Chasing a sunrise | When you are on vacation without a moment to relax

In an age of social media, bombarded by the glossy feed of travel bloggers, the fear of missing out is far more acute

April 12, 2024 01:52 pm | Updated 05:17 pm IST

‘In reality, vacations are anything but unoccupied.’

‘In reality, vacations are anything but unoccupied.’ | Photo Credit: Illustrated by Allen Shaw

My sister has been invited to a destination wedding in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The programme seemed eminently bucketlist-worthy. The hosts had planned excursions to see the famous waterfalls and go on safaris. Then much to her dismay, my sister realised 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 (Latin) or ‘to be unoccupied’. But in reality, vacations are anything but unoccupied.

Recently, I was in Pokhara, Nepal. The room faced Mount Annapurna. We set the alarm to wake up before sunrise and then stood in the balcony with a cup of tea, watching the Annapurna massif turn pink and then gold. 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 a.m., 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 lenses were 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% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023. They predict a full recovery by the end of 2024. Europe hit 94% 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 Annapurna 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 backdrop. People formed precarious human pyramids at the edge. An influencer changed her outfit twice for her photoshoot.

We were all on vacation but no one had a moment to relax.

Torturing yourself while on vacation isn’t new but in an age of social media, the fear of missing out is far more acute.

Torturing yourself while on vacation isn’t new but in an age of social media, the fear of missing out is far more acute. | Photo Credit: Illustrated by Allen Shaw

Acute FOMO

This is not new. I grew up in Kolkata. Going to see the sunrise on the Kanchenjunga, or rather trying to, was a rite of passage. We would get up in the bitterly cold dark, throw on our woollens and brave a traffic jam to get to the Tiger Hill viewpoint. We usually only saw clouds obscuring the mountain. Yet we kept trying. 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 has now become a tourist attraction and photographer magnet. Though our hotel faced a monastery, 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!” I did get up because the travel bloggers said I should. It was on my images checklist.

Instagram is filled with these beautiful images thanks to all the travel bloggers out there. We marvel at the image but rarely realise 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 soon as daylight broke to rush off on yet another checklist mission.

Closure in bed

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 and hence, no sunrise pressure. But the manager cheerily announced that 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°C 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.

The writer is the author of ‘Don’t Let Him Know’, and likes to let everyone know about his opinions whether asked or not.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.