Imagine yourself bang in the middle of the deep Amazon rainforest, stuck in a raging storm, burning with fever. No food, no water, no shelter. “What you catch is what you get”. You have no choice but to fend for yourself. That’s what Day 1 of my 3 day survival challenge in the Amazon looked like. And honestly the skills that we whipped out in the middle of that jungle would put Bear Grylls to shame.
Okay that’s a gross exaggeration but yeah, we built our shelter using leaves and soggy branches, foraged for water in rivers and water bearing plants, went on night hikes to look for giant tarantulas, fished for piranhas and cooked them over a fire, ate live, wriggling termites from a rotting bark- I can almost feel you cringe at the thought of this, but I enjoyed every single bit of that mad adventure.
Obviously, it wasn’t always like this. I was born and brought up in a small town in Orissa, Rourkela where I lived a very cocooned, protected albeit beautiful life till I was 17. Actually protected is an understatement.
At 12 I was gifted my first cycle. My dad, the over protective nut that he is, followed me in his car while I cycled to my tuition, waited for me to get done and followed me all the way back home just to make sure I didn’t fall on my face.
So what the hell happened?? How did that proper little girl turn into this absolute madcap?
At 17, I left home to do a media course in Christ College, Bangalore which was the exact opposite of what home had been. Life was fast, people were different, they were so much more exposed to everything. So I obviously struggled a lot with confidence. But life goes on, yeah? I shifted to Bombay and joined a production house as an Assistant Director. I would work anywhere between 12-18 hours a day on shoot days. I would come back completely exhausted to a match box sized one BHK. Every damn thing was a struggle, but life still went on. I had no social life, I was spending days and days working on films that weren’t even mine, and more than anything I was so so unhappy. Something had to give, something had to change. 10 days later, I quit my job, decided to move back to Bangalore and go for a one month backpacking trip across Vietnam.
Why Vietnam? Because it was far, but not too far, pretty affordable and culturally very different from India. I decided to go alone cause I didn’t want to wait for people to make time to come with me.
I had two days booked in a hostel in Hanoi and that’s it. Everything else was left to chance. Of course I was freaking out before and during the trip. I had to do everything myself, like right from booking tickets to finding hostels to figuring out my next meal- this was also struggle but it was my kind of struggle. A struggle that led me to exciting experiences, to meeting exciting people. When you are travelling, not just full time, even otherwise, there are so many things that can possibly go wrong. You could lose your passport, get robbed, lose your bank cards, injure yourself, anything can happen cause there’s no one watching your back, and yet… everyone is. There is an inherent goodness in people. They want to help. I’ve had people go completely out of their way to help me when they really didn’t have to. I hate thinking this way but the thought does cross my mind, what is this person getting out of this. And more often than not the answer has been – nothing! And that is such a beautiful feeling. To give and not wanting anything back. I wish and I hope to be that person some day. Travel might not have immediate effects but it does have the hugest impact in the long run. I began to feel more confident, more comfortable in my skin and way more aware.
I tried to cram everything into that one month. Like riding this ostrich.I don’t know why there was an ostrich in Vietnam and I have NO clue why I decided to ride it, but I did. I didn’t want to leave anything out cause I never thought I would ever be able to save that kind of money or have the kind of time to do a trip like this ever again.
When I came back, I wanted to share my experiences, I wanted to talk about what I had seen, I wanted to share more. And what was the best way to do it? Social media of course. I took to Instagram, and slowly developed a voice. I grew from a couple hundred followers to a couple thousand. I was still not able to travel as much as I would have liked. I had to find a way to sustain travel. It could no longer be a one off trip, it had to become more than that. A friend of mine who is in the audience today, asked me to write to brands. I was like why would brands want to work with me? But then I was like there’s no harm, really in giving it a shot. So I made a ton of cold calls, wrote a ton of emails. And finally Titan Raga, a hugely reputed watch brand got back to me and said they would love to feature my work on their channel as Raga is about the woman of today and they support ‘real women to bring alive their truest essence.’ I was beside myself with excitement. I collaborated with them all through my SA trip and tried my best to integrate them into my style of picture taking so it seemed organic and not like a force fit.
Full time travel
So, full time travel though amazing, comes with its own challenges. The biggest for me is dealing with constant change. You wake up in a different place every morning, your roommates change, the friends you made just yesterday have moved on to some other place and before you know it, you have to start all over again. Sometimes, its nerve wracking to enter a room with unfamiliar faces. Sometimes you crave for that familiarity, for just one person to KNOW you. When you don’t have to introduce yourself, explain yourself over and over again.
But then there are days when you are excited, pumped. You can’t wait to jump out of bed, make friends, generally be the chatty monkey that you are. That same breakfast room that terrified you yesterday is now the most inviting. You go in, join the friendliest faces at a table, and spend the entire day exploring the lovely town with them. And that’s just how full time travel works. One day you feel like a loser at the table who no one wants to talk to, the next day you are the most exciting person there is. One day you want to explore the hell out of a place, the next day you don’t want to do anything but binge watch Netflix. And you know what? They are both perfectly okay. You do you. And that’s definitely what I love about travelling. You are chucked at the deep end and you are stunned by the things you are capable of handling.
I have been incredibly lucky to meet some beautiful souls on the road. I have realised that sometimes I am able to completely open up to a stranger in ways I probably couldn’t have to a close friend. There is something oddly comforting about strangers. No judgements, no baggage- cause they don’t know anything about you and you are probably never going to see them again. I went through a pretty rough period before I left for my 4 month trip to South America. I won’t go into the specifics of it but I remember sitting with this Dutch friend of mine in this beautiful, dreamy floating hostel in the middle of the Caribbean sea.
It was almost 4 in the morning, everyone had gone to sleep in their respective hammocks. The ocean was calm, there were bioluminous planktons glowing in the water. We talked about a range of things that night, and at one point we were just holding each other crying our eyes out because even though we belonged to completely different backgrounds, led starkly different lives, the stuff that we had been through were so similar. I don’t remember the last time I had broken down this intensely in front of anyone. We never spoke about it again, and we probably never will, but that moment of intensity helped me confront what I was going through instead of pushing it to the back of my head, putting on a happy face, and getting on with life. It lay naked, it lay bare in front of my eyes and I had no choice but to deal with how it made me feel, and accept that I had to move on, accept that travel doesn’t magically solve problems.
But life must balance itself right? So while I have met some incredible people in my travels, I have also met some extremely ignorant ones, who still think India is full of snakes, babas and all things mystic. Initially I used to get all defensive about it. Talk passionately about how we are as connected to the world as they are, how we are as educated and as privy to the world as they are. And that got people slightly uncomfortable. So I thought why not try something different. I met a couple while traveling in Colombia. And they were very surprised at how good my English was. But it didn’t stop at that, it went on to all the cliches imaginable – so I am sure you eat chillies for breakfast, your parents will marry you off to a stranger etc, and finally they were like so you tell us about India? What is a normal day like? How did you go to school? So I was like, you know Colombia has the odd even rule to combat pollution- Mon, Wed Fri cars with even number plates drive on the roads and Tues, Thurs, Sat cars with odd number plates drive, similarly in India on Mon, Wed, Fri we go to school on camels and on Tues, Thurs, Sat we go on elephants. And they actually bought it!
So yeah, travel doesn’t fix things. It’s not a ready recipe for making all things perfect. What it is though, is a little pillar that holds you up and helps you cope better. The major difference between Vietnam and South America was that I was finally done escaping and trying to find answers to all my life problems from travel. I was no longer cramming experiences together. It was no longer about ticking stuff off my bucket list, no longer about escaping, it was about travelling from the heart.
And that’s when Machu Picchu happened.
I wasn’t too keen on Peru in the first place owing to its super touristy nature but if you are in Peru you can’t not do Machu Pichhu! A day before the hike, our guide Julian came to our hostel and spoke to us about what we were to expect the next day. He said “you don’t go to Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu calls you.” It was the spiritual and astronomical space for the Incas and you should be open to the immense energy that it still holds. I found that pretty interesting and decided there was no harm in being open to the experience. So I did a small meditation that night to open myself up to its energies. And sure enough, soon as we hit the first leg of the mountain, I felt something surge through me. It was strong, relentless- It wasn’t happiness, it wasn’t sadness, it was raw emotion. I was shaking, bawling my eyes out for 20 mins straight. Julian, our guide asked us to send our intention out into the mountain, to introduce ourselves to the mountain. I am not too much of a trekker and I am usually the last person in the group to make it to the top cause I am slow and I take my own time. But this time it was different. I was at the top of the pack throughout the hike. It was almost as though the mountains were lifting me to do the hike. The entire Machu Picchu was shrouded in clouds and that’s what I think helped us all connect so intensely with it. Nothing to distract us – no views, just us and the foggy mist enveloping us. They say that Machu Picchu is covered in clouds every morning. The clouds cleanse the place of its energy and re-energise it before welcoming the fresh batch of people coming in. Isn’t that so beautiful?
This experience was just a teeny tiny part of the crazy list of places that my travel lifestyle has taken me to. The journey has been surprising, shocking and downright smashing!
A lot of people have asked me, so what next?
And I have thought about it a lot too. I think I want to come back home. If experiences in other countries could move me so much, imagine what my country would do to me? If Machu Picchu could move me so much, imagine what the Himalayas would do to me. Don’t get me wrong, I have explored India extensively in the past, but I don’t think at that point I was aware enough to travel like I do now. I wasn’t aware of the energies of a place, wasn’t as open to people, to experiences as I feel I am now.
I remember as a little girl, I would spend hours reading Enid Blyton and Famous Five was a special favourite. I would binge read that series and dream about having scones and tea, going on picnics, solving mysteries. My favourite book, the one that excited me the most was “Five go off in a caravan”. Where the kids take a run down caravan and go on an epic adventure with a gypsy girl.
I want to come back to that little girl who read Enid Blyton and dreamt of driving around in a caravan (hopefully not in those clothes). The plan is to take a caravan across India with two friends for 100 days. Live in the caravan, camp under the stars, give out books, tell stories to kids, taste the rivers, hike the mountains and truly explore the utter beauty of MY India.