The anti-climax in travel – The Reluctant Traveller

This post, second in the series written by The Reluctant Traveller Ankur Bhatia (aka The Filmy Fool), will resonate with a lot of travelers. As much as he likes to watch movies and TV series, Ankur hates to travel and has a fresh perspective on everything related to it. 

There have been so many times when I have traveled to a place that is talked about a lot, only to feel let down in the end. I am sure it has happened with a lot of people. We get swayed by the hype or historical significance of a place we have seen on our social media feed or even in films. The problem is we can’t get the actual feel of being there, we can only see what’s shown to us. So I want to talk about all those times when you decided to go to these amazing places but instead of ‘Wow! This is how I always imagined it’ you are like, “huh! Is that it?” Classic Anti-climax.

My relation with anticlimactic moments started way back in 2006 when I took an impromptu bike trip from New Delhi to Jaipur with my friends to see the famous spot featured in the Bollywood film ‘Rang De Basanti’. The scene where Aamir Khan and his friend jump into a pool is filmed at Nahargarh Fort in Jaipur. So we reach Nahargarh Fort around 12 noon and obviously, the sun was blazing down on an extremely hot March morning. In that heat, we climbed what felt like a million stairs. I was in ‘Kung Fu Panda’ mode by the time I reached the top, barely standing on my 2 legs, huffing and puffing. We finally reached the famous spot and I saw the pool. It was filthy and full of green moss.

Then I saw the stairs where the actors sat and chilled out after taking a dip in the pool. Only 2 levels of stairs were clean and everything else was so dirty that we didn’t even feel like taking pictures. One friend suggested that we climb further up, to the spot where the actors jumped from. He got such dirty looks and abuses from everyone except me. I was busy looking at my life pass me by, like how it does when you are about to die. Anyway, the friend who suggested the extra climb decided to climb up alone. However, he quickly noticed that the way up to the platform was blocked and out of bounds. Apparently, a lot of people drove all the way to the fort, climbed a million stairs then climbed some more only to jump off the ledge. I guess when a person made all that effort only to see the dump this was, he had to do something to make the trip worth their time.

The thing is, this plan was suggested by a friend, so we could at least beat the shit out of him for spoiling the day.

However, when you succumb to the superb marketing of various high profile cities, you have no way of releasing your frustration.

The first such instance that comes to my mind is the Eiffel Tower. One afternoon, after a series of security checks that would even deter Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible) from entering the premises, I and my wife reached the bottom of the Eiffel Tower. Our eyes went up to the huge structure and came down to notice the endless queue. We braced ourselves and waited to get in. Once we were in, I looked up and wondered ‘yes very tall', 'yes a lot of metal', 'Oh, wait a second, where is the love?’ This was the symbol of love & romance, right? So where is the love? There was none. It was just a gigantic steel tower, that’s it! There wasn’t an ounce of physical beauty nor was there any emotional relevance like the Taj Mahal.  Now I know why they have installed so many bulbs on the entire Eiffel Tower which sparkle every hour. That’s because what else is there to do? At least this way people have something to divert their attention to, just as they realize how anticlimactic the situation is.

Even after you reach the top, you see what you would have seen from any other high platform. I confess I get no thrill by climbing up to very tall places to get a view of the city. That is why I had a similar reaction at Burj Khalifa and why I did not get on the London Eye. Honestly, at Burj Khalifa, the speed of the lift was more memorable than looking down at a concrete jungle in the middle of the desert.

The biggest anticlimactic moment also came to pass in Paris, this time in the Louvre.

Neither I nor my wife is fascinated by art. But we still went to the Louvre because we did not want to come back and lose the 'Oh My God game' again. As we stood and waited in the queue (no surprises), we decided that we will go straight to see Mona Lisa. This way, even if we get weary halfway through the museum, we would have at least seen the Mona Lisa. What we did not anticipate was how huge Louvre was. It was like a city in itself and after failing to find a taxi/bus in the giant (museum) city of Louvre, we decided to follow the signs and walk towards Mona Lisa. After what seemed like half an hour of being on the sets of National Treasure (2004), we entered a huge room. This room had a gigantic painting, the size of an entire wall (6.7 meters by 9.94 meters). I was amazed by the size of the painting but hardly anyone else in this room was. Everyone was looking at a small painting on the opposite side. So we decided to wade through the crowd and see what the fuss was about. As I headed to the front of the crowd and my line of sight cleared, I was blown away by the sight. I froze, my legs refusing to move any further. I just stood there, staring at the painting in front of me. Could this be ‘THE’ Mona Lisa? Indeed it was. But it was also something else, something more.

It was the most average looking painting I had seen in my life.

It took a while for us to overcome the shock, but once we did, better sense prevailed. We decided that this much art was enough for us and we should go do something mundane. So we went to the park outside and got a caricature sketch done by an artist sitting there. As he finished the sketch and handed it over to over, I looked at it and instantly thought

This is art I can appreciate!

I am sure a lot of people have also had such experiences and I would love to know some of them. You know how they say, ‘pain reduces if you share it with others’. Well, I am feeling much better now, how about you?

36 thoughts on “The anti-climax in travel – The Reluctant Traveller”

  1. I agree that some places are just overrated due to movies or other publicity campaigns associated with them. But all that hype is not worth it when you actually visit the place. I haven’t had such an experience yet on my trips, but a lot of my friends tell their disappointing travel stories. I generally go to a new place without much expectations.

  2. Haha. Thats one of the posts that I can relate to. I too have experienced some travel bummers during my travels. Especially loved your anecdote about Nahargarh Fort. Very honest!

  3. I understand that many things can be overhyped, but I still have never felt disappointed when I travel. I think that everything has it’s own uniqueness and appreciate it for that. And As much as I hate waiting in lines like anybody else, I think most times its for a good reason because at the end of the day the thing everyone wants to see is touristy for a good reason.

  4. I appreciate your viewpoint, but I would have to disagree. In my opinion, disappointments are related to an unrealistic ‘picture of perfection’ that our minds create. I feel romance is not in the places/things we see, but in the stories connected with those places.

  5. I should admit that I have never been disappointed on my trips. I don’t only rely on what I see on TV or read on other blogs. I kind of know myself and my taste. I go to places without exception, then I decide to like or dislike the place. When I visited Paris for the first time, I didn’t like the city much because I got sick and the smell of the city was killing me, but I gave it another chance and I went again. This time I like it more, even though I still think Paris is smelly

    1. I know what you mean. As long as you set your expectations right, I guess you won’t be disappointed. I still see the touristy places when I travel but I don’t expect them to impress me. I prepare myself to face a lot of crowds, maybe even some mes, vendors, touts, pick-pockets etc. Because that’s what happens at touristy places most of the time!

  6. Ha! I so agree on Eiffel tower! We had the similar feeling we visited it.
    Place of attraction? Yes.
    Want to see it? yes.
    Romantic? NO!
    There are many places that are hyped to get tourist attraction but disappoint us.
    For film shooting, we make a place clean and after that it’s the same old dirty place.

  7. I really enjoyed reading this article, as it is so true! And even if you do not want to see something, but everyone at home is going to be like ‘you went all the way there and you didn’t see that!’ Lol 😂 I was disappointed in Pisa! As it is small and loads of people!

  8. When I started reading your story, my thoughts immediately went to my last disappointing trip to Paris. And that’s before I saw your comments about the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. In my case, I compared Paris with how I experienced it for the first time more than 20 years ago when there weren’t even queues to go up the Eiffel Tower.

  9. It’s true, some of the “must-see” famous places out there are built up so much in our minds that seeing them in person can be anti-climactic. I think the best experiences often happen just walking around a city, talking to people there, and finding things you didn’t expect. Love the portrait of you too 😀

  10. I can honestly say I have never been disappointed on my travels. There are some places that have been ok, but not fantastic… but nowhere that I was disappointed by. I think this has a lot to do with attitude, and also research. And perhaps to do with the fact if people are raving about a place, I tend to avoid it! I find blogs great for extolling the pitfalls of places before visiting, so you can go in with open eyes!

  11. This post made me smile. The Mona Lisa’s tiny! 🙂 And I do agree that the Eiffel Tower’s a little overhyped – but you can’t beat the view from the top. The twinkling lights are pretty special, too.

  12. Unfortunately not all travels are exciting, and can be a let down. I’ve been a few times to Paris, and totally understand why you felt the way you did. It’s an incredible city, but a bit of an anti-climax when you see these main attractions for yourself. The caricature of you is a lot of fun however!

  13. Everyone who travels a lot will have occasional disappointments, where a place doesn’t live up to their expectations, but if it happens to someone a lot, it makes me wonder whether either their expectations are so unrealistic, or they are far too jaded. Yes Eiffel tower is crowded, and yes it’s just a metal structure, which doesn’t seem so amazing today, but if you think about it in context of when it was built, it’s pretty special after all.

    This post brings to mind my favourite quote: ‘We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.’ ~ Anaïs Nin —

  14. OMG! I have to agree! I totally felt ‘much less than impressive’ at Eiffel Tower. My husband was like – ‘That’s it? That’s it????’!!!
    On the other hand, I’m yet to visit Louvre. I didn’t coz I’m an Art History Major and I need more than a day to spend at Louvre!

  15. I can’t recall a specific place where I’ve experienced anticlimatic experiences, but I do believe there were a lot. (I’m nice that way. haha). But I do remember the feeling of being let down when you highly expect something to be this really really nice only to be disappointed in the end. I love the caricature of you and your wife BTW. And to be honest, I think I’ll be drawn to seeing the Mona Lisa too when I visit… Just to confirm what I usually hear. 😀

    1. Haha, Marvi, I think sometimes people want to visit a place even though they hear it’s really overrated, for the same reason – they want to see it with their own eyes and decide for themselves if they feel the same way about them 🙂

  16. Loved it ! I have had similar feelings at all these popular places of interest, such that I felt that the aura and charm of the place got lost, in the middle of the rising tourists.
    Am glad, I went to Rome, and didn’t even step inside an of the places of interest, as no matter at what time of the day you go, it will be flooded with tourists, and instead of appreciating the place, you’ll just end up getting pushed from one corner to the other.

  17. I too agree with Ankur, that some places are hyped so much by marketing campaigns. But I try to figure out my likings and don’t get charmed by them. I did not visit the Louvre from inside and just enjoyed outside only because everything outside was very cheerful and vibrant. I try to go to places or monuments which have less coverage by media or marketing channels and believe me, they are truly worth visit.

  18. It’s a lot to do with promoting places that are touristy. There is so much more to Paris then Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. I have enjoyed it most when walking around and finding out fascinating new places in this city. Love the caricatures you guys got done. Very interesting and different post must say. Was fun to read.

  19. I agree with the general sentiment of being disappointed by the over-hype of certain tourist attractions. I’m surprised you thought a pool from a Bollywood movie, the Eifel tower and Mona Lisa would surpass the marketing dribble and deliver some kind of travel WOW moment.

  20. Finally, someone to speak about this topic, Ankur! There is a lot of fuss about many places when in fact there is nothing special about them when you visit them. I am feeling better too as I know that I am not the only one to have felt like that!

  21. Very interesting article and there is a lot I can relate to and experienced the same. Especially in Europe with places like Eiffel Tower, Pisa, Berlin and many more it is exactly like that. Masses of tourists, moneymaking merchandise and no possibility to make good photos since there are people everywhere. But I think nowadays this is the new normal. For me Pisa was the worst – people standing literally everywhere and making these strange posings. I prefer to visit places that are not so overcrowded to enjoy them much more and having a quality time.

    1. I agree. I guess over a period of time, you get over the whole ‘checking the box’ thing and begin to realise, off-beat experiences are more fulfilling!

  22. Ankur you nailed it again 👌🏻
    I read the title and had some pictures running through my head … I read the Rang de basanti bit and curiously moved to the next part and Ah!!! there it was , my experience of Effel tower, Mona lisa and the likes put in words by you… If ever you think of going to Italy be prepared for similar experiences when you go for a Gandola ride in Venice 😉
    Let your travels lead you to new discoveries !!!

  23. Hi!
    I agree that we are misled at times by the marketing hypes. However, I suppose a lot depends on our interests too.
    A destination or a monument / place is wow or ah, also based on the effort / convenience / cost/ time factors.
    But thanks to varying views and several resources now available on the web, we can make informed choices.

    1. That’s very true. Although I still think that despite hearing how overrated places like Eiffel might be in several people’s opinion, someone going to France will still visit the Eiffel whether they plan to explore the French Riviera for example, or not, which in my opinion, really IS wow. But I do agree that ‘wow’ is subjective.

  24. So true! I can totally connect to Louvre story. Of all the places I’ve seen, Hiroshima atomic bomb tomb fascinated me the most. I could imagine ‘little boy’ exploding above my head and wiping out entire city. It was an eerie feeling. May be cos I’ve deep interest in WW2. Had similar feeling when I was standing under the Brandenburg gate. While people were enjoying the elusive sunlight, I could not help but imagine myself standing amidst the ruined city n the decimated gate. That black n white ww2 image of Berlin kept flashing non-stop in my head. Same happens with me when am winessing nature’s stunning creations underwater. May be one should keep their interests in mind while travelling rather than just getting attracted to places marketed by tourism div/tour operators…so that they can connect with the place and truly appreciate the beauty it holds.

    1. I guess this is why more and more people are going ‘offbeat’ now. It’s usually when you start to travel that you want to check off things on your list. Once you start to get a hang of it, you realize there’s so much more beauty in the world than the famous marketing places.

  25. Ankur with having traveled across i feel the best i ever felt was sitting in the Chamba Valley and appreciating the beauty.
    The Indian tourism ministry has never done its job of promoting the beauty of India

  26. I had exactly the same feeling at Eiffel Tower. The other places you can add to “Anticlimatic list” are Half Penny Bridge & Howth castle in Dublin, Blarney Castle and Staigue Stone Fort in Ireland. There are better ruins in New Delhi itself than some of the much hyped castles of Ireland.

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