Some of the best journeys are not just through geographical space, but back in time itself. We often read in guidebooks of places which are unspoilt and timeless. Many people dream of escaping today’s busy world and fleeing to faraway places that are not only remote, but give us an insight into ancient cultures and more traditional ways of life.
We might wander around gazing in awe at the Pyramids in Giza or the Khmer temples of Angkor Wat, magnificent buildings that were built to impress, but were also creatively designed. Or stand astonished on the Great Wall of China. Or we might stroll through still habitable places like Lamu Island in Kenya which has barely changed in centuries. Or marvel at the ingenuity of Inca farmers who adapted the land for irrigation or at how people in Indonesia and India still use ploughs and oxen to till the land today.
Travelling the world helps put so much into context that dry history lessons never managed to do. You can see what different civilisations were achieving, often at the same time, but separated by thousands of miles. People learned to control the land, constructing astonishing agricultural terraces from Peru to Papua. They built magnificent temples, palaces, churches and mansions which have lasted for centuries.
But, as so often happens with travelling, it only goes to highlight what is wrong or unsatisfactory with things back home. In the case with time travel, it makes you think about what we are achieving in the modern world. Islamic State is intent on destroying their culture and history. Chinese dam projects are destroying villages all along the Mekong. Today we are not just controlling our environment to survive, we are destroying it through greed.
In London, New York and São Paulo gentrification marches on apace, seemingly oblivious to the wishes of local people and the need to preserve our history for future generations. It’s not enough to keep building higher and higher. We need originality, creativity and vision. Where are the buildings of today that tourists 500 years from now are going to stop and wonder at? What cultural legacy are we leaving for those future generations of travellers?
I think the biggest question we should be asking ourselves now is, what do we want people of the future to think of us? What will be written about us in the guidebooks of the 25th century? In the meantime, though, let’s just be grateful that so many countries are doing wonderful work in preserving and maintaining their heritage. Just pop into your time machine and take a trip ….