11th March, 2018
“With a registered population of 50 and more than a million tourists every year, I wonder if the inhabitants feel pride in their historical heritage or do they dream of a wholesome livelihood without the incessant disturbances from tourists!”
Mont Saint Michel, a UNESCO world heritage marvel not to be missed while in France, definitely was a destination far beyond expectations. Since the 8th century AD to the 21st century, the extensive tourism industries, World Wide Web and the obsessive craze about UNESCO World Heritage Sites have exponentially altered the space time continuum. In fact I imagined the trip to the island of St. Mont Michel to be an adventurous journey akin to the classic novels by Robinson Crusoe and Jules Verne. All I could experience was a million days of stories kept intact in a glass box for the feast of visual pleasures. Still, the rotten nooks and corners of decaying beauty found me on the island and now without wasting much time criticizing the modern age tourism, I shall begin with the journey to Mont Saint Michel, Normandie, France.
I’d like to call the beginnings as, ‘ The unexpected encounters of Road Journeys.’ It’s a two step journey from Vannes to Mont Saint Michel i.e. Vannes-Rennes and Rennes-Mont Saint Michel. The second part is basically operated by the Tourism companies which is a bit overpriced but certain discounts are available. To reach Rennes, we took a BlaBlaCar and as the name implies our host made the 2 hours feel like nothing with all her chitter chatter, her collection of songs and her stories about her love for traveling. The only French songs I still hear are the ones recommended by her (Vaguement La Jungle is the band).
A hippie bag full of snacks and a powerbank full of charge is not all that suffices for a trip to Mont Saint Michel especial when the clouds are right behind you.The tourism bus dropped us near a barren land with a bus stop, a restaurant and a storage yard for vehicles. Lost in the greenland, we did what felt natural i.e. we followed the crowd. With a broken umbrella and inconsistent rainshowers, we waited for a shuttle bus which takes the tourists to and fro the island of Mont Saint Michel. The design of these buses was spectacular with wooden clad exterior and a spacious interior jam packed with Asian tourists. It dropped us at the walking deck of the newly designed bridge and all I could see was scores of tourists aligned across the wooden railing for the typical portrait with the island as backdrop.
Smartphones, Digital Cameras, DSLRs, Selfie sticks, all of them were taken out as soon as the bus dropped its passengers, maybe the eyes were left behind.
Crossing the sand covered foreground, we reached the entrance of St. Mont Michel which was a shattering of what I imagined this threshold would’ve felt like. I would like to call this part, ‘The Cocky Commercialization’.
A narrow cobbled alley flocked with tourists from all around the world especially the Eastern part, fine dine in restaurants, bone china markets, souvenir shops, ice cream vendors and modern tourism offices all were forcefully crafted on both sides of the street. A million tourists every year had to taken advantage of and this seemed to be a perfect opportunity. Disgusted by the situation we decided to climb upon a path untrodden much and landed right upon the fortifications which offered a remarkable view of the surrounding horizons. Walking along the fortifications, we came across magnificent views to the structural composition of the island. The feudalism ideology upon which this island was constructed upon was visible throughout the fortifications as we saw on top, God, the abbey and monastery; below, the great halls; then stores and housing; and at the bottom, outside the walls, houses for fishermen and farmers. After getting a glimpse of the surroundings, the buttresses, the centuries old houses, their chimneys, the overlooking Gargoyles and moss covered rocks on pathways, we decided to have a lunch break along one of the fortification. After eating it home cooked meals, hiding it from the overexcited seagulls above us, we set it out to visit the monastery which we had been capturing from every possible exterior perspective.
Now I’d like to call this part as the most interesting ones i.e. ‘A gravity defying world within a world.’ The monastery was a masterpiece in itself not because of the mere histories associated with it but because of extensive worlds we explored being inside it.
The Mont Saint Michel Abbey and monastery is an epitome of the Romanesque Architecture, in fact Norman Architecture which was developed by the Normans in 11th and 12th centuries evident from their massive proportions and usual Romanesque rounded arches. Enough with the rational information which can be read on historical texts. Unexpectedly the usual ticket of 11 Euros was waived off for us being below 26 and possessing a French long term Visa which made us fall prey to the overpriced souvenir shops. The 11th century Italian architect, William of Volpiano, was surely a daring person to place the transept crossing at the top of the mount but because of him, we had to cross several crypts and chapels placed below to keep it stable. Passing through several preserved motifs, sculptures, physical models of the development of the island, massive columnades and fingy staircases, we reached the cloister which supposedly meant a connection to the heavens.
Exiting the cloister and landing infront of the abbey was the most heavenly feeling after all the riddle maze. I’d like to name this experience as, ‘The feeling of endlessness beyond the horizon’.
“Don’t you feel the essence of your singularity in this universe as you stand on this bastion overlooking the horizon which has been there since the start of time! Don’t you feel like a speck of dust amongst the million footsteps! Don’t you feel the beauty of life and death as stand miles above ground! Don’t you feel the insignificance of your daily whining, your daily job and your fame!”
So, with such thoughts lingering on my mind, we left the premises of the abbey of Mont Saint Michel and headed out to fall prey to the insignificant souvenir collections. I bought a mechanical music box priced at 11 Euros not as a souvenir but as a childhood fantasy from the days I played with one my late grandfather possessed in his personal library.
Now comes the part which I’d like to call as, ‘The Vengeance of Thunderstorms’.
Returning back to Vannes was not an easy task when we were showered upon by the drastic winds and rainshowers which broke both of our umbrellas, got us dripping wet and made us stack up in the shuttle bus with moist bodies grazing along others. We had an overnight bus from Rennes station to Vannes and unfortunately the comfort of a warm sitting space was snatch from us because the bus station had to close by midnight. So, after waiting an hour or so in the shivering winds and rains of Rennes bus stop, we boarded our bus and in another hour or so we reached the comfort of our hostel rooms.
The music box playing by my side and a warm cup of tea in my hands, I thought about the whole journey. While being salted with the commercialized tourism, the heritage site of Mont Saint Michel truly stood to it’s historical stories and the remarkable conservation of a city’s history was evident in its every nook and corner.
Inspite of all the heritage and structural qualities, I would still possess memories of the vastness and endlessness of the surroundings, it offered my senses. The isolation truly enhanced my attachment to the qualities of a natural landscape isolated from human touch.
Thanks a ton for sticking around.
See you soon.