century and was probably the first civilisation to use the water route across the Mediterranean.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, there was a millennium of Christian and Muslim rulers fighting each other to make the Southern European and Northern African regions a part of their empires. The minarets in Moroccan mosques are like the clock towers in Spanish cathedrals. Whenever Christians conquered the mosque, they added a pyramid and a bell atop the minaret to make it a cathedral's bell tower. They closed the side entrances to the big hallway of the mosque, converting them to side rooms with tombs of archbishops and priests, while the large main door stared down at the altar bearing the cross. Whenever Muslims conquered a church, they reversed the process. The medinas of Morocco are similar to the old cities of Spain. The Alcazars of Spain were built by the same Muslim artisans who built them in Morocco, sometimes commissioned by the Muslim rulers and at other times by Christians. Cordoba was probably the best example of this symbiosis. As history points out, both empires fell due to infighting among the new generation, rather than fighting each other.
In the 15th century, an Italian explorer called Christopher Columbus was commissioned by the Catholic monarchs of Spain to go on voyages across the Atlantic to colonise new lands. While the goal was to discover a new land route to India, he ended up ‘discovering’ the New World - now the Americas.
As history would play out over the next two centuries, the British colonised North America, while the Spanish and the Portuguese colonised Latin America. As an Indian living in California (where Spanish is pervasive due to the integral connection and history with Mexico), it was interesting to see Columbus celebrated as a demigod in Spain. His tomb has pride of place inside Seville's cathedral and a tapestry with him next to Baby Jesus is in a prime spot inside Seville's Alcazar.
A week from then, we were to head back to California and then to Chile, a Spanish speaking country colonised as a result of the voyages he started. Half a millennium later, the language and food similarities between Spain, California and Chile made the connection between these distant lands quite real. About a month later, when we got to the Santiago cathedral in Chile, we found that the sculptures and architecture had drawn more than just an inspiration from the Seville cathedral.
We ended our Chile trip with a week in the island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) where we got a crash course on Polynesian history and culture. We learnt about a triangle that covers most of the tropical Pacific Ocean on both sides of the Equator and defines Polynesia. The three corners of the Polynesian triangle are Rapa Nui (Chile), Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Hawaii (USA). This was the first time it dawned upon us that our serendipitous plan would take us to all three corners within six weeks.
Polynesians are fascinating people. Due to overcrowding in an Asian island around the 11th century (latest DNA tests suggest it was Taiwan), inhabitants piled handmade rafts (called wakas) with essentials and embarked upon a courageous voyage into the unknown. Waves of these wakas left eastwards into the deep Pacific Ocean in hope of discovering new land. And they did - a hundred years and tens of thousands of miles of navigation later, a new civilisation was born. Settled on small islands within the Polynesian triangle, Polynesia became the newest civilisation in the history of humankind. Half a millennium later, each island got colonised by European explorers with guns, germs and steel.
I could "triangulate" the history of the Polynesian people by reconciling stories from each corner in a span of six weeks. After seeing Rapa Nui as a Polynesian island now occupied by the Spanish, I saw New Zealand as Aotearoa, a Maori land now occupied by the Queen's people, and then Hawaii now occupied by USA. Due to the recency of these events, there are still new findings about the history of Polynesia, thus creating a microcosm of the behaviour and evolution of the human civilisation.
Fifth leg: The land down under - New Zealand to Australia
Hundreds of millions of years ago, all of earth's landmass was one contiguous supercontinent called Pangaea, which broke into Gondwana that formed most countries of the Southern Hemisphere, and Laurasia that formed most countries of the Northern Hemisphere. Australia broke out of Gondwana. Then Zealandia and Antarctica further broke out of Australia.
Zealandia remained submerged from 85 million years ago to up to 23 million years ago when it re-surfaced due to severe volcanic activity and came to be known as New Zealand. The geological connections between the two are remarkable. Birds managed to migrate the 1,000+ miles from Tasmania to New Zealand to make this new land their home. The land, in turn, was waiting for the Maoris to land on their wakas in the 12th century to start the newest civilisation of humankind on the newest land of earth.
As much as citizens of both countries would love to deny, especially while watching rugby, they are more alike than not. The cultural connections between Australia and New Zealand were not lost on me as I watched the cricket teams of the two countries play each other for the title in the final match of the World Cup they co-hosted. I will leave you with one tickling fact connecting Australia with Polynesians and Chile. Austral means Southern in the Polynesian language and the name of a popular local beer of Chile is Austral (no connection with Australia).
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When most people I know stare at a list of these countries - India, Morocco, Spain, USA, Chile, New Zealand and Australia - the last thing that occurs to them are the deep connections and shared history. Probably the most profound take away of my travel was the depth of these connections and how the world is more similar than different.
Carl Sagan described humans as part of stardust. Closer home, Gregory David Roberts, in his book Shantaram, put it thus:
… in a way you can say that after leaving the sea, after all those millions of years of living inside of the sea, we took the ocean with us… Our blood and our sweating, they are both salty, almost exactly like the water from the sea is salty. We carry oceans inside of us, in our blood and our sweat.
This is what my travels with my loved ones taught me.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)