The Unknown

“All the most exciting charts and maps have places on them that are marked “unexplored”” – Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons, 1930

“The unknown is so inflammatory to the imagination because it is an imaginatively malleable space – a projection-screen on to which a culture or an individual can throw their fears and their aspirations” – Robert Macfarlane, Mountains of the Mind, 2003

The Known

“Niches, notches, shoulders, cols, ridges, glaciers, routes: all began to bear the names of climbers and explorers. Look at a large scale map of the Alps now, and you will see the names still jostling for space, radiating out of the geological features like small black spokes.” – Robert Macfarlane, Mountains of the Mind, 2003

”[…] a massive scientific effort aiming to scan the entire solid surface of the planet […] a comprehensive digital map of the surface of the planet and everything on it. Such a project will serve both as a record of the state of the planet as it exists now, to help scientists better understand how it is changing, and as a “virtual planet” that can serve as a precious gift for future generations.” (1)


I have been to an African country, on Google Street View, and decided against a vacation for it didn’t seem too different from the places I’ve travelled to in India. I have also stood on the northern-most corner of a Scandinavian country, again on Google Street View, and been completely mesmerised by the desolateness of the place.

I can see Nanda Devi from where I live (Google Earth tells me the distance is 90 kilometres). And I know there is no corner between here and there that hasn’t got a village or some sign of civilisation. Just a few ridges behind Nanda Devi lies the border, and Tibet. And I have seen, on Google Maps, a China National Highway that will take me to more settlements, more people, and round and round we go.

No place is really remote and no place is really uninhabited or unvisited.

And no place lacks documentation through photos, videos, text, or maps. I can’t help but feel at times a certain sense of futility in travel when the visual has been isolated and is made available as a weak clone of the place, making it possible for me to anticipate what the real feel of a place might be like. And when the act of travelling (reaching a place) itself is reduced to a mere chore.