There is a charming little cantonment town in Uttarakhand called Landour. For those interested in delicious anecdotes and sublime writing would also know that its home to author Ruskin bond. Besides being picturesque and literary in its own way, Landour is also a place where people experience walking not just a ‘daily mundane act’ but as a ‘act of pleasure’. Majestic deodars behind metal railings on spotless Landour streets stand out for something very unique – they carry quotations on topic ranging from walking to contemplation, from self-reflection to human-connection. It’s a little bit like being in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden world. When walking from Char Dukan on a long stretch of road, one can’t help but catch a few breaths and savour the words of Tolkien, Keats, Frost. The everyday task of strolling literally feels like an artistic vocation in Landour.
But the reality of walking in a big city is quite the opposite. There are factors that surface as hurdles and curtail any desire whatsoever to walk, short distances or not. Let’s have a cursory look.
The Drudgery of Traffic:You make a reservation at a wonderful new Spanish restaurant, one that is twenty minutes away from your home. You yoga, you shower and you dress up for the evening. And then you decide to walk all the way to your Paella. Very New York City. But hey! It’s Friday night and there is a Kumbh Mela of cars on the road, zipping past, taking U-turns, blocking the road, and overtaking zebra crossings. What happens next? Well your twenty minutes walk turns into forty as you manoeuvre the traffic and by the time your reach the restaurant, you actually lose the table you had reserved.
The Safety Concern: Your grandparents are visiting from a small town. They’re not exactly into couch warming over Netflix so you decide to send them for walk to the park. But guess what? You choose a pretty park that is located at the end of a very crowed market. The oldies leave happily but come back looking devastated. Potential scenarios: their pocket got picked, the aggressive crowd pushed them around, the road divider was overflowing with people, and the pavement chipped when they tried that option. They made it to the park on foot but swore never to go again.
The Pollution & Garbage Epidemic: You walk for five days at a row, through a busy market and high traffic area and for the next twenty-five days – you end up coughing and developing breathing issues. You begin to use an inhaler although asthma was never an illness on your health-form. In the city, the price for walking is equivalent to the doctor’s fee. The absence of trees and plants and the presence of pollution and viruses on the road is reason enough for you to not take a hike.
In the end, let’s just admit that it’s a sorry state of affairs. Long distance or short – active and consistent walking almost seems like a threat to life and hence one has no option but to reach out for the car, and not happily so, contribute to the already existing environmental issues. But all is not lost if one is willing to make a change and not focus much on the enormity of the change.
Here’s are a few everyday, small changes you can make:
(a) Start small. Walk short distances. Be reasonable with your choices. Be aware of the shortcomings of your city.
(b) Don’t walk to meetings that start on specific timings. Don’t do a pilgrimage to the new restaurant on a Friday night.
(c) Walk when time is not a constraint. Walk on leisurely days. Walk to the salon, and to the vegetable market, and to the dry-cleaner. Walk to all places in the neighbourhood over the weekend.
(d) Take a 21-day project to make sure you walk to one place, every single day. Let this routine rewire your brain. Let your brain crave the little.
(e) Increase the distance slowly. Start with ten minutes to the shortest distance from home to the bakery, take it slowly to 20 minutes and make it to a friend’s place on foot gradually.
(f) Walk alone for contemplation. Walk with family for connection.
(g) Plant a tree on the sidewalk once a month. Pick the trash once a day.
(h) Be the change you want to see.
Even if you ditch you car for one hour on each Sunday in the entire year, and choose to walk instead – you will end up saving the planet from 52 hours of pollution.
How about hiding the car keys this weekend?